2008`s Crises and the Return of the Nation-State
American editors are convinced that the term “state” will confuse their readers unless reserved exclusively for the component parts of the United Statesâ€”New York, California, etc. So when talking about sovereign political structures, where the British would use “state,” the Germans “staat” and the French “I`etat,” journalists here are compelled to use the word “nation.”
Thus in the late 1980s it was common to see press references to “the nation of Yugoslavia.” Of course, Yugoslavia`s problem was precisely that it was not a nation at all, but a state that contained several different small but fierce nationsâ€”Croatia, Serbia, etc.
(In my helpful way, I`ve been trying to introduce, as an alternative to “state,” the word “polity”â€”defined by Webster as “a politically organized unit.” But it`s quite hopeless. Editors always confuse it with “pohcy.” I`ve also tried “country,” which is sometimes an alternative in British English. No good either. They seem to think that`s a type of music.)
This semantic weakness really impairs American debate on immigration, I argued:
RESULT: Americans who confuse basic terms in this way must inevitably also get confused about what a nation-state is, what its function is, and what it requires in order to survive.
And I supplied a defintion:
What is a “nation-state”? It is the political expression of a nation. And what is a “nation”? It is an ethnocultural communityâ€”an interlacing of ethnicity and culture. Invariably, it speaks one language.
In recent years in the United States, there has been a tendency to emphasize the cultural part of the equation. But this is to miss a critical point. The word “nation” is derived from the Latin nescare, to be born. It intrinsically implies a link by blood.
Of course, if a nation-state has an ethnic component, mass non-traditional immigration becomes much more problematic.
As it happens, the geopolitical intelligence publisher Stratfor has just posted a powerful essay by Dr. George Friedman, 2008 and the Return of the Nation-State, arguing that both NATO`s confused reaction to Russia`s invasion of Georgia and the world`s reaction to this fall`s financial meltdown show that in crises individual nation-states, and not multilateral institutions, are what count: “The nation-state was the only institution that worked.”
A nation is a collection of people who share an ethnicity. A state is the entity that rules a piece of land. A nation-state â€” the foundation of the modern international order â€” is what is formed when the nation and state overlap.
The world is a very different place from what it was in the spring of 2008. Or, to be more precise, it is a much more traditional place than many thought. It is a world of nations pursuing their own interests and collaborating where they choose. Those interests are economic, political and military, and they are part of a single fabric. The illusion of multilateralism was not put to rest â€” it will never die â€” but it was certainly put to bed. It is a world we can readily recognize from history.
Immigration enthusiasm will never die either. But in what Friedman calls “a world of nations”, it has only a limited future.