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What Is the Difference Between a Nation and a State and Why Are They Often Confused?

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What is the difference between a nation and a state and why are they often confused?
The term nation tends to be employed with little precision, often being used interchangeably with terms such as state, country, ethnic group or race. Nations have many features. First and most basically, nations are cultural entities. A nation is a group of people who share a common language, religion, history and traditions. Second, nations are political entities. A nation is a group of people who regard themselves as a natural political community. This is expressed most clearly in the desire to establish or maintain statehood. Nations are often based on rights, democracy, common laws and common territory. E.g. USA, South Africa. Lastly, they are psychological entities. A nation is a group of people bound together by shared loyalties or allegiances, often expressed in the form of patriotism. Nations can be viewed as either primary cultural communities or cultural political communities.
A state is a formal political entity which has clearly defined territorial boundaries within which some form of government exercises the powers of the state. The state normally is seen to have certain duties e.g. ensure peace and stability, provide social welfare, protect property etc. The state is seen to be sovereign and has sovereign power over a certain jurisdiction. It is therefore superior to all other institutions including government. The government is a short term institution and just the principal agent existing to facilitate the state’s objectives by following a written constitution.
A nation and state are often confused because nations can be defined politically with national consciousness often used in a desire to achieve or maintain statehood or self determination. Politically a nation is a group of people who regard themselves as a natural political community and normally have the express desire to maintain statehood. States and nations often overlap to form nation-state and a nation state can be defined as a sovereign political association within which civic identity and nationality overlap. One nation within a single state. Nations rely on the emotive aspects of a countries society with it being determined by culture and psychological factors. States claim to make decisions in the public interest and exercise authority through institutions. Lastly the aim of Nationalism is usually to create a nation-state. This was rooted after Versailles where the Nation-State was put forward as a fundamental right of all people. Also President Wilson declared that 11 nations had the right to statehood. However, Nationalist overseas colonies were not resolved until post World War Two.

There are many examples in World politics that highlights how state and nation are often confused because of the reasons above. Primarily, not all states contain just one nation, for example the UK is a multi-national state in that it is a single sovereign state with a unitary government, but it contains within it a system of several different countries and nationalities. None of these countries have individual sovereignty and there are many regional differences with strong nationalistic aspects but they’re not considered to be individual countries. Secondly, a number of nations do not have a state, many of the problems that a nation state must deal with have become much more international. For example markets are increasingly international, crime now operates between different countries and environmental problems do not recognise national boundaries. Thirdly, some nations cross state boundaries, movements have sought to unite ethnic groupings such as Pan-Arabism and pan-slavism which promotes exclusive racial unity without a sense of superiority. Lastly, some nationalisms are content with a measure of self rule, cultural forms of nationalism have arisen seeking a degree of autonomous control over cultural institutions but not general independence. For example the Welsh Assembly that was established in 1998 has some control over education, the arts, sports and the Welsh Language.

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