For the ambiguities surrounding and specifications of the terms "nation", "state", "country" and "international", see Nation
. For 2018 Israeli legislation, see Nation-State Bill
. For the government simulation browser game, see NationStates
A nation state
is a state
in which a great majority shares the same culture
and is conscious of it.
It has been described as a political unit where the state and nation
It is a more precise concept than "country
", since a country does not need to have a predominant ethnic group
, in the sense of a common ethnicity
, may include a diaspora
who live outside the nation state; some nations of this sense do not have a state where that ethnicity predominates. In a more general sense, a nation state is simply a large, politically sovereign country or administrative territory. A nation state may be contrasted with:
- A multinational state, where no one ethnic group dominates (such a state may also be considered a multicultural state depending on the degree of cultural assimilation of various groups).
- A city-state which is both smaller than a "nation" in the sense of "large sovereign country" and which may or may not be dominated by all or part of a single "nation" in the sense of a common ethnicity.
- An empire, which is composed of many countries (possibly non-sovereign states) and nations under a single monarch or ruling state government.
- A confederation, a league of sovereign states, which might or might not include nation-states.
- A federated state which may or may not be a nation-state, and which is only partially self-governing within a larger federation (for example, the state boundaries of Bosnia and Herzegovina are drawn along ethnic lines, but those of the United States are not).
This article mainly discusses the more specific definition of a nation-state as a typically sovereign country dominated by a particular ethnicity.
The relationship between a nation (in the ethnic sense) and a state can be complex. The presence of a state can encourage ethnogenesis
, and a group with a pre-existing ethnic identity can influence the drawing of territorial boundaries or argue for political legitimacy
This definition of a "nation-state" is not universally accepted. "All attempts to develop terminological consensus around "nation" resulted in failure", concludes academic Valery Tishkov
History and origins
The origins and early history
of nation states are disputed. A major theoretical question is: "Which came first, the nation or the nation state?" Scholars such as Steven Weber
, David Woodward
, Michel Foucault
and Jeremy Black
have advanced the hypothesis that the nation state did not arise out of political ingenuity or an unknown undetermined source, nor was it a political invention; but is an inadvertent byproduct of 15th-century intellectual discoveries in political economy
, political geography
, and geography
combined together with cartography
and advances in map-making technologies
It was with these intellectual discoveries and technological advances that the nation state arose. For others, the nation existed first, then nationalist movements arose for sovereignty
, and the nation state was created to meet that demand. Some "modernization theories
" of nationalism see it as a product of government policies to unify and modernize an already existing state. Most theories see the nation state as a 19th-century European phenomenon, facilitated by developments such as state-mandated education, mass literacy
and mass media
. However, historians[who?]
also note the early emergence of a relatively unified state and 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, 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 12–13% spoke the version of it that was to be found in literature and in educational facilities, according to Hobsbawm.
The Revolutions of 1848
were democratic and liberal in nature, with the aim of removing the old monarchical
structures and creating independent nation-states.
Some nation states, such as Germany
, 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
. However, "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
Some authors deconstruct the distinction between ethnic nationalism
and civic nationalism
because of the ambiguity of the concepts. They argue that the paradigmatic case of Ernest Renan
is an idealisation and it should be interpreted within the German tradition and not in opposition to it. For example, they argue that the arguments used by Renan at the conference What is a nation?
are not consistent with his thinking. This alleged civic conception of the nation would be determined only by the case of the loss gives Alsace and Lorraine in the Franco-Prussian War
The idea of a nation state was and 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 characterized that system, depended on its effectiveness upon clearly defined, centrally controlled, independent entities, whether empires
or nation states, which recognize 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 (by assuming that there is no disputed territory).
The relation between racism and ethnic nationalism reached its height in the 20th century fascism
. 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. Minorities
were not considered part of the people (Volk
), and were consequently denied to have an authentic or legitimate role in such a state. In Germany, neither Jews
nor the Roma
were considered part of the people and were specifically targeted for persecution. German nationality law
defined "German" on the basis of German ancestry, excluding all
non-Germans from the people.
According to Andreas Wimmer and Yuval Feinstein, nation-states tended to emerge when power shifts allowed nationalists to overthrow existing regimes or absorb existing administrative units.
Xue Li and Alexander Hicks links the frequency of nation-state creation to processes of diffusion that emanate from international organizations.
Before the nation state
, during the 18th century, the classic non-national states were the multiethnic empires
, the Austrian Empire
, Kingdom of France
, Kingdom of Hungary
the Russian Empire
, the Portuguese Empire
, the Spanish Empire
, the Ottoman Empire
, the British Empire
and smaller nations at what would now be called sub-state level. The multi-ethnic empire was an absolute monarchy
ruled by a king, emperor
. 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.
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 recognized by their neighbors as independent, and had their own government and laws. Some were ruled by princes
or other hereditary rulers, some were governed by bishops
. Because they were so small, however, they had no separate language or culture: the inhabitants shared the language of the surrounding region.
"Legitimate states that govern effectively and dynamic industrial economies are widely regarded today as the defining characteristics of a modern nation-state."
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 when compared with dynastic monarchies: it is semisacred and nontransferable. No nation would swap territory with other states simply, for example, because the king's daughter 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). They are constantly changing in population size and power because of the limited restrictions of their borders.
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, by abolishing internal customs
. In Germany, that 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 transnational 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 the Ottoman Empire
, for instance, 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
. 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 examples: Anglicisation
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.
In some cases, the geographic boundaries of an ethnic population and a political state largely coincide. In these cases, there is little immigration
, few members of ethnic minorities, and few members of the "home" ethnicity living in other countries.
Nation states where a single ethnic group makes up more than 85% of the population include the following:
- Albania: The vast majority of the population is ethnically Albanian at about 98.6% of the population, with the remainder consisting of a few small ethnic minorities.
- Armenia: The vast majority of Armenia's population consists of ethnic Armenians at about 98% of the population, with the remainder consisting of a few small ethnic minorities.
- Bangladesh: The vast majority ethnic group of Bangladesh are the Bengali people, comprising 98% of the population, with the remainder consisting of mostly Bihari migrants and indigenous tribal groups. Therefore, Bangladeshi society is to a great extent linguistically and culturally homogeneous, with very small populations of foreign expatriates and workers, although there is a substantial number of Bengali workers living abroad.
- China: The vast majority of China's population is Han, making up 92% of the population and geographically distributed on the eastern side of China. The government also recognizes 55 ethnic minorities, including Turks, Tibetans, Mongols and others. Some scholars think that China is not a typical nation state, but a civilization state.
- Egypt: The vast majority of Egypt's population consists of ethnic Egyptians at about 99% of the population, with the remainder consisting of a few small ethnic minorities, as well as refugees or asylum seekers. Modern Egyptian identity is closely tied to the geography of Egypt and its long history; its development over the centuries saw overlapping or conflicting ideologies. Though today an Arab people, that aspect constitutes for Egyptians a cultural dimension of their identity, not a necessary attribute of or prop for their national political being. Today most Egyptians see themselves, their history, culture and language (the Egyptian variant of Arabic) as specifically Egyptian and at the same time as part of the Arab world.
- Estonia: Defined as a nation state in its 1920 constitution, up until the period of Soviet incorporation, Estonia was historically a very homogenous state with 88.2% of residents being Estonians, 8.2% Russians, 1.5% Germans and 0.4% Jews according to the 1934 census. As a result of Soviet policies the demographic situation significantly changed with the arrival of Russian speaking settlers. Today Estonians form 69%, Russians 25.4%, Ukrainians 2.04% and Belarusians 1.1% of the population (2012). A significant proportion of the inhabitants (84.1%) are citizens of Estonia, around 7.3% are citizens of Russia and 7.0% as yet undefined citizenship (2010).
- Eswatini: The vast majority of the population is ethnically Swazi at about 98.6% of the population, with the remainder consisting of a few small ethnic minorities.
- Greece: 91.6% of the permanent residents are ethnic Greek; the remaining 911929 inhabitants consist of immigrants from Albania (480,824), Bulgaria (75,915), Romania (46,253), former USSR (70,000), Western Europe (77,000) and the rest of the world (161,937).
- Hungary: The Hungarians (or Magyar) people consist of about 95% of the population, with a small Roma and German minority: see Demographics of Hungary.
- Iceland: Although the inhabitants are ethnically related to other Scandinavian groups, the national culture and language are found only in Iceland. There are no cross-border minorities as the nearest land is too far away: see Demographics of Iceland.
- Japan: Japan is also traditionally seen as an example of a nation state and also the largest of the nation states, with population in excess of 120 million. Japan has a small number of minorities such as Ryūkyū peoples, Koreans and Chinese, and on the northern island of Hokkaidō, the indigenous Ainu minority. However, they are either numerically insignificant (Ainu), their difference is not as pronounced (though Ryukyuan culture is closely related to Japanese culture, it is nonetheless distinctive in that it historically received much more influence from China and has separate political and nonpolitical and religious traditions) or well assimilated (Zainichi population is collapsing due to assimilation/naturalisation).
- Lebanon: The Lebanese Arabs comprise about 95% of the population, with the remainder consisting of a few small ethnic minorities, as well as refugees or asylum seekers. Modern Lebanese identity is closely tied to the geography of Lebanon and its history. Although they are now an Arab people and ethnically homogeneous, its identity oversees overlapping or conflicting ideologies between its Phoenician heritage and Arab heritage. While many Lebanese regard themselves as Arab, some Lebanese Christians, especially the Maronites, regard themselves, their history, and their culture as Phoenician and not Arab, while still other Lebanese regard themselves as both.
- Lesotho: Lesotho's ethno-linguistic structure consists almost entirely of the Basotho (singular Mosotho), a Bantu-speaking people; about 99.7% of the population are Basotho.
- Maldives: The vast majority of the population is ethnically Dhivehi at about 98% of the population, with the remainder consisting of foreign workers; there are no indigenous ethnic minorities.
- Malta: The vast majority of the population is ethnically Maltese at about 95.3% of the population, with the remainder consisting of a few small ethnic minorities.
- Mongolia: The vast majority of the population is ethnically Mongol at about 95.0% of the population, with the remainder consisting of a few ethnic minorities included in Kazakhs.
- North and South Korea are among the most ethnically and linguistically homogeneous countries in the world. According to The World Factbook, North Korea is homogeneous. South Korea is considered one of the most ethnically homogeneous societies in the world with ethnic Koreans representing approximately 96% of total population.
- Poland: After World War II, with the genocide of the Jews by the invading German Nazis during the Holocaust, the expulsion of Germans after World War II and the loss of eastern territories (Kresy), 96.7% of the people of Poland claim Polish nationality, while 97.8% declare that they speak Polish at home (Census 2002.).
- Several Polynesian countries such as Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu, etc.
- Portugal: Although surrounded by other lands and people, the Portuguese nation has occupied the same territory since the romanization or latinization of the native population during the Roman era. The modern Portuguese nation is a very old amalgam of formerly distinct historical populations that passed through and settled in the territory of modern Portugal: native Iberian peoples, Celts, ancient Mediterraneans (Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Jews), invading Germanic peoples like the Suebi and the Visigoths, and MuslimArabs and Berbers. Most Berber/Arab people and the Jews were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula during the Reconquista and the repopulation by Christians.
- San Marino: The Sammarinese make up about 97% of the population and all speak Italian and are ethnically and linguistically identical to Italians. San Marino is a landlocked enclave, completely surrounded by Italy. The state has a population of approximately 30,000, including 1,000 foreigners, most of whom are Italians.
The notion of a unifying "national identity" also extends to countries that host multiple ethnic or language groups, such as India
. 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.
After World War II in the Josip Broz 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
, as well as Bosniaks
, eventually breaking up the long collaboration of peoples. Ethnic cleansing was carried out in the Balkans, resulting in the destruction of the formerly socialist republic
and producing the civil wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina
in 1992–95, resulting 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. Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks insisted they were ethnically distinct although many communities had a long history of intermarriage. Presently Slovenia
(89% Slovene), Croatia
(83% Serb) could be classified as nation states per se, whereas North Macedonia
(66% Macedonian), Montenegro
(42% Montenegrin) and Bosnia and Herzegovina
(50.1% Bosniak) are multinational states.
Ethnolinguistic map of mainland China and Taiwan
According to Philip G. Roeder, Moldova
is an example of a Soviet era "segment-state" (Moldavian SSR
), where the "nation-state project of the segment-state trumped the nation-state project of prior statehood. In Moldova, despite strong agitation from university faculty and students for reunification with Romania
, the nation-state project forged within the Moldavian SSR trumped the project for a return to the interwar nation-state project of Greater Romania
See Controversy over linguistic and ethnic identity in Moldova
for further details.
Kingdom of the Netherlands
There has been academic debate over whether the United Kingdom can be legally dissolved as it is normally recognized internationally as a single nation state. English law jurist A.V. Dicey
from an English legal perspective wrote that the question is based on whether the legislation giving rise to the union (the Union with Scotland Act), one of the two pieces of legislation which created the state, can be repealed. Dicey claimed because the Law of England does not acknowledge the word "unconstitutional", as a matter of English law
it can be repealed. He also stated any tampering with the Acts of Union 1707
would be political madness.[page needed][better source needed]
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
Negative responses to minorities within the nation state have ranged from cultural assimilation
enforced by the state, to expulsion
, persecution, violence, and extermination
. The assimilation policies are usually enforced by the state, but violence against minorities is not always state-initiated: it can occur in the form of mob violence
such as lynching
. Nation states are responsible for some of the worst historical examples of violence against minorities not considered part of the nation.
However, many nation states accept specific minorities as being part of the nation, and the term national minority
is often used in this sense. The Sorbs
in Germany is 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.
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 governed 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, because they lived there in the past, the national language is spoken in that region, the national culture has influenced it, geographical unity with the existing territory, or a wide variety of other reasons. Past grievances are usually involved and can cause 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 specify the nation ethnically. 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.
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
unsuccessfully treated the colony as a département
Globalization 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.
Clash of civilizations
Huntington believed that while the age of ideology
had ended, the world had reverted only 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.
It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.
Sandra Joireman suggests that Huntington may be characterised as a neo-primordialist
, as, while he sees people as having strong ties to their ethnicity, he does not believe that these ties have always existed.
Historians often look to the past to find the origins of a particular nation state. Indeed, they often put so much emphasis on the importance of the nation state in modern times, that they distort the history of earlier periods in order to emphasize the question of origins. Lansing and English argue that much of the medieval history of Europe was structured to follow the historical winners—especially the nation states that emerged around Paris and London. Important developments that did not directly lead to a nation state get neglected, they argue:
one effect of this approach has been to privilege historical winners, aspects of medieval Europe that became important in later centuries, above all the nation state.... Arguably the liveliest cultural innovation in the 13th century was the Mediterranean, centered on Frederick II
's polyglot court and administration in Palermo...Sicily and the Italian South in later centuries suffered a long slide into overtaxed poverty and marginality. Textbook narratives, therefore, focus not on medieval Palermo, with its Muslim and Jewish bureaucracies and Arabic-speaking monarch, but on the historical winners, Paris and London.
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