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NATION

 

O.T. FORD

 

A nation is a kind of population, traditionally defined by one of four specific commonalities:

— A cultural nation is defined by some common cultural feature, such as a dialect.

— An ethnic nation is defined by common biological descent. ‘Race’ is a synonym in certain contexts, but ethnic nations are typically narrower than the visible races of US usage.

— A political nation is defined by membership in a common state. This reference to population is different from the use of the word ‘nation’ (explained below) for ‘country’ or ‘state’.

— An identity nation is a population to which individuals belong solely because they identify with the population. There need not be any further commonality, and there need not be mutual recognition. Simply put, if you think you are part of an identity nation, you are. Identity nationality can be based on any of the others, or on the belief in their existence.

Any of these, or a combination of them, can be a historical nation, defined by continuity of membership over time, regardless of culture, ethnicity, polity, or identity.

Nations are otherwise known as ‘peoples’ or ‘tribes’. The term ‘tribe’ can also be used for a subpopulation within a larger nations, particularly ethnic or cultural nations, as in Arabia. More often, though, the term is used dismissively for certain kinds of nations. The aboriginal nations of North America, or the non-state nations of Sub-Saharan Africa, are routinely referred to as “tribes”, in a context where European nations are called “nations”.

The term ‘nation’ is frequently used in modern English for things that are not populations — countries and states. This results mostly from the existence of the United States, where ‘state’ refers to a unit of the US and another term was needed for independent states, and the United Nations, so named to avoid confusion with the US. However, the term ‘nation’ also frequently refers to populations, and it is those cases being considered here.

Creating or preserving a sense of nationality is a common political project. A government will typically attempt to turn a political nation into an identity nation. Separatism and irredentism are attempts to align political nationality with a prior cultural, ethnic, or identity nationality. All of these are directed towards the ideal of the nation-state, a perfect alignment of nation and state, such that all members of a nation are members of a state, and all members of the state are members of the nation.

 

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