Posted by: Vikram | August 12, 2012

Of ethnic diversity and nation states

(See first:

Diversity has become a real buzzword in the Western world these days. The European civilization that pioneered the nation state with its single ‘national language’ and ‘national culture’ is today negotiating a reality that is much more complex, thanks mainly to immigration, and in some cases mobilization by marginalized groups. Even so, aggregate levels of ethnic and cultural diversity in the developed world usually remain low even today, although some urban centres can be extremely diverse.

Observing the list of countries around the world, ranked by their ethnic diversity levels, one cannot help but notice the sobering fact that most of the highly diverse countries (both ethnically and culturally) suffer from a low level of development. Many suffer from chronic conflict situations, and some have even seen devastating civil wars. None of the countries with a ethnic diversity index of over 0.75 (the maximum possible score is 1) is anywhere near developed.

Looking at the list it seems that it is relative ethnic homogenity, not democracy that can predict whether a country will be able to industrialize in its current political avatar. Examples here are Japan (0.012), South Korea (0.004) and Taiwan (0.274). China, with a low ethnic diversity index of 0.154 seems to be ready to follow the above countries into an industrial and possibly democratic existence. Western countries like Sweden (0.189), Australia (0.149) and Germany (0.095) mostly tend to have low levels of ethnic diversity, the only exception seems to be the US (0.491), the Western country with the highest levels of inequality.

The question of diversity and national political and economic success thus remains precarious. Of the highly diverse countries, only South Africa (0.88) and India (0.811) seem to offer a possibility of success. The outcome of the Indian experiment can have repercussions far outside its national borders.


  1. The problem is, to a large extent, you cannot choose your level of diversity for your country. (It would be a crime to homogenize Papua-New-Guinea). The development has to come despite the diversity, and that will come peacefully only through democracy. Also for the list only 4 out of first 16 countries have parliamentary democracy (17th is India)

    • Khalil, do you think that there might be some kind of incompatibility between the nation state model and highly diverse societies ? Is there a softer version of the nation state that can accommodate diversity better ?

      I agree that democracy can go a long way in providing stability and development (India and South Africa demonstrate this), however the establishment of democracy and democratic norms in a country itself seems to be a problem.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: