News Flash: Bolivia Opts Out of Nation-Statehood
As of early 2009, it’s officially the Plurinational State of Bolivia. (Okay, news travels slowly to Philadelphia; perhaps to your town, too?) That may seem like a technical change, but Stanford geographer Martin W. Lewis makes the case that it gives the lie to the very concept of nationhood as we conventionally understand it:
The idea of the nation-state has become so powerful that it has blurred the distinctions between its component elements, impeding understanding and communication. Certainly most people in the United States consider all countries to be nation-states. In common parlance, “nation-state” is actually a redundancy, as “nation” has devolved into a mere synonym for country or sovereign state. This slippage is neither new nor specifically American; it is encoded in the very name of the world’s premiere global organization, the United Nations, as well as that of its predecessor, the League of Nations. But with Bolivia going out of its way to declare its non-nation-statehood, more precise terminology becomes necessary. Referring to contemporary Bolivia as a nation or a nation-state is simply wrong; that is exactly what the Bolivian government has proclaimed itself not to be. . . .
The nation-state ideal is attractive in part because it is so simple. Things would surely be easier if the world were actually divided into unambiguous units that were at once nations, sovereign states, and countries.
The appeal is not just in the simplicity. The nation has generated and justified the state. Once the two are decoupled, it’s not so clear why things should be organized as they are. Of course even with the decline of the nation, we’re still left with the state, even in Bolivia. Count it a legacy institution.