Andreas Wimmer

European Sociological Review, September 2014


Why have some states been captured by specific ethnic elites and their clienteles, excluding all others from access to government power? Conversely, what explains political inclusion across ethnic divides or, in other words, successful ‘nation building’? Assuming a relational theoretical perspective, I argue that high state capacity to deliver public goods, well developed voluntary organizations, and low levels of linguistic diversity enhance nation building because they make it easier to extend networks of political alliances across an entire territory. Contemporary state capacity and linguistic diversity are in turn related to levels of state formation achieved during the late 19th century. On average, such long-term factors of political development are more important for explaining contemporary nation building than political institutions (including democracy) or the legacies of imperial rule. This is demonstrated on the basis of a cross-national data set covering all countries of the world since 1945.