To most people the term, Nation-State simply means a country. But the term applies to two separate and distinct things, in simple terms the Nation is the people and the State is the Government.
I will use Europe as a means of defining what is and what is not a Nation-State. As I've already stated the Nation is the people, so some examples of Nations are the Welsh, English, French or Germans. They are all distinct ethnic groups with their own culture and history, distinct from other Nations and identifiable from them. A Frenchman for example knows that he is distinct and different from the others mentioned because of his culture, language and ethnicity.
A State however is the Government so Welshman and Englishman share the same State, while the Frenchman and the German have their own distinct States. However the German having a State is less than 150 years old, before that Germany was divided into many different States. Not every Nation has a State and some States are and were made up of many Nations.
In the Dark Ages the Kings of Europe were often the Kings of a particular people, King of the Franks instead of being the King of France. The King of the Angles instead of being the King of England. But as the idea that this land and this people would be one and the same the titles changed and the Kings became Kings of places.
Over many centuries the State has become more powerful than the Nation and one reason for that is that no one really thought that the State would try to destroy the Nation. The idea that each Nation required its own State is Nationalism. And Nationalism as an idea is Liberal in origin. But Nations existed for a 1000 years before the philosophy of Nationalism came into being. It was simply common sense that you were loyal to your own people and to the Government that served that people.
In Eastern Europe there were few States but many Nations, in Italy and Germany there were many States but only one Nation in each place. In the 19th Century, the idea that each Nation should have its own State became the accepted idea within Liberal Europe. First Greece and Latin America, then Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria. After WWI Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Baltic States as well as Hungary and Austria. After WWII the European colonies became independent, although not many of these can really be termed Nation-States, but most were called that anyway.Today we see the same question being fought over in the Ukraine.
But two institutions arose to challenge the legitimacy of the Nation-State, both arising from Liberal ideals that now rejected one of its own creations Nationalism. Those institutions being the United Nations and the European Community. Both were created to stop war, or to at least curtail war. Both were proclaimed as being morally superior to the Nation-State and both have been used to try and delegitimize the Nation-State.
The United Nations has always been held up as a means of achieving a World Government, but unless we are attacked from outer space the chance of that happening are quite small. Because the United Nations has no independent support base, it is simply a club which seems much more powerful than it is because some of its members are very powerful. But the club itself is not. And while there have been times when it has had its own ambitions and dreams of great power, it has experienced reality and it knows better than most how complex the world really is.
The European Union has had a number of names but it has always been much more ambitious than the United Nations. And the reason is because it does have a support base and that base exists in Government and in a smaller way amongst the people of Europe. The two World Wars, Socialism and economic security, NATO which was never intended to be anything other than an Alliance, all helped the push for a United Europe. A super State, but not a Nation, for the super State to exist it must compete and win against the Nations of Europe. The Nations had to be convinced that they weren't very important and that the Nation wasn't something distinct, but universal. Once all Nations believe that to be of that Nation you had to be of that people, all Welsh were ethnically Welsh for example. Of course there were always exceptions, small numbers of exceptions. But now there was a push for Welshness to be whatever someone wanted it to be, not something that it had been for centuries.
Today this idea exists all over the Western world, that our Nation is not important, only the State is. But I don't think that will last. The State needs money to survive and it needs money and economic success to give it legitimacy. The Nation does not need either of those things. Once the current system runs out of money it will end. Sadly I think it will end in bloodshed. But in the current political climate either the State survives or the Nation does and I believe it all comes down to whether the State runs out of money.
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