Nation Explained

For other uses see Nation (disambiguation).

A nation is a cultural and social community. In as much as most members never meet each other, yet feel a common bond, it may be considered an imagined community. One of the most influential doctrines in Western Europe and the Western hemisphere since the late eighteenth century is that all humans are divided into groups called nations.[1] Nationhood is an ethical and philosophical doctrine and is the starting point for the ideology of nationalism; a nation is a form of self-defined cultural and social community. Members of a "nation" share a common identity, and usually a common origin, in the sense of history, ancestry, parentage or descent. A nation extends across generations, and includes the dead as full members. Past events are framed in this context: for example, by referring to "our soldiers" in conflicts which took place hundreds of years ago. More vaguely, nations are assumed to include future generations. Though "nation" is also commonly used in informal discourse as a synonym for state or country, a nation is not identical to a state. The people of a nation-state consider themselves a nation, united in the political and legal structure of the State. While traditionally monocultural, a nation-state may also be multicultural in its self-definition. The term nation is often used as a synonym for ethnic group (sometimes "ethnos"), but although ethnicity is now one of the most important aspects of cultural or social identity, people with the same ethnic origin may live in different nation-states and be treated as members of separate nations for that reason. National identity is often disputed, down to the level of the individual.

Almost all nations are associated with a specific territory, the national homeland. Some live in a historical diaspora, that is, "scattered" or "sown"[2] outside the national homeland. A state which explicitly identifies as the homeland of a particular nation is a nation-state, and most modern states fall into this category, although there may be violent disputes about their legitimacy. Where territory is disputed between nations, the claims may be based on theory called Urrecht, in which history is brought to bear to legitimise present occupancy: Phoenicianism and Zionism are two such historicised nation-building doctrines. National founding myths are etiological legends that when examined in historical contexts are found to answer quite specific issues, which generated them.[3] Especially in Canada the term "First Nations" is used for groups which share an aboriginal culture, and have or seek official recognition.

Ambiguity in usage

In regular usage, terms such as nations, country, land, and state often appear as near-synonyms, i.e., they can be used for a particular area or territory, or for the government itself; in other words, a de jure or de facto state. In the English language, the terms do have precise meanings, but in daily speech and writing they are often used interchangeably, and are open to different interpretations.

In the strict sense, terms such as "nation", "ethnos", and "people" (as in "the Danish people") denote a group of human beings. The concepts of nation and nationality have much in common with ethnic group and ethnicity, but have a more political connotation, since they imply the possibility of a nation-state. Country denominates a geographical territory, whereas state expresses a legitimized administrative and decision-making institution. Confusingly, the terms national and international are used as technical terms applying to states. International law, for instance, applies to relations between states, and occasionally between states on the one side, and individuals or legal persons on the other. Likewise, the United Nations represent states, while nations are not admitted to the body (unless a respective nation-state exists, which can become a member).

Usage also varies from country to country. As an example, the United Kingdom is an internationally recognised sovereign state, which is also referred to as a country and whose inhabitants have British nationality. It is however traditionally divided into four home nations or home countries— - England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. These are not sovereign states in their own right. The island of Ireland is now divided into the sovereign Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland which remains part of the United Kingdom. The current status of the UK, in any case, is controversial and disputed, since there are secessionist movements in England, Scotland and Wales, and for example, Cornwall is considered by a very few people who live there to be a separate nation, within the country of England. Usage of the term nation is not only ambiguous, it is also the subject of political disputes, which may be extremely violent.

When the term 'nation' has any implications of claims to independence from an existing state, its use is controversial. In November 2006 the Canadian House of Commons passed a motion to recognize "that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada", an unusual concession to sovereigntist terminology, even though it explicitly places them within Canada.[4] .[5] Minister Michael Chong resigned in protest, saying '"To me, recognizing Quebecers as a nation, even inside a united Canada, implies the recognition of ethnicity, and I cannot support that. I do not believe in an ethnic nationalism. I believe in a civic nationalism."[6] This event highlighted the confusion around the motion, as Bloc Québécois MPs, among others, had understood it as inclusive of all Quebecers, irrespective of their ethnic origin.[7] The use of the French word Québécois is also an historical recognition to the French people who colonized along the Saint Lawrence River the French colony of Canada for four hundred years.

The term nation is widely used, by extension or metaphor, to describe any group promoting some common interest or common identity, see Red Sox Nation and Queer Nation.

Nationalism is a term referring to a doctrine[8] or political movement[9] that holds that a nation, usually defined in terms of ethnicity or culture, has the right to constitute an independent or autonomous political community based on a shared history and common destiny.[10] Most nationalists believe the borders of the state should be congruent with the borders of the nation.[11] Extreme forms of nationalism, such as those propagated by fascist movements in the twentieth century, hold that nationality is the most important aspect of one's identity, while some of them have attempted to define the nation in terms of race or genetics.

Nationalism has had an enormous influence on Modern history, in which the nation-state has become the dominant form of societal organization. Historians use the term nationalism to refer to this historical transition and to the emergence and predominance of nationalist ideology. Nationalism is closely associated with patriotism.

Etymology and early use

The English word "nation" is derived from the Latin term natio (, stem), meaning:[12] [13]

As an example of how the word natio was employed in classical Latin, consider the following quote from Cicero's Philippics Against Mark Antony in 44 BC. Cicero contrasts the external, inferior nationes ("races of people") with the Roman civitas ("community").:

"Omnes nationes servitutem ferre possunt: nostra civitas non potest."
("All races are able to bear enslavement, but our community cannot.")[14]

St. Jerome used this "genealogical-historical term ... in his Latin translation of New Testament to denote non-Christians - that is, 'others.'"[15]

An early example of the use of the word "nation" in conjunction with language and territory is provided in 968 by Liutprand, bishop of Cremona, who, while confronting Nicephorus II, the Byzantine emperor on behalf of his patron Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor, declared:

"The land...which you say belongs to your empire belongs, as the nationality and language of the people proves, to the kingdom of Italy.'" (Emphasis added.)[16]

Although Liutprand was writing in Latin, his native tongue was Lombard, a Germanic language.

A significant early use of the term nation, as natio, was at mediaeval universities (see: nation (university)), to describe the colleagues in a college or students, above all at the University of Paris, who were all born within a pays, spoke the same language and expected to be ruled by their own familiar law. In 1383 and 1384, while studying theology at Paris, Jean Gerson was twice elected procurator for the French natio (i.e. the French-born Francophone students at the University). The division of students into a natio was also adopted at the University of Prague, where from its opening in 1349 the studium generale was divided among Bohemian, Bavarian, Saxon and Polish nations.

Defining a nation

The national identity refers both to the distinguishing features of the group, and to the individual's sense of belonging to it. A very wide range of criteria is used, with very different applications. Small differences in pronunciation may be enough to categorize someone as a member of another nation. On the other hand, two people may be separated by difference in personalities, belief systems, geographical locations, time and even spoken language; yet regard themselves, and be seen by others, as members of the same nation.

Primordial or Perennial Definition

See main article: Primordialism.

The first requirement for the definition is that the characteristics should be shared—a group of people with nothing in common cannot be a nation.[17] Because they are shared, the national population also has a degree of uniformity and homogeneity. And finally, at least some of the characteristics must be exclusive—to distinguish the nation from neighbouring nations. All of the characteristics can be disputed, and opposition to secessionist nationalism often includes the denial that a separate nation exists.

Primordialism argues that those shared characteristics have an ancient root, and nations are natural phenomena over different historical eras.

Common descent

The etymology of the word nation implies ancestry and descent (see ethnic nationalism). Almost all nationalist movements make some claim to shared origins and descent, and it is a component of the national identity in most nations. The fact that the ancestry is shared among the members of the nation unites them, and sets them apart from other nations, which do not share that ancestry.

The question is: descent from whom? Often, the answer is simply: from previous generations of the same nation. More specifically:

Usually, these factors are assumed to coincide. The well-defined Icelandic nation is assumed to consist of the descendants of the island of Iceland in, say, 1850. Those people also spoke the Icelandic language, were known as Icelanders at that time, and had a recognised culture of their own. However, the present population of Iceland cannot coincide exactly with their descendants: that would imply complete endogamy, meaning that no Icelander since 1850 ever had children by a non-Icelander. Most European nations experienced border changes and, migration over the last few centuries, and intermarried with other national groups. Statistically, their current national population can not coincide exactly with the descendants of the nation in 1700 or 1500, even if was then known by the same name. The shared ancestry is more of a national myth in some cases than a genetic reality—but still sufficient for a national identity nevertheless. This national myth concept becomes even more complicated for nations whose populations are largely comprised of or descended from relatively recent immigrants.

Common Language

A language is the primary ingredient in the making of a nation. Without a common language a nation cannot evolve. A common Culture, a common History is dependent on Language. Also to deal with everyday affairs within a group of people living in a specified boundary need a common mean of communication to trade and socialize. Thus even if a group of people sharing common Language, Culture and History may live in different countries but would still consider themselves attached to their respective nations as long as they share the same language.

Common Culture

Most nations are partly defined by a shared culture. Like a language, a national culture is usually unique to the nation, although it may include many elements shared with other nations. Additionally, the national culture is assumed to be shared with previous generations, and includes a cultural heritage from these generations, as if it were an inheritance. As with the common ancestry, this identification of past culture with present culture may be largely symbolic. The archaeological site of Stonehenge is owned and managed by English Heritage, although no 'English' people or state existed when it was constructed, 4 000 to 5 000 years ago. Other nations have similarly appropriated ancient archaeological sites, literature, art, and even entire civilisations as 'national heritage'.

Common History

A nation is usually bonded together with a common history i.e. a chronologically recorded events in the past, their ancestors have gone through.

Common religion

Religion is sometimes used as a defining factor for a nation, although some nationalist movements de-emphasize it as a divisive factor. Again it is the fact that the religion is shared, that makes it national. It may not be exclusive: several nations define themselves partly as Catholic although the religion itself is universalist. Some religions are specific to one ethnic group, notably Judaism. Nevertheless, the Zionist movement generally avoided a religious definition of the 'Jewish people', preferring an ethnic and cultural definition. Since Judaism is a religion, people can become a Jew by religious conversion, which in turn can facilitate their obtaining Israeli citizenship. Jews in Israel who convert to other religions do not thereby lose Israeli citizenship, although their national identity might then be questioned by others.

Definition by Social constructionism

See main article: Social constructionism.

Primordialism encountered enormous criticism after World War II, and scholars turn their eye on how nations are constructed by the process of nationalism, which is driven by technology and modernization. Nation is not defined by what common characteristic is shared, by instead by how it is constructed.

Voluntary definitions (will)

Some ideas of a nation emphasise not shared characteristics, but rather on the shared choice for membership. In practice, this has always been applied to a group of people, who are also a nation by other definitions. The most famous voluntarist definition is that of Ernest Renan. In a lecture in 1882, Qu'est-ce qu'une nation? he rhetorically asked "What is a Nation?", and answered that it is a 'daily plebiscite'. Renan meant, that the members of the nation, by their daily participation in the life of the nation, show their consent to its existence, and to their own continued membership. Renan spoke in the context of the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine by the German Empire. At the time, the region was ethnically more German than French, and the Alsatian language is a west German language: Renan opposed such 'objective' criteria for a nation. Like Renan, most voluntarist definitions appeal to consent for existing nations, rather than promote explicit decisions to found new ones. Renan saw the nation as a group "having done great things together and wishing to do more" ("avoir fait de grandes choses ensemble, vouloir en faire encore").

Nations as Imagined or Invented

See main article: Imagined communities. Benedict Anderson argues nation are imagined communities that are imagined as limited and sovereign. The imagination is made possible by extensive use of printing press, mass media and capitalism. Nations are therefore defined by how the communities are imagined.

On the other hand, Eric Hobsbawn argues nations are invented tradition, include invention of education, public ceremonies and mass production of public monuments. The nations are defined by those invented traditions.

Ernest Gellner similarly argues there is strong tie between nationalism and modernization. His words "It is nationalism which engenders nations, and not the other way round." is often quoted.[18]

See also

Notes

  1. Dictionary of the History of Ideas: s.v. "Nationalism": "Nationalism has been the idée force in the political,cultural, and economic life of Western Europe and the Western hemisphere since the late eighteenth century;" "Volksgeist"; "Medieval and Renaissance ideas of Nation".
  2. Diaspora, Ancient Greek, διασπορά  - "a scattering or sowing of seeds".
  3. The founding legends of the Dutch Republic and the significance read into them are examined at length and interpreted in this manner by Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age, 1987:13-125. The traditional view of the Pilgrims planted in an "unoccupied desrt" is a theme addressed in modern American historiography.
  4. BBC: Quebec 'nation in Canada', http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6174986.stm; Bloc Québécois supports Canada PM, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6182588.stm
  5. CBC: House passes motion recognizing Québécois as nation, http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2006/11/27/nation-vote.html
  6. Tory cabinet minister quits post over motion, http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2006/11/27/chong-quit-061127.html
  7. "L'importance des mots" ("the importance of words"), Le Devoir Nov 30 2006
  8. Gellner, Ernest. 1983. Nations of nationalism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  9. Hechter, Michael. 2001. Containing Nationalism. ISBN 0-19-924750-X .
  10. "Nationalism I would define as an ideology claiming that a given human population has a natural solidarity based on shared history and a common destiny. This collective identity as a historically constituted people crucially entails the right to constitute an independent or autonomous political community. The idea of nationalism takes form historically in tandem with the doctrine of popular sovereignty: that the ultimate source of authority lies in the people, not the ruler or government. The foregoing definition of nationalism will be found in any classic text with minor variations." M. Crawford Young, 2004. Revisiting nationalism and ethnicity in Africa. UCLA International Institute, James S. Coleman Memorial Lecture Series. Or: Handler, Richard. "Nationalism is an ideology about individuated being. It is an ideology concerned with boundedness, continuity, and homogeneity encompassing diversity. It is an ideology in which social reality, conceived in terms of nationhood, is endowed with the reality of natural things." Nationalism and the Politics of Culture in Quebec. New Directions in Anthropological Writing: History, Poetics, Cultural Criticism, ed. George E.; Clifford Marcus, James. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1988. Passage online at http://www.nationalismproject.org/what/handler.htm. Specifically on the issue: M. Freeden, 1998. Is Nationalism a Distinct Ideology? Political Studies, Volume 46, Number 4, September 1998, pp. 748-765(18). However, Benedict Anderson and E. J. Hobsbawm clearly argue that nationalisms are not ideologies, with Anderson stating that "(n)ationalism is the pathology of modern developmental history, as inescapable as 'neurosis' in the individual, with much the same essential ambiguity attaching to it, a similar built-in capacity for descent into dementia, rooted in the iemmas of the helplessness thrust upon most of the world...." (p. 5). Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities. Verso: London, and, E.J. Hobsbawm, Nations and nationalism since 1780. Cambridge University Press.
  11. Gellner, Ernest. 1983. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  12. Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, (1879). A Latin Dictionary. Entry for natio. Online at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0059%3Aentry%3D%2330463
  13. Web site: Harper. Douglas. Nation. Online Etymology Dictionary. November. 2001. 2007-11-08. .
  14. M. Tullius Cicero, Orationes: Pro Milone, Pro Marcello, Pro Ligario, Pro rege Deiotaro, Philippicae I-XIV (ed. Albert Clark, Oxford 1918.) Online at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3aabo%3aphi%2c0474%2c035%3a10%3a10%3a20&vers=original&word=na%5fti%5eo#word1
  15. [Amos Elon]
  16. Relatio de legatione Constantinopolitana ad Nicephorum Phocam. Online translation at http://medieval.ucdavis.edu/20A/Luitprand.html.
  17. Many definitions of a nation combine several of these factors. One of the most influential of these combined definitions is that of Joseph Stalin. His views on national identity influenced his subsequent nationality policies in the Soviet Union and the creation of the Republics of the Soviet Union. Stalin wrote in 1913:

    A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture. -Stalin, "Marxism and the National Question," Prosveshcheniye, Nos. 3-5, March-May 1913. (http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1913/03.htm on-line text

  18. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Ernest_Gellner WikiQuote - Ernest Gellner

References

  1. Dictionary of the History of Ideas: s.v. "Nationalism": "Nationalism has been the idée force in the political,cultural, and economic life of Western Europe and the Western hemisphere since the late eighteenth century;" "Volksgeist"; "Medieval and Renaissance ideas of Nation".
  2. Diaspora, Ancient Greek, διασπορά  - "a scattering or sowing of seeds".
  3. The founding legends of the Dutch Republic and the significance read into them are examined at length and interpreted in this manner by Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age, 1987:13-125. The traditional view of the Pilgrims planted in an "unoccupied desrt" is a theme addressed in modern American historiography.
  4. BBC: Quebec 'nation in Canada', http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6174986.stm; Bloc Québécois supports Canada PM, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6182588.stm
  5. CBC: House passes motion recognizing Québécois as nation, http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2006/11/27/nation-vote.html
  6. Tory cabinet minister quits post over motion, http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2006/11/27/chong-quit-061127.html
  7. "L'importance des mots" ("the importance of words"), Le Devoir Nov 30 2006
  8. Gellner, Ernest. 1983. Nations of nationalism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  9. Hechter, Michael. 2001. Containing Nationalism. ISBN 0-19-924750-X .
  10. "Nationalism I would define as an ideology claiming that a given human population has a natural solidarity based on shared history and a common destiny. This collective identity as a historically constituted people crucially entails the right to constitute an independent or autonomous political community. The idea of nationalism takes form historically in tandem with the doctrine of popular sovereignty: that the ultimate source of authority lies in the people, not the ruler or government. The foregoing definition of nationalism will be found in any classic text with minor variations." M. Crawford Young, 2004. Revisiting nationalism and ethnicity in Africa. UCLA International Institute, James S. Coleman Memorial Lecture Series. Or: Handler, Richard. "Nationalism is an ideology about individuated being. It is an ideology concerned with boundedness, continuity, and homogeneity encompassing diversity. It is an ideology in which social reality, conceived in terms of nationhood, is endowed with the reality of natural things." Nationalism and the Politics of Culture in Quebec. New Directions in Anthropological Writing: History, Poetics, Cultural Criticism, ed. George E.; Clifford Marcus, James. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1988. Passage online at http://www.nationalismproject.org/what/handler.htm. Specifically on the issue: M. Freeden, 1998. Is Nationalism a Distinct Ideology? Political Studies, Volume 46, Number 4, September 1998, pp. 748-765(18). However, Benedict Anderson and E. J. Hobsbawm clearly argue that nationalisms are not ideologies, with Anderson stating that "(n)ationalism is the pathology of modern developmental history, as inescapable as 'neurosis' in the individual, with much the same essential ambiguity attaching to it, a similar built-in capacity for descent into dementia, rooted in the iemmas of the helplessness thrust upon most of the world...." (p. 5). Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities. Verso: London, and, E.J. Hobsbawm, Nations and nationalism since 1780. Cambridge University Press.
  11. Gellner, Ernest. 1983. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  12. Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, (1879). A Latin Dictionary. Entry for natio. Online at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0059%3Aentry%3D%2330463
  13. Web site: Harper. Douglas. Nation. Online Etymology Dictionary. November. 2001. 2007-11-08. .
  14. M. Tullius Cicero, Orationes: Pro Milone, Pro Marcello, Pro Ligario, Pro rege Deiotaro, Philippicae I-XIV (ed. Albert Clark, Oxford 1918.) Online at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3aabo%3aphi%2c0474%2c035%3a10%3a10%3a20&vers=original&word=na%5fti%5eo#word1
  15. [Amos Elon]
  16. Relatio de legatione Constantinopolitana ad Nicephorum Phocam. Online translation at http://medieval.ucdavis.edu/20A/Luitprand.html.
  17. Many definitions of a nation combine several of these factors. One of the most influential of these combined definitions is that of Joseph Stalin. His views on national identity influenced his subsequent nationality policies in the Soviet Union and the creation of the Republics of the Soviet Union. Stalin wrote in 1913:

    A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture. -Stalin, "Marxism and the National Question," Prosveshcheniye, Nos. 3-5, March-May 1913. (http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1913/03.htm on-line text

  18. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Ernest_Gellner WikiQuote - Ernest Gellner

Further reading

External links

Medieval and Renaissance ideas of Nation