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(Redirected from Nation states)
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 the parallel occurence of a state and a nation. This happens very unusually in reality, though many politicans and activists have attempted to claim that their state is a nation-state, in order to try and reduce tension between differing ethnic groups.


Examples of Nation-States

For some, only Iceland or Japan or the Republic of Ireland can truly be considered exemplary nation-states, in which the political polity and the common genetic heritage and unified culture combine in a seamless whole, but that most other independent states are not true nation-states. However, under specific requirements brought to the core concept, even this short list would be disputed.

Not Nation-States

To clarify the idea, a few examples can be considered to show why certain countries are not nation-states, according to some highly specific requirements.

  • It may be argued that any state with a large percentage its nationality living abroad cannot be considered a nation-state. The Republic of Ireland could be called a nation-state as it is almost entirely made up by people of the Irish nationality. However, as there are also a large number of Irish people in other states, notably the United Kingdom and the U.S.A, the Irish diaspora is not included in the [[nation-state of the Republic of Ireland. Such a requirement would eliminate Japan and Korea as nation-states as well. But see below.
  • It may be argued that a state with colonies cannot be a nation-state. Denmark contains virtually all ethnic Danes and has relatively few foreign nationals within it. However, its sovereignty of the Faroe Islands and Greenland means that the state contains people of other nationalities.
  • Although Portugal contains most ethnic Portugese, a large ethnic minority presence, notably from Brazil means that it is not a nation-state.

The "Greater' nation-state: a false correlative

The argument that a nation-state is composed of a "nation" born within a single common genetic heritage and unified culture, one that historically has excluded "outsiders"— "gypsies" (Roma), Jews or heretics— has a false correlative, namely that the nation-state is in some manner incomplete until it includes all those of its nationality who may be living elsewhere, as minorities. The corollary is not true: the concept of the nation-state is only concerned with its self-sovereignty and cohesion. Conditions beyond its borders do not authentically affect its existence, except as they may be made to appear "necessary" through propaganda. Those who were sentient in the 1950s recall the rhythmic chant of "Algérie fran-çaise", when France claimed that Algeria was a departement of France. "Police actions" of the United states have been justified as "protection of American citizens and property." Iraq's claim of Kuwait as a province, the cause of the First Gulf War, had its roots, not in a "Greater Iraq" but in Ottoman fiscal assertions of the later 19th century.


The origins of the nation state are to be found in the expanding core of France under Philip IV, and of England, once it had shed its extra-territorial claims in Gascony and Aquitaine and gained a national consciousness, a sense of "Englishness". In the 14th and 15th centuries both England and France ran into obstacles in attempting to assimilate the "peripheral" cultures of Wales and of Brittany, Aquitaine and Occitania— all regions where nationalisms resurfaced in the 19th century.

The idea of a nation-state has risen in prominance, as an alternative to an empire composed of provinces]], with the rise of a Europe seen as balanced among political centralized states— largely from the Treaty of Westphalia (1648). The nation-state received a philosophical underpinning in the era of Romanticism, as the "natural" expression of the individual peoples, the ideology that has informed romantic nationalism until today.

After 1945, the nation-state's claim of absolute sovereignty within its borders was discredited. Instead the spread of a global political system based on international agreements that formed supranational blocs characterized the post-colonial era. Genuine economic and political power began to be shared, at least in a covert way, with the giant international corporations.

Over the last few centuries, most states have claimed to be nation states in order to increase 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 many wars have been blamed on the exclusive nature of nation-states, 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.


There are many states, such as Belgium and Switzerland, with multiple linguistic, religious or ethnic groups within them, without any one being clearly dominant. These are often what is described by nationality. However, often (and especially in the case of Switzerland and the United States) attempts to create a bridging national identity have occured. This leads many to differ ethnic nationality, upon which basis few states are nation-states, and state nationality. If we consider state nationality, more states could claims to be nation-states; Belgium contains the Flemish and Waloonian ethnic nations, but holds just one state nationality.


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