Culture and Institutions Modern Institutions

Nation State

Towards a new Understanding of the Modern Nation-State

The terms "nation" and "state" are often used interchangeably in the media and by the population at large, but though our perspective of history and politics tend to rest on a foundation of entities that are both culturally and politically cohesive this conception did not begin until medieval Europe, and does not apply equally in the world today (Bergman & Renwick 2008, pp. 441). The state is a political entity, while a nation is cultural; a state holds a monopoly on the use of force within its territorial borders, and membership in the state is automatic and mandatory for anyone within its borders, which leads to a state's sovereignty (Perry & Perry 2009, pp. 401-2). A nation, on the other hand, is a group of people with a common culture and vision of the future (Perry & Perry 2009; pp. 404). According to this definition, it is easy to see that many of the world's countries represent nation-states.

Nations, States, and Nation States

In Canada, the indigenous tribes that lived on the land before the arrival of the Europeans are referred to as the First Nations. This provides a clear example of what is meant by a nation; these independent groups of people each had their own culture, histories, and visions of the future. They did not hold political or governmental sway over a specific area, so they were not states, but they did permanently reside area, and there cultural commonalities made each of these groups an independent nation. An example of a state provided in Bergman and Renwick (2008) is Somalia, which had political sovereignty within defined geographical borders, but which incorporated people of markedly different cultures and beliefs (pp. 440).

France, like most of the nations in Europe, can be considered a modern nation-state. Though historically the different regions of France were actually occupied by distinct groups of people, these associations have long since been supplanted by a common French culture and language, and sense of a shared history and future. This makes France cohesive as a nation, and its political sovereignty within the established borders of the country also defines it as a state. The modern international community is made up primarily of this type of entity. Cultural diversity within nation states can be seen as a reason to question the full veracity of this type of definition; the large Arab minority in France, for instance, does not share the same history or culture as the European-descended French, but in general this concept is the most useful for examining most modern countries.

The United States as a Nation-State

The United States also fits the idea of the nation state despite the large amount of diversity within its borders. This can be seen quite clearly in three primary aspects. First, it has a fixed territory, and changes to this territory occur in concrete and unequivocal terms, such as the Louisiana Purchase or the purchase of Alaska from Russia. The United States also exercises its sovereignty by exerting border control; the state determines who can be allowed into and out of its borders without any external input, as is the right of every sovereign state (Perry & Perry 2009, pp. 402). The third aspect, a common culture, might seem more questionably applicable at first. But the United State's diversity is actually evidence of a common dream of the future that draws many diverse groups together into one nation.

One of the United State's most pressing and enduring foreign policy objectives during the latter half of the twentieth century and to the current day has been the non-proliferation of nuclear arms (U.S. Dept. Of State 2009). This objective was meant in a large measure to preserve the sovereign power of the United States within its own borders during the Cold War, though today it is often interpreted as a means of policing the rest of the word and diminishing the sovereignty of other states. Another foreign policy objective of the United States that is now passed was the Monroe Doctrine, which asserted American dominance and hegemony in the Americas. Again, the primary objective was to maintain political and economic sovereignty, but this policy, too, was viewed as a means of regulating the activities and interactions of other sovereign states worldwide.

The European Union as a…