- This article is about the political concept. For the Internet game, Jennifer Government: NationStates.
The term nation-state, while often used interchangeably with the terms unitary state and independent state, refers properly to states in which a single nation is dominant, such as Portugal or Republic of Ireland or the Netherlands. A nation state may at the same time be a federal state, as for instance the Federal Republic of Germany. Unitary states, with a single elected congress or parliament or senate may combine citizens of differing national origins: the United States of America is one among numerous such "melting pots" forming many peoples into one "nation".
Over the last few centuries (and particular over the last half-century, except in Africa), this form of state has become more common, so that now most states claim to be nation states in their claims upon the patriotism of their citizens. In the case of China, for example, this effort has manifested itself in the concept of "Zhonghua minzu," a Chinese people, though an ethnologist or linguist would identify many nations and languages within modern China.
Since the disaster produced by nation-states, 1914–1945, the concept of absolute sovereignty within state borders has met increasing criticism and competition from international blocs, from organizations like the United Nations and from the corporate view of populations as markets rather than nations. The dominance of nation-states has not always been so; and even today there are some states where it is questionable whether they contain a single dominant nation. This is made more difficult by the question of what is a nation, beyond the obvious linguistic and cultural cohesion of those born (Latin "nati") within a culturally-defined area, or "fatherland".
There are many states, such as Belgium and Switzerland, with multiple linguistic, religious or ethnic groups within them, without any one being clearly dominant. However, often (and especially in the case of Switzerland and the United States) a bridging national identity has been constructed despite these differences. A better example of a non-nation state would be the United Kingdom, which consists of four nations England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (that a "Northern Irish nation" exists is, however, disputed).
A somewhat similar example might be contemporary Spain, where Basques, Catalans, Galicians and Asturians claim to be nations distinct from the historically dominant Castile (the Spanish Constitution of 1978 hints at this by mentioning "regions and nationalities" within Spain, and recognizing implicitly their pre-existence).
Historically France was more successful at subsuming within a Gallic nation-state such culturally disparate elements as Brittany, Aquitaine, Languedoc and Burgundy, though less so in Corsica.
In many modern cases, such as Canada, Switzerland, the United States of America, Indonesia, the Soviet Union, efforts have been made to create a national identity that encompasses different groups within that country. In India, and China, former empires have been transformed.
Examples of non-nation states are empires and multinational states which embrace more than one nation, city-states which may be part of a larger nation, thalassocracies, the Roma ("Gypsies"), American Indian nations or tribes, which may or may not possess some autonomous territory, and sovereign corporations (as in the Hudson's Bay Company or the British East India Company). The Kurds and the Palestinians (although the Palestinians make up a majority in the Kingdom of Jordan) are sometimes referred to as nations without states, much as the world's Jews before the official creation of Israel in 1948.
The Rise of the nation-state
The rise of a nation-state, as opposed to the dynastic assemblage of territories held in the personal union of a single sovereign, which might be redistributed among his heirs, is a phenomenon of the High Middle Ages. Early medieval society, in theory if not always in practice, was universal, within the paired embrace of a catholic ("universal") church and a somewhat less than universal emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The rise of nation-states independent of the "universal" emperor, who was in fact German, took place within the Church. The Papacy reached the height of its secular power in the 13th century, organized by a bureaucracy in the curia and enforced on occasion by force of arms.
The nation-states found their first expression in England and France, where clerics with ecclesiastical training owed their rise in the world to the institution of monarchy, often in direct opposition to the worldly ambitions of popes like Innocent III and Innocent IV. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the territorial powers drew ahead of the papacy, which was often a tool of the national ambitions of Castile, Aragon and France.
On the economic rather than political and ideological front, Fernand Braudel has outlined the careers of the emerging city-states that were in control of the earliest world-economies of Europe, before the nation-states managed to unify their internal markets and finally, in the 17th century, outcompete the cities. Braudel presents economic histories in some detail in a sequence that runs Bruges and Venice, then Antwerp, a brief interlude for Genoa, and finally Amsterdam, which was overtaken by the United Kingdom in the early 18th century. (Braudel, The Perspective of the World vol III of Civilization and Capitalism 1979, 1984).
The bureaucratic nation-state emerged fully in France with Philip IV (reigning 1285–1314) and a regime of non-aristocratic ministers whose loyalties lay with the administration of the king's affairs.
In Scandinavia, diverging economic interests between central Scandinavia and southern Jutland was increasingly expressed in nationalist language and pointedly manifested in the Engelbrecht rebellion (1434–1436). The Protestant Reformation and the ultimate demise of the Scandinavian Kalmar Union in 1521–1523 led to the establishment of Sweden (with Finland) as a separate nation-state, although until 1809 with a Finnish speaking peasant minority.
In other parts of Europe, the nation-state failed to emerge, due to resistance of great territorial nobles to a centralized bureaucratic monarchy, most notably in Poland and Germany, where kingship remained electoral. In Italy, the sense of patria that developed in the central and north Italian communes remained fiercely local, even when local aristocratic dynasties usurped all-but- royal powers, often disguised behind a traditional signoria.
Last updated: 06-02-2005 13:03:08