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Reifying Imagined Communities: The Triumph of the Fragile Nation-State and the Peril of Modernization

  • Chris C. Bosley
Chapter

Abstract

In complex ethnic landscapes—wherein the boundaries inside a mosaic of salient identity groups are pillared, impermeable, and determined along fixed-identity markers—pathological homogenization often emerges as the only practical mode for political integration. Thus, a cascading series of nationalist conflicts that ultimately result in the realization of a set of ideal nation-states—a national cascade. This is the process that occurred during the Wars of Religion in Western Europe and the decay of multiethnic empires in Central and Eastern Europe, and this zero-sum dynamic is fuelling the identity-driven conflicts that today pervade many regions consisting of postcolonial fragile states. Such pathological national cascades are intractable by foreign interventions, and Western-style electoral democracy is ill-equipped to result in inclusive governance when elections are little more than ethnic censuses. Nation-building, then, is a prerequisite for state-making. But nation-building requires inclusive institutions that enable crosscutting affiliations and the capacity to aggregate, articulate, and channel the demands of all salient social forces. Thus, a paradox of modernization: as nation-building is a prerequisite for state-making, so too is state-making a prerequisite for nation-building. This chapter argues that the modern state has transcended the classic Weberian conception of the coercive state. Instead, a modern state is the centrally administered, functionally differentiated, and internationally recognized set of institutions within a given territory that is concerned with the maintenance of order among social forces across the spectrum of social power. When conceived as such, stability is highly concomitant with the state, the boundaries of identity become highly tangible, and the networks upon which public goods are provided and national identity are consolidated. It presents a theory of the modern nation-state to explain the ubiquitous nature of fragility and political adaptation. Thus, rather than tell a story of state fragmentation, the instability and identity-driven conflict pervading much of the postcolonial developing world are presented as a central determinant of nation-state formation.

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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.United States Institute of Peace (USIP)Washington, DCUSA

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