The nation-state is a state that self-identifies as deriving its political legitimacy from serving as a sovereign entity for a nation as a sovereign territorial unit. The state is a political and geopolitical entity; the nation is a cultural and/or ethnic entity. The term "nation-state" implies that the two geographically coincide, and this distinguishes the nation state from the other types of state, which historically preceded it.
The origins and early history of nation-states are disputed. A major theoretical issue is: "which came first — the nation or the nation state?" For nationalists themselves, the answer is that the nation existed first, nationalist movements arose to present its legitimate demand for sovereignty, and the nation-state met that demand. Some "modernisation theories" of nationalism see the national identity largely as a product of government policy, to unify and modernise an already existing state. Most theories see the nation state as a 19th-century European phenomenon, facilitated by developments such as mass literacy and the early mass media. However, historians also note the early emergence of a relatively unified state, and a sense of common identity, in Portugal and the Dutch Republic.
In France, Eric Hobsbawm argues the French state preceded the formation of the French people. Hobsbawm considers that the state made the French nation, and not French nationalism, which emerged at the end of the 19th century, the time of the Dreyfus Affair. At the time of the 1789 French Revolution, only half of the French people spoke some French, and between 12 percent to 13 percent spoke it "fairly", according to Hobsbawm. During Italian unification, the number of people speaking the Italian language was even lower. The French state promoted the unification of various dialects and languages into the French language. The introduction of conscription and the Third Republic's 1880s laws on public instruction, facilitated the creation of a national identity, under this theory.
The theorist Benedict Anderson argues that nations are "imagined communities" (the members cannot possibly know each other), and that the main causes of nationalism and the creation of an imagined community are the reduction of privileged access to particular script languages (e.g. Latin), the movement to abolish the ideas of divine rule and monarchy, as well as the emergence of the printing press under a system of capitalism (or, as Anderson calls it, print-capitalism). The "state-driven" theories of the origin of nation-states tend to emphasise a few specific states, such as France and its rival England. These states expanded from core regions, and developed a national consciousness and sense of national identity ("Frenchness" and "Englishness"). Both assimilated peripheral regions (Wales, Brittany, Aquitaine and Occitania); these areas experienced a revival of interest in the regional culture in the 19th century, leading to the creation of autonomist movements in the 20th century.
Some nation-states, such as Germany or Italy, came into existence at least partly as a result of political campaigns by nationalists, during the 19th century. In both cases, the territory was previously divided among other states, some of them very small. The sense of common identity was at first a cultural movement, such as in the Völkisch movement in German-speaking states, which rapidly acquired a political significance. In these cases, the nationalist sentiment and the nationalist movement clearly precede the unification of the German and Italian nation-states.
Historians Hans Kohn, Liah Greenfeld, Philip White and others have classified nations such as Germany or Italy, where cultural unification preceded state unification, as ethnic nations or ethnic nationalities. Whereas 'state-driven' national unifications, such as in France, England or China, are more likely to flourish in multiethnic societies, producing a traditional national heritage of civic nations, or territory-based nationalities.
The idea of a nation-state is associated with the rise of the modern system of states, often called the "Westphalian system" in reference to the Treaty of Westphalia (1648). The balance of power, which characterises that system, depends for its effectiveness upon clearly defined, centrally controlled, independent entities, whether empires or nation states, which recognise each other's sovereignty and territory. The Westphalian system did not create the nation-state, but the nation-state meets the criteria for its component states (assuming that there is no disputed territory).
The nation-state received a philosophical underpinning in the era of Romanticism, at first as the 'natural' expression of the individual peoples (romantic nationalism — see Fichte's conception of the Volk, which would be later opposed by Ernest Renan). The increasing emphasis during the 19th century on the ethnic and racial origins of the nation, led to a redefinition of the nation-state in these terms. Racism, which in Boulainvilliers's theories was inherently antipatriotic and antinationalist, joined itself with colonialist imperialism and "continental imperialism", most notably in pan-Germanic and pan-Slavic movements. This relation between racism and ethnic nationalism reached its height in the fascist and Nazi movements of the 20th century. The specific combination of 'nation' ('people') and 'state' expressed in such terms as the Völkische Staat and implemented in laws such as the 1935 Nuremberg laws made fascist states such as early Nazi Germany qualitatively different from non-fascist nation-states. Obviously, minorities, who are not part of the Volk, have no authentic or legitimate role in such a state. In Germany, neither Jews nor the Roma were considered part of the Volk, and were specifically targeted for persecution. However German nationality law defined 'German' on the basis of German ancestry, excluding all non-Germans from the 'Volk'.
In recent years the nation-state's claim to absolute sovereignty within its borders has been much criticised. A global political system based on international agreements and supra-national blocs characterized the post-war era. Non-state actors, such as international corporations and non-governmental organizations, are widely seen as eroding the economic and political power of nation-states, potentially leading to their eventual disappearance.
In Europe, in the 18th century, the classic non-national states were the multi-ethnic empires, (the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the French Empire, the British Empire) and smaller states at what would now be called sub-national level. The multi-ethnic empire was a monarchy ruled by a king, emperor or sultan. The population belonged to many ethnic groups, and they spoke many languages. The empire was dominated by one ethnic group, and their language was usually the language of public administration. The ruling dynasty was usually, but not always, from that group. This type of state is not specifically European: such empires existed on all continents. Some of the smaller European states were not so ethnically diverse, but were also dynastic states, ruled by a royal house. Their territory could expand by royal intermarriage or merge with another state when the dynasty merged. In some parts of Europe, notably Germany, very small territorial units existed. They were recognised by their neighbours as independent, and had their own government and laws. Some were ruled by princes or other hereditary rulers, some were governed by bishops or abbots. Because they were so small, however, they had no separate language or culture: the inhabitants shared the language of the surrounding region.
In some cases these states were simply overthrown by nationalist uprisings in the 19th century. Liberal ideas of free trade played a role in German unification, which was preceded by a customs union, the Zollverein. However, the Austro-Prussian War, and the German alliances in the Franco-Prussian War, were decisive in the unification. The Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire broke up after the First World War and the Russian Empire became the Soviet Union, after the long Russian Civil War.
Some of the smaller states survived: the independent principalities of Liechtenstein, Andorra, Monaco, and the republic of San Marino. The Vatican City is not a survival, although there was a larger Papal State. In its present form it was created by the 1929 Lateran treaties between Italy and the Roman Catholic Church.
Nation-states have their own characteristics, differing from those of the pre-national states. For a start, they have a different attitude to their territory, compared to the dynastic monarchies: it is semi-sacred, and non-transferable. No nation would swap territory with other states simply, for example, because the king's daughter got married. They have a different type of border, in principle defined only by the area of settlement of the national group, although many nation states also sought natural borders (rivers, mountain ranges).
The most noticeable characteristic is the degree to which nation-states use the state as an instrument of national unity, in economic, social and cultural life.
The nation-state promoted economic unity, first by abolishing internal customs and tolls. In Germany this process, the creation of the Zollverein, preceded formal national unity. Nation-states typically have a policy to create and maintain a national transportation infrastructure, facilitating trade and travel. In 19th-century Europe, the expansion of the rail transport networks was at first largely a matter for private railway companies, but gradually came under control of the national governments. The French rail network, with its main lines radiating from Paris to all corners of France, is often seen as a reflection of the centralised French nation-state, which directed its construction. Nation states continue to build, for instance, specifically national motorway networks. Specifically trans-national infrastructure programmes, such as the Trans-European Networks, are a recent innovation.
The nation-states typically had a more centralised and uniform public administration than its imperial predecessors: they were smaller, and the population less diverse. (The internal diversity of, for instance, the Ottoman Empire was very great.) After the 19th-century triumph of the nation-state in Europe, regional identity was subordinate to national identity, in regions such as Alsace-Lorraine, Catalonia, Brittany, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica. In many cases, the regional administration was also subordinated to central (national) government. This process was partially reversed from the 1970s onward, with the introduction of various forms of regional autonomy, in formerly centralised states such as France.
The most obvious impact of the nation-state, as compared to its non-national predecessors, is the creation of a uniform national culture, through state policy. The model of the nation-state implies that its population constitutes a nation, united by a common descent, a common language and many forms of shared culture. When the implied unity was absent, the nation-state often tried to create it. It promoted a uniform national language, through language policy. The creation of national systems of compulsory primary education and a relatively uniform curriculum in secondary schools, was the most effective instrument in the spread of the national languages. The schools also taught the national history, often in a propagandistic and mythologised version, and (especially during conflicts) some nation-states still teach this kind of history.
Language and cultural policy was sometimes negative, aimed at the suppression of non-national elements. Language prohibitions were sometimes used to accelerate the adoption of national languages, and the decline of minority languages, see Germanisation.
In some cases these policies triggered bitter conflicts and further ethnic separatism. But where it worked, the cultural uniformity and homogeneity of the population increased. Conversely, the cultural divergence at the border became sharper: in theory, a uniform French identity extends from the Atlantic coast to the Rhine, and on the other bank of the Rhine, a uniform German identity begins. To enforce that model, both sides have divergent language policy and educational systems, although the linguistic boundary is in fact well inside France, and the Alsace region changed hands four times between 1870 and 1945.
In some cases, the geographic boundaries of an ethnic population and a political state largely coincide. In these cases, there is little immigration or emigration, few members of ethnic minorities, and few members of the "home" ethnicity living in other countries.
Clear examples of nation states include:
The notion of a unifying "national identity" also extends to countries which host multiple ethnic or language groups, such as India and China. For example, Switzerland is constitutionally a confederation of cantons, and has four official languages, but it has also a 'Swiss' national identity, a national history and a classic national hero, Wilhelm Tell.
Innumerable conflicts have arisen where political boundaries did not correspond with ethnic or cultural boundaries. For one example, the Hatay Province was transferred to Turkey from Syria after the majority-Turkey population complained of mistreatment. The traditional homeland of the Kurdish people extends between northern Iraq, southeastern Turkey, and western Iran. Some of its inhabitants call for the creation of an independent Kurdistan, citing mistreatment by the Turkish and Iraqi governments. An armed conflict between the terrorist Kurdistan Workers Party and the Turkish government over this issue has been ongoing since 1984.
After WWII in the Tito era, nationalism was appealed to for uniting South Slav peoples. Later in the 20th century, after the break-up of the Soviet Union, leaders appealed to ancient ethnic feuds or tensions that ignited conflict between the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, as well Bosnians, Montenegrins and Macedonians, eventually breaking up the long collaboration of peoples and ethnic cleansing was carried out in the Balkans, resulting in the destruction of the formerly communist republic and produced the civil wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992-95, resulted in mass population displacements and segregation that radically altered what was once a highly diverse and intermixed ethnic makeup of the region. These conflicts were largely about creating a new political framework of states, each of which would be ethnically and politically homogeneous. Serbians, Croatians and Bosnians insisted they were ethnically distinct although many communities had a long history of intermarriage. All could speak the common Serbo-Croatian Language. Presently Slovenia (89% Slovene), Croatia (88% Croat) and Serbia (83% Serb) could be classified as nation-states per se, whereas Macedonia (66% Macedonian), Montenegro (42% Montenegrin) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (47% Bosniak) are multinational states.
Belgium is a classic example of an artificial state that is not a nation-state. The state was formed by secession from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1830, whose neutrality and integrity was protected by the Treaty of London 1839; thus it served as a buffer state between the European powers France, Prussia (After 1871 the German Empire), the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of the Netherlands until World War I. Belgium is divided between the Flemings and the Walloons. The Flemish population in the north speaks Dutch and the Walloon population in the south speaks French. The Flemish identity is also ethnic and cultural, and there is a strong separatist movement espoused by the political parties, Vlaams Belang and the Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie. The Francophone Walloon identity of Belgium is linguistically distinct and regionalist. There is also s unitary Belgian nationalism, several versions of a Greater Netherlands ideal, and a German-speaking community of Belgium annexed from Prussia in 1920, and re-annexed by Germany in 1940–1944. However these ideologies are all very marginal and politically insignificant during elections.
China covers a large geographic area and uses the concept of "Zhonghua minzu" — "Chinese peoples", in the sense of ethnic groups — although it also officially recognizes the majority Han ethnic group, and no fewer than 55 ethnic national minorities. In practice, however, the Han majority represents over 92 percent of the population, and the process of sinicization (漢化/汉化 hànhuà, lit. to become or to make Han) has continued under the People's Republic.
Although Estonia is a country with very diverse demographical situation with over 100 different ethnic groups whereas only 68.7% are Estonians and the biggest minority group (25.6%) being Russians, the constitution defines as one of the main reasons of the Estonian independence the goal to preserve the Estonian language, nation and culture, therefore Estonia could be still seen as a nation-state despite the demographical situation.
The constitution reads:
The United Kingdom is a difficult state to classify: it was formed initially by the merger of two independent kingdoms, (the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland), but the Treaty of Union that set out the agreed terms has ensured the continuation of distinct features of each state, including separate legal systems and separate national churches. Three hundred years later, some regard the UK as a nation state but others regard it as a multi-national state. The current British Government itself describes the United Kingdom as "countries within a country." The term, "Home Nations" is often applied to the four different nations (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales) which together make up the state called the United Kingdom.
The most obvious deviation from the ideal of 'one nation, one state', is the presence of minorities, especially ethnic minorities, which are clearly not members of the majority nation. An ethnic nationalist definition of a nation is necessarily exclusive: ethnic nations typically do not have open membership. In most cases, there is a clear idea that surrounding nations are different, and that includes members of those nations who live on the 'wrong side' of the border. Historical examples of groups, who have been specifically singled out as outsiders, are the Roma and Jews in Europe.
Negative responses to minorities within the nation-state have ranged from state-enforced cultural assimilation, to expulsion, persecution, violence, and extermination. The assimilation policies are usually state-enforced, but violence against minorities is not always state initiated: it can occur in the form of mob violence such as lynching or pogroms. Nation-states are responsible for some of the worst historical examples of violence against minorities—that is, minorities which were not considered part of the nation.
However, many nation-states do accept specific minorities as being part of the nation, and the term national minority is often used in this sense. The Sorbs in Germany are an example: for centuries they have lived in German-speaking states, surrounded by a much larger ethnic German population, and they have no other historical territory. They are now generally considered to be part of the German nation, and are accepted as such by the Federal Republic of Germany, which constitutionally guarantees their cultural rights. Of the thousands of ethnic and cultural minorities in nation states across the world, only a few have this level of acceptance and protection.
Multiculturalism is an official policy in many states, establishing the ideal of peaceful existence among multiple ethnic, cultural, and linguistic groups. Many nations have laws protecting minority rights.
Ideally, the border of a nation-state extends far enough to include all the members of the nation, and all of the national homeland. Again, in practice some of them always live on the 'wrong side' of the border. Part of the national homeland may be there too, and it may be inhabited by the 'wrong' nation. The response to the non-inclusion of territory and population may take the form of irredentism- demands to annex unredeemed territory and incorporate it into the nation-state. Irredentist claims are usually based on the fact that an identifiable part of the national group lives across the border. However, they can include claims to territory where no members of that nation live at present, either because they lived there in the past, or because the national language is spoken in that region, or because the national culture has influenced it, or because of geographical unity with the existing territory, or for a wide variety of other reasons. Past grievances are usually involved (see Revanchism). It is sometimes difficult to distinguish irredentism from pan-nationalism, since both claim that all members of an ethnic and cultural nation belong in one specific state. Pan-nationalism is less likely to ethnically specify the nation. For instance, variants of Pan-Germanism have different ideas about what constituted Greater Germany, including the confusing term Grossdeutschland- which in fact implied the inclusion of huge Slavic minorities from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Typically, irredentist demands are at first made by members of non-state nationalist movements. When they are adopted by a state, they typically result in tensions, and actual attempts at annexation are always considered a casus belli, a cause for war. In many cases, such claims result in long-term hostile relations between neighbouring states. Irredentist movements typically circulate maps of the claimed national territory, the greater nation-state. That territory, which is often much larger than the existing state, plays a central role in their propaganda. For examples, see below (See Also).
Irredentism should not be confused with claims to overseas colonies, which are not generally considered part of the national homeland. Some French overseas colonies would be an exception: French rule in Algeria did indeed treat the colony legally as a département of France, unsuccessfully.
It has been speculated by both proponents of globalization and various future fiction writers that the concept of a nation-state may disappear with the ever-increasingly interconnected nature of the world. Such ideas are sometimes expressed around concepts of a world government.
This falls into line with the concept of Internationalism, which states that sovereignty is an outdated concept and a barrier to achieving peace and harmony in the world, thus also stating that nation-states are also a similar outdated concept.
If the nation-state does begin to disappear, then it may well be the direct or indirect result of globalisation and Internationalism. The two concepts state that sovereignty is an outdated concept and, as the concept and existence of a nation-state depends on 'untouchable' sovereignty, it is therefore reasonable to assume that. Globalisation especially has helped to bring about the discussion about the disappearance of nation states, as global trade and the rise of the concepts of a 'global citizen' and a common identity have helped to reduce differences and 'distances' between individual nation states, especially with regards to the internet .
In direct contrast to cosmopolitan theories about an ever more connected world that no longer requires nation-states, is the Clash of Civilizations theory. The proposal by political scientist Samuel P. Huntington is that people's cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world.
The theory was originally formulated in a 1992 lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, which was then developed in a 1993 Foreign Affairs article titled "The Clash of Civilizations?", in response to Francis Fukuyama's 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man. Huntington later expanded his thesis in a 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.
Huntington began his thinking by surveying the diverse theories about the nature of global politics in the post-Cold War period. Some theorists and writers argued that human rights, liberal democracy and capitalist free market economics had become the only remaining ideological alternative for nations in the post-Cold War world. Specifically, Francis Fukuyama argued that the world had reached the 'end of history' in a Hegelian sense.
Huntington believed that while the age of ideology had ended, the world had only reverted to a normal state of affairs characterized by cultural conflict. In his thesis, he argued that the primary axis of conflict in the future will be along cultural and religious lines.
As an extension, he posits that the concept of different civilizations, as the highest rank of cultural identity, will become increasingly useful in analyzing the potential for conflict.
In the 1993 Foreign Affairs article, Huntington writes:
Huntington seems to fall in the primordialist school, believing that culturally defined groups are ancient and natural, however his early work suggests he is a Structural Functionalist. His view that nation states will remain the most powerful actors aligns with realism. Finally, his warning that the Western civilization may decline is inspired by Arnold J. Toynbee, Carroll Quigley, and Oswald Spengler.