The State And The Nation

Although the two terms state and nation have different meanings they tend to be used interchangeably and identically bringing confusion to the use of the terms both in intellectual and popular discourse. The terms state means a legal and political entity while the term nation denotes a group of people that share common characteristics such as language, religion and ethnicityaˆ¦ In spite of the difference between the two concepts of nation and state, the two terms tend to overlap due to many reasons mainly the advent of nationalism, Wilson fourteenth point which made the nation-state an ideal form of government and the aspiration to be a nation-state. This research paper will analyze the difference between the two concepts and the reasons behind the confusion about the two terms. The first part is devoted to the difference between nation and state by giving their definitions and the second part deals with reasons behind the confusion between the two terms.

Before analyzing the difference between the state and the nation, the two terms need to be defined. First, the state is a legal and political entity that has five geographical components: territory, population, government, organized economy and a circulation system in addition to two political components: sovereignty and recognition. (Glassner and Fahrer, 31-32). Second, The etymology of the word nation as a Latin word natio means “‘birth’ or ‘descent’” (Schulze,99), foreigners that are inferior to Romans, it also means a group of university students. The modern use of the word nation started in the 16 century to mean a group of people that share unified characteristics. (Visvanathan, 533) According to Hagen Schulze, the nation is “a state of mind, a community that exists as long as it is willed and lives in the hearts and minds of its members and which perishes when it no longer exists in their thoughts and aspirationsaˆ¦Nations come to know themselves through their common historyaˆ¦” (99).

According to those two definitions we can discern many differences between the nation and state. First, the state has many tangible components such as territory and population while the term nation is merely based on ideas and concepts that run the risk of disappearing if no one believes in them. In addition, unlike the nation, whereby the link between its nationals is a moral one: religious, linguistic, ethnicaˆ¦the relation between the state and its citizen is a legal one that is channeled through institutions. Second, the state is a legal entity that has authority, a government that represents its citizens and needs both the five geographical and the two political components to be recognized as a state. While the nation is rather an invention (Visvanathan, 533), that is based on history that is modified to serve the purpose of the nation even if it never existed as long as it serves the purpose of uniting people, this means usually turning such negative events in history into positive ones. For instance, the state of Israel used the siege of Masada as a symbol for the glorification of the Jewish nation during their battle against the roman whereby many Jews preferred to commit suicide instead of succumbing to the Romans. Although historical and scientific research shows remains of pigs in the area, a fact which stains the event as it used to glorify people who adhere to Jewish law. Basically history is used selectively by any nation to advance its agenda (Gelvin ,6-9). Besides, it is not conditioned for a community to belong to a nation based on the entire cultural characteristics, sometimes one feature is enough. For instance, the concept of the Israel as a nation is based on religion while language and culture did not matter during its construction. While for the Kurds it is based language and ethnicity. Finally, since a nation needs only one common binding point between its community and the state needs rigid requirements, there are more nations than state to the extent that there are multinational states mostly administered through federal system such as Russia and India.

Definition of the Nation State

The term nation-state was invented to mark the homogeneity of a state in terms of having one unified nation. This term is going to meet problems as it “A nation-state has been a mythical goal, often sought, but never fully achieved” (Walby, 532) due to its impracticality. According to Saadia Toor “The nation-state is a particular form of representative state, wherein it is assumed that the people who live within the territorial boundaries of a state are members of a unified community-a nation-whose corporate interests the state represents.” (187) this term is popular among ruling elite and those who espouse to rule as it is “The ideal composite of rule and its legitimacy in the contemporary world,” (Saadia Toor, 187) For instance, the country of France needs legitimacy. This term brought a problem of making this type of state being sought by any nation in the world as term denotes that “Each nation had a right to its own state” (Saadia Toor, 188)

The Reasons behind the Confusion between the Two Terms

First, According to Weber since the nation means “a community of sentiment which normally tends to produce a state of its own,” (Reis, 252) therefore it is “the nation (that) tends to create state” (Reis, 252) the basis of this argument lies on the German nation building in which the state was built from the bottom. Even Marcel Maus defined the state as: “society integrated in material and moral terms, with a stable and permanent central power, fixed frontiers, and a relatively stable moral, mental and cultural unity among the inhabitants who consciously respect the state and abide by its laws.” (Reis, 253) The reasons behind this confusion between the state and the nation is due to the shared space which is regarded by the nation as a homeland and the state is a basis of territory upon it sovereignty lies. Another major source of perplexity in the use of the term lies in the concept of self determination which was brought by the fourteens point of Wilson to denote the right of any nation to have its state therefore the two terms became two faces of one coin. Furthermore, even the use of the word United Nations and league of nation before WWII creates confusion in the use of the term nation to mean a state. The use of the term nation in the UN is ironic because the organization is composed of states instead of nations.

Nationalism brought together to be two faces of the same coin and an ideal form of government as it stated by Ernest Gellner “Nationalism holds that they (nation and state) were destined for each other; that either without the other is incomplete, and constitutes a tragedy. But before they could become intended for each other, each of them had to emerge, and their emergence was independent and contingent. The state has certainly emerged without the help of the nation. Some nations have certainly emerged without the blessings, of their own state” (6). Moreover, the emergence of nationalism after the American Revolution and French revolution brought an upheaval to the territorial state as it “tightened the relation between “state” and “society”” (Axtmann, 260). Before the two revolution, population used to pay allegiance to “religious communities and dynastic realms” but with the coming of the age of enlightenment people found nationalism to be a new way to be attached to their community and this brought the idea of the nation state as “The ideal composite of rule and its legitimacy in the contemporary world” (Toor, 187), which in its way brought confusion to the use of the two terms.

Second, another important source of confusion is due to the fact that nation is becoming an important possession that any human being should have as it is stated by Ernest Gellner “Having a nation is not an inherent attribute of humanity, but it has now come to appear as such” (6). And regarding the date the state predates the nation even though the term exited for a long time because the modern meaning of the nation came into being only in the 16th century. In fact the “A nation-state has been a mythical goal, often sought, but never fully achieved” (Walby, 532), to the extent that even the countries currently hold to be nation-states are not homogenous for instance, one of the most insular country Japan has a minority of Ainu in Hokkaido as well as a different language spoken in Okinawa island, France has both ancient and new minorities and even Bangladesh which considered one of the most homogenous countries in earth in terms of religion has a Christian minority in Chittagong.

Third, one of the reasons behind the confusion between the two terms has two with some shared characteristics between the two. For instance, as it is stated by Christopher Pierson: “nations reflect claims of sovereignty at a particular level (not local, not cosmopolitan). They reflect the formalization of borders and the importance of a shared legal apparatus. They also evoke elements of the ‘citizenship’ side of the modern state: rights shared within a particular community, authority deriving from the will of the sovereign people, the state as an expression of this collective will and so on” (48).

The example of Pakistan prior to the cessation of Bangladesh exemplifies states that regard themselves as nation-states “in which the integrity-and indeed authenticity-of a nation-state were dependent on the existence of a bounded and unitary national culture, of which language was a crucial part” (Toor, 186), which means complete disregard for the cultures of minorities that live in the country mainly the Bengalis, the same can be said regarding the Kurds in Turkey that were obliged to assimilate into the nation of Turkey


To conclude, the terms nation and state tend to be used interchangeably in spite of their different difference due to the belief in the right of each nation to have a state enforced by such concept as nationalism and self determinism.