The nation-state "is one where the great majority are conscious of a common identity and share the same culture" 1.
The nation-state is an area where the cultural boundaries match up with the political boundaries. The ideal of 'nation-state' is that the state incorporates people of a single ethnic stock and cultural traditions2. However, most contemporary states are polyethnic. Thus, it can be argued that the nation-state "[...] would exist if nearly all the members of a single nation were organised in a single state, without any other national communities being present. Although the term is widely used, no such entities exist" 3.
The nation as we think of it today is a product of the nineteenth century. In modern times nation is recognised as 'the' political community that ensures the legitimacy of the state over its territory, and transforms the state into the state of all its citizens. The notion of 'nation-state' emphasises this new alliance between nation and state. Nationality is supposed to bind the citizen to the state, a bond that will be increasingly tied to the advantages of a social policy in as much as the Welfare State will develop4.
After the First World War the principle of 'the right to national self-determination' were commonly used by international lawyers, national governments and their challengers. The demand that people should govern themselves became identified with the demand that nations should determine their own destiny. By this followed that 'state' and 'nation' came to signify the same and began to be used interchangeably. 'National' came to mean anything run or regulated by the state, as in 'national health insurance' or 'national debt'5. Today, the idea is that nations should be represented within a territorially defined state.
Nevertheless, the idea of the nation-state is more problematical as the state can no longer be seen as the primary focus of national culture6. The 'crisis of the nation-state' refers to the separation of the state from the nation. Social identities, and in particular national culture, can reassert themselves in a variety of ways due to a gradual freeing of the state from some of its traditional functions7. In Western Europe the crisis of national identity is related to the rise of a new nationalism that operates at many different levels, ranging from extreme xenophobic forms to the more moderate forms of cultural nationalism. Underlying this new nationalism is more a hostility against immigrants than against other nations; it is motivated less by notions of cultural superiority than by the implications multiculturalism has for the welfare state. Accordingly, one important challenge facing the democratic multi-cultural state is to find ways of preserving the link between social citizenship and multiculturalism. Without a firm basis in social citizenship, multiculturalism can undergo continued attacks from nationalism, often as a result of social insecurity.
1 Davis, 1997
2 Kazancigil, A. and Dogan, M. 1986. The State in Global Perspective; Comparing Nations: Concepts, Strategies, Substance. Gower/UNESCO. France. Page 188.
3 Halliday sited in Baylis, J. and Smith, S. 1997. The Globalisation of World Politics. An Introduction to International Relations, Oxford.
4 Smelser, N. J. and Baltes, P. B. (eds.) 2001. International Encyclopaedia of the Social and Behavioural Sciences. Vol. 15. Elsevier. Oxford Science Ltd.
5 Smelser, N. J. 1994. Sociology. UNESCO. Blackwell. UK.
6 Delanty, G. 1996. Beyond the Nation-State: National Identity and Citizenship in a Multicultural Society - A Response to Rex, Sociological Research Online, vol. 1, no. 3
7 Balibar, 1991 in Delanty, G. 1996.Back to top