From Hobson's Choice
The term "nation" is sometimes used as an alternative to "tribe," sometimes when it is unclear if the entity referred to is in fact a proper nation. For example, in Canada, Native American political units are collectively identified as "First Nations."
In many languages, such as Greek, the word "nation" has the same root as "ethnicity." Moreover, the nation-state is a relatively recent development; in Europe, nation-states may be said to have begun in the extreme northwest, such as Iceland, England and Scotland. As recently as 1804, the nation-state was still a rarity for Europe, although the liquidation of the Holy Roman Empire and the further reduction of Scandinavian empires hastened matters. After 1870, the four empires of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Ottoman Turkey represented areas of Europe where nationality was an intractable problem, soluble only at immense expense in lives and coercion.
During the 19th century, the concept took root that states ought to govern nations with a cohesive national culture, a common language, and (sometimes) a common religion. On the other hand, there was an unfortunate tendency for nationalist movements to sometimes demand possession of all the territory where a particular ethnic group lived, or had lived. Hence, the sometimes-violent clashes over territory. In Europe, the preferred basis for establishing national identity was language, although some exceptions existed (Belgium). Hence, 19th century politics often equated ethnic pride with idealism, something that is today regarded as morally reprehensible.
When a nation-state forms, it tends to mold the nation it governs until the nation and the state have a symbiotic relationship. Whereas before the nation-state emerged, nationality might have no civil relevance, afterwards it held all relevance. The nation was supposed to have aspirations which appeared through democratic processes; the state served the nation and interpreted its aspirations, thereby making civil desires standardized for the nationality. This, in turn, gave the nation cohesion, a peculiar vocabulary of political will, and a sense of collective responsibility or ambition. The nation could be betrayed or deceived, where once such a concept would have been nonsense.
State versus Nation
Naturally, political power has its perquisites. It is good to be king, or the party in power. Yet ruling parties necessarily represent a narrow subset of the population. Hence, political power is always in conflict with the nation it rules. This is exacerbated by the need for the party to prove its fitness to govern over ever-longer time horizons; the party always wishes for more time for its vision to become the vision of the nation itself. Time is supposed to turn failure into a step towards success. To the opposition, even little failures will, given more time, become big ones.
An adversarial relationship is not necessarily bad; complete concord is impossible anyway. But the conflict between state and nation can become a general war, under which the entire polity is ranged against the nation's interests and expectations. Typically the response to this is for the state to try to depict itself as identical to the nation. The preferred instrument for this is militarism. Typically militarist regimes are merely praetorian states, having not yet degenerated into abject tyranny.
Totalitarianism is what occurs when the conflict between state and nation becomes open war.
- ↑ Wikipedia; according to the linked article, the term was not officially adopted by the federal government of Canada, but the term is used in many government documents. This is part of a progressive evolution of language in Canada; it involves a recognition of the colonialist connotations of other terms, and the submerged national status of Native Americans.
- ↑ An unconvincing, but popular claim, is that territorial conflicts are driven by mere greed for commercially valuable resources. In the case of the Americas, this is clearly valid; but such territorial disputes were settled cheaply, relative to the territory involved (most notably the Mexican cession to the USA, 1848 and the War of the Pacific between Chile and Bolivia). It's absurd to claim the Franco-German struggle over the left bank of the Rhine was economically rational. The conflict was driven by nationalist identity politics.
James R MacLean (22:43, 14 October 2007 (PDT))