What Is the Difference Between a Nation and a State, and Does the Difference Matter for the Study of International Relations?

Topics: Nation, Sovereignty, Kurdistan Pages: 6 (1780 words) Published: April 21, 2011





What is the difference between a nation and a state, and does the difference matter for the study of International Relations?

For one reason or another nowadays people commonly conceive the terms "nation" and "state" to be synonymous, when in actual fact they are not identical. The question implies that there is only one difference, or at least a main difference between a "nation" and a "state", but I believe that there are a few differences of varying importance. I will attempt to define the differences between the two aforementioned terms and explain why they so important for the study of International Relations. However, to find the differences between these two terms, it is necessary to define some key terms first. 

To best define a state, I think it necessary to explain how the concept of a state came about in the first place. Chris Brown writes that in medieval Europe "political authority was personal or group-based rather than necessarily territorial" (Chris Brown 2005), meaning that a certain inhabitant would be far more inclined to serve a local power house than show allegiance to a higher authority, which, real or imagined, would never really affect him. It is only after the Peace of Westphalia was constituted that a new order arose.

As defined by Chris Brown in his book Understanding International Relations, a state is a "territorially-based political unit characterized by a central decision-making and enforcement machinery (a government and an administration); the state is legally 'sovereign' in the sense that it recognizes neither an external superior, nor an internal equal" (Chris Brown 2005). I would add that even with all the above ingredients, sovereignty is only truly achieved by the recognition of you as a state by other states. For example, North Cyprus believe that they should be a separate state, but they have to be recognized by other states in the UN as a state. 

There are a few modern day approaches to the study of a state. Firstly that of Marxism; some Marxist theorists argue that the state is comprised of statesmen who only concern themselves with the day to day affairs of the upper class and that political elite are of the same background as the capitalists and therefore would share the same interests. The Pluralists believe a state to be a battleground contested over by many different political groups. They maintain that policies are put through and state decisions are made by constant negotiation and that therefore there would be no bias towards, for example, the upper class. However, Institutionalism stresses the importance combining both society and the economy to gain a batter understanding of the state as a whole. Moreover they reject the Marxist and Pluralist view of the state being purely society centered. 

A nation is a group of people who share the same cultural identity, but do not have their own defined territory to inhabit. Whether this cultural identity is authentic or fake is up to debate, but as William Ralph Inge puts it "A nation is a society that nourishes a common delusion about its ancestry and shares a common hatred for its neighbors" (William Ralph Inge).

Language is a key component of national identity; a nation and its people need a common language with which they can communicate. I would as far as to say that nowadays the most common way to differentiate between two cultures is to identify the difference in language. Unlike the history of a nation, which can be twisted and convoluted, a language will always remain specific to a certain set of people, no matter what has happened since their birth. Benedict Anderson, in his book Imagined Communities argues that a nation is an "imagined community", by which he means that in the minds of people the sense of unity is a fantasy. To furthermore promote the importance of language, I would argue that a language can not be...
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