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Is a Nation a State

The world is organized by man-made boundaries that divide land into sovereign states, (excluding Antarctica). Early states formed through empires, conquest, and colonialism, were held together by religious based rule. The Treaty of Westphalia lessened the powers of religious figures the Catholic Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, which ended religious wars in Europe in 1648 . This transformation marks the formation of the modern state system, which organizes the world into nation-states. A nation-state exists where common identity coincides with the boundaries of sovereign authority. The synonymous nature of the words nation and state have a European base were early states were nearly synonymous with their nations. These definitions are frequently used interchangeably when they should not be. I will argue that although the terms nation and state are clearly related, they both have distinct meanings, which explains why there are states without a nation, nations without a state, and some nations that spread out over many states.
Max Weber defined a state as a body that successfully claims a monopoly of legitimate force in a particular territory . The government of a state carries out legislative, executive, and judicial functions in order to create internal control and stability in a country. The state is the universal form of political organization, which is composed of a population, territory, and sovereignty. All land (excluding Antarctica) is currently divided into 190 separate states. Examples of states include the United States, France, Chile, and many more. All states have a government that makes political decisions and aims to protect the state from external and internal attack. A state is not the same as a nation.
A nation can be thought of as an identity shared by a large number of people based on, but not limited to, objective factors like common race, language, religion, customs, and government. The best description I found for national identity was by David Miller in On Nationality where he names five elements that together distinguish national identity from other sources of personal identity. Nations are communities with a shared belief that its members belong together (1), an extended history (2), an active character that includes doing things together such as making decisions and achieving results (3), a connection to a particular territory (4), and are marked off from other communities by a distinct public culture (5). (on nationality pg 27). Some examples of nations are Americans, Jews, and Germans who are all groups of people that are conscious of their common identity. A nation is not the same as a state.
Although nation and state represent different concepts, both are fairly recent developments dating back to the Renaissance in 15th and 16th century Europe. State arose from warfare, which produces a social hierarchy of victors. Conquerors of territory enriched themselves at the expense of the conquered. The state was formed when a strong monarch consolidated the conquered territory and state organization emerged. State formation began the process of nation formation. When a strong monarchy established a territorial state, local identities merged over centuries into a wider national identity. The merging of identities into a national identity was highly influenced by the monarch’s suppression of other languages and religions that parted from the state’s chosen language and religion. The English, French, and Spanish were the first nations to emerge. Because the first modern nation-states formed in a process where nations where nearly synonymous with their states, it is understandable to see why some make the error of using the terms nation and state interchangeably. This error is also reinforced by popular everyday misuses of the terms such as the name of the United Nations, when actually the United Nations is a collection of member states. I suppose the word nation was chosen because the name United States was already taken, but it reinforces the common misconception of the interchangeability of nation and state.
The existence of a state without a common national identity further illustrates a difference between nation and state. Some nation-states contain a population fragmented between several large groups who have not surrendered portions of their various identities in order to produce a common identity. A recent example of such a state is Serbia, which is divided among Serbs and ethnic Albanians. The national ideology failed to assimilate large sections of the population, which was responded to with the use of violent force, coercion, and even ethnic cleansing by the Serbian state against the Albanians. Nation-states with such problems are usually artificial creations of war and/or colonialism.
Many nations exist without their own state. There are at least 8000 actual or potential nationalities , and far less states (190). It is unconceivable to have a state for each nation because their “homelands” overlap with distressing frequency. The Soviet Union alone recognized over 100 nationalities . The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 created many new states that did not fit in with Europe’s way of nation states because nations were scattered throughout the Soviet Empire. The Jews are a nation who is well known for not having a state of their own. Throughout history Jews have been spread among many states. Some of these nation-states did not see Jewish people as a part of the states national ideology, which resulted in persecution, genocide and ethnic cleansing, the most severe case being Nazi Germany.
The many conflicts between nations and states are evidence of their separateness, yet at the same time nations and states are mutually interacting. A goal of a state is for its citizens to have a common sense of nationalism. A state can influence identity by employing homogenizing institutions like the army and public schools to bind citizens together with a common understanding of national identity, loyalty, and duty. While I am suggesting that a state can influence the development of a nation, I also want to stress that there is no universal formula of forming a national identity. Identity is a matter of what one wish’s to call oneself, and what one can get others to accept.
A nation-state exists when the great majority of citizens are conscious of a common identity. Some nation-states are composed of a population that is mostly homogeneous in the sense of ethnicity, language, religion, and history. Japan is an example of a state that is made up of one primary nation. The United States is an example of a nation-state that has formed a cohesive national identity despite being made up of a combination of people from many nations. Colonization created the United States so political autonomy/freedom became and still is the focus of a common national identity for Americans.
When the terms nation and state are put together into nation-state, it implies a modern, legal, participatory state. Nation added to state means that the state is participatory. Nation represents an association of citizens who voluntarily consent to the government, and believe in the legitimacy of the state. The term nation-state also implies that the state is representative of all groups of citizens who actively participate. The democratic nation-state (in modern sense) originated from American and French Revolutions.
The state of Canada can be thought of as a multinational-state in that it is made up of many nations, the two largest being the English and the French. Canada is a nation-state, in that the majority of citizens share the common nationality of being Canadian. Part of what unites Canadian nationality is how we like to distinguish ourselves from being American. Canada is a nation-state because we have a modern participatory state, which is a democratic government that allows the separate English and French cultures to be represented by the state. Canada can also be thought of from the viewpoint of it not being considered a nation-state because French Canadians can be considered a nation separate from the rest of Canada.
Nationhood is the chief source of political legitimacy. New states are continuously being created on the basis of nations demanding their own countries. The distinction between a nation and a state is clear because if both were synonymous, nations would not seek to create their own states. The Bloc Quebecois political party in Canada makes the claim that they are a distinct nation, which they justify as a reason to create their own state. Their goal is to separate from Canada and make Quebec their own nation-state. The new states of Slovakia and the Czech Republic are a result of nations in Czechoslovakia wanting their own nation-states.
By examining the terms nation and state and their direct relationships with the modern nation-state, it is clear that nation and state are not synonymous. The state is a form of political organization that includes population, territory, and sovereignty. A nation is an identity shared by a large number of people, usually based on objective factors such as ethnicity, and language. The nation-state incorporates common identity with common boundaries, but does not suggest that nation and state have interchangeable meanings.

Lauren Hobson
Poli Sci 100
T and Th 12:30-2:00

Is A Nation A State?

Richard N. Cooper, States, Citizens and Markets in the 21st Century (Queens University), 1997 Max Weber, Politics as a Vocation (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul), 1970 David Miller, On Nationality (Oxford University Press Inc, New York), 1995 Peter Ravn Rasmussen, “Nations” or “States”, Victor A. Kremenyuk, Conflicts In and Around Russia, (Greenwood Press, Westport CT), 1994

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