A nation (from Latin: natio, "people, tribe, kin, genus, class, flock") is a large group or collective of people with common characteristics attributed to them — including language, traditions, mores (customs), habitus (habits), and ethnicity. By comparison, a nation is more impersonal, abstract, and overtly political than an ethnic group. It is a cultural-political community that has become conscious of its autonomy, unity, and particular interests.
- Etymology and terminology
- Ancient nations
- Medieval nations
- Use of term nationes by medieval universities and other medieval institutions
- Early modern nations
- Social science
- Black nationalism
- Nation of Islam
Joseph Stalin's Marxism and the National Question (1913) declares that "a nation is not a racial or tribal, but a historically constituted community of people;" "a nation is not a casual or ephemeral conglomeration, but a stable community of people"; "a nation is formed only as a result of lengthy and systematic intercourse, as a result of people living together generation after generation"; and, in its entirety: "a nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture."
Others have conceived of a nation as being united primarily by racial characteristics, whose common history, language, and culture was the product of shared ancestry. Adolf Hitler said of nations: "What makes a people or, to be more correct, a race is not language, but blood". Hitler often criticized civic nationalism (in contrast to his ethnic nationalism, saying "It is almost inconceivable how such a mistake could be made as to think that a Nigger or a Chinaman will become a German because he has learned the German language and is willing to speak German for the future and even to cast his vote for a German political party."
The nation has been described by Benedict Anderson as an "imagined community" and by Paul James as an "abstract community". It is an imagined community in the sense that the material conditions exist for imagining extended and shared connections. It is an abstract community in the sense that it is objectively impersonal, even if each individual in the nation experiences him or herself as subjectively part of an embodied unity with others. For the most part, members of a nation remain strangers to each other and will never likely meet. Hence the phrase, "a nation of strangers" used by such writers as Vance Packard.
Etymology and terminology
The word nation came to English from the Old French word nacion - meaning "birth" (naissance), "place of origin" -, which in turn originates from the Latin word natio (nātĭō) literally meaning "birth".
The word "nation" is sometimes used as synonym for:
Thus the phrase "nations of the world" could be referring to the top-level governments (as in the name for the United Nations), various large geographical territories, or various large ethnic groups of the planet.
Depending on the meaning of "nation" used, the term "nation state" could be used to distinguish larger states from small city states, or could be used to distinguish multinational states from those with a single ethnic group.
Although some scholars of nationalism argue that nations are a modern phenomenon arising around the time of the French Revolution, other scholars assert that nations are an old, or even an ancient, type of political formation. Political scientist Azar Gat argues that ancient Egypt was the world's "first national state," emerging "quite early as a unified state, congruent with a distinct people of shared ethnicity."
Gat goes on to argue that the next group of national states to emerge were in the ancient Levant, citing Steven Grosby's book, Biblical Ideas of Nationality: Ancient and Modern, as an effective demonstration of the emergence of nations in Israel, Ammon, Moab, and Edom, a process of nation-formation provoked by the threat of conquest by the Assyrian Empire. In particular, Gat cites Hans Kohn's The Idea of Nationalism: A Study in Its Origins and Background, 1944, pp. 27–30 as an early scholarly treatment of "the idea that ancient Israel was an example of a premodern nation."
In his book, The Athenian Nation Edward E. Cohen, argues that ancient Athens met all modern definitions of nationhood, and Aviel Roshwald makes a similar argument in The Endurance of Nationalism: Ancient Roots and Modern Dilemmas.
In her book Kingdoms and Communities in Western Europe 900-1300, Susan Reynolds argues that many European medieval kingdoms were nations in the modern sense except that political participation in nationalism was available only to a limited prosperous and literate class. In his book The Construction of Nationhood: Ethnicity, Religion and Nationalism, Adrian Hastings argues that England's Anglo Saxon kings mobilized mass nationalism in their struggle to repel Norse invasions. Hastings argues that Alfred the Great, in particular, drew on biblical nationalism, using biblical language in his law code and that during his reign selected books of the Bible were translated into Old English to inspire Englishmen to fight to turn back the Norse invaders. Hastings argues for a strong renewal of English nationalism (following a hiatus after the Norman conquest) beginning with the translation of the complete bible into English by the Wycliffe circle in the 1380s, arguing that English nationalism and the English nation have been continuous since that time.
Another prudent example of Medieval nationalism is the Declaration of Arbroath, a document produced by Scottish nobles and clergy during the Scottish Wars of Independence. The purpose of the document was to demonstrate to the Pope that Scotland was indeed a nation of its own, with its own unique culture, history and language and that it was indeed an older nation than England. The document went on to justify the actions of Robert the Bruce and his forces in resisting the occupation and to chastise the English for having violated Scottish sovereignty without justification. The propaganda campaign supplemented a military campaign on the part of the Bruce, which after the Battle of Bannockburn was successful and eventually resulted in the end of England's occupation and recognition of Scottish independence on the part of the English crown. The document is widely seen as an early example of both Scottish nationalism and popular sovereignty.
Use of term nationes by medieval universities and other medieval institutions
A significant early use of the term nation, as natio, occurred at Medieval universities to describe the colleagues in a college or students, above all at the University of Paris, who were all born within a pays, spoke the same language and expected to be ruled by their own familiar law. In 1383 and 1384, while studying theology at Paris, Jean Gerson was elected twice as a procurator for the French natio. The University of Prague adopted the division of students into nationes: from its opening in 1349 the studium generale which consisted of Bohemian, Bavarian, Saxon and Silesian nations.
In a similar way, the nationes were segregated by the Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem, who maintained at Rhodes the hostels from which they took their name "where foreigners eat and have their places of meeting, each nation apart from the others, and a Knight has charge of each one of these hostels, and provides for the necessities of the inmates according to their religion", as the Spanish traveller Pedro Tafur noted in 1436.
Early modern nations
In his article, "The Mosaic Moment: An Early Modernist Critique of the Modernist Theory of Nationalism", Philip S. Gorski argues that the first modern nation was the Dutch Republic, created by a fully modern political nationalism rooted in the model of biblical nationalism. In a 2013 article "Biblical nationalism and the sixteenth-century states", Diana Muir Appelbaum expands Gorski's argument to apply to a series of new, Protestant, sixteenth-century nation states. A similar, albeit broader, argument was made by Anthony D. Smith in his books, Chosen Peoples: Sacred Sources of National Identity and Myths and Memories of the Nation.
In her book Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity, Liah Greenfeld argued that nationalism was invented in England by 1600. According to Greenfeld, England was “the first nation in the world".
In the late 20th century, many social scientists argued that there were two types of nations, the civic nation of which France was the principal example and the ethnic nation exemplified by the German peoples. The German tradition was conceptualized as originating with early 19th-century philosophers, like Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and referred to people sharing a common language, religion, culture, history, and ethnic origins, that differentiate them from people of other nations. On the other hand, the civic nation was traced to the French Revolution and ideas deriving from 18th-century French philosophers. It was understood as being centered in a willingness to "live together", this producing a nation that results from an act of affirmation. This is the vision, among others, of Ernest Renan.
Present day analysis tend to be based in socio-historical studies about the building of national identity sentiments, trying to identify the individual and collective mechanisms, either conscient or non-conscient, intended or un-intended. According to some of these studies, it seems that the State often plays a significant role, and communications, particularly of economic content, also have a high significance.
The 18th century brought an alteration to the meaning of the term "nation", which became more narrowly referred to as a group with a recognizable and sovereign government with physical borders. This new definition aligns more with the concept of a nation-state. The nation began to emerge in the late 18th century as the leading form of government and social organization. In the Americas, the catalyst that brought about this change in meaning was the influence of the African diaspora and its people in other states. National identity brought rights to vote, to hold office, and independence for a growing number of black territories held under colonial rule.
This change occurred in the New World as Africans were brought as enslaved peoples. The white population of the New World considered these aliens to be in one category of nation that was based entirely on color and continent of origin. The identity of the enslaved at the time was then shaped by their skin color rather than what nation or tribe they truly originated from. Prior to the 18th and 19th centuries, the term mainly referred to a group of people unified by language, region and cultural background; what is now considered to be one's ethnicity. It was through the process of emancipation and the end of the slave trade that the concept of nation began to change. As the previously enslaved began to fight for rights they had to discover what kind of rights they were searching for. It was in this process of emancipation that nationality began to take on a different meaning. Language and cultural background were no longer the only requirements of nation. Instead, now the idea of an established government and physical boundaries also shaped what it meant to be a nation.
However, within the diaspora, particularly among groups that have been politicized, the term nation has been used to describe a more abstract national experience, one that transcends physical borders and language differences. This description of nation is pinned to the shared experience of being radicalized and termed as Black. The expansion of Black nationalism demonstrates that although some expanded the view that nation requires definable boundaries, those who shared the experience of the diaspora also found a nationality among themselves.
Nation of Islam
The NOI teaches that black people constitute a nation and that through the institution of the Atlantic slave trade they were systematically denied knowledge of their history, language, culture, and religion and, in effect, lost control of their lives. Founder Elijah Muhammad called for the establishment of a separate nation for black Americans and the adoption of a religion based on the worship of Allah and on the belief that blacks were his chosen people.