A nation is a geographic region that identifies itself as having the sovereign power of serving a country or a territorial unit. The power to control and serve a country is exercised through the political legitimacy that such a state applies to its territory. The difference between a state and a nation is that the state is identified as a political and can even be a geopolitical entity. On the other hand, a nation is identified as being a cultural and in other instances, an ethnic entity. When the two names are used together for instances, it implies that the two entities have geographically coincided (Buchanan, 2003). When a nation state has the sovereign power over a geographic region or territory, its territory has bounders that distinguish it from the other nation state. This paper will focus on distinguishing the two entities which are sometimes confused and used interchangeably.
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The use of the two term, nation and states, have been controversial to many nationalists. The theoretical issue that forms the center of dispute is to identify which of the two entities came first (White & White, 2007). According to nationalists, it is the nation that came first and after nationalists movements started to demand for the sovereignty of their territory, the nation-state was born. On the other hand, some modern nationalism theories consider the identity of a nation as having originated from a set of government policies that unify a state that existed before. There are other theories that view the nation states as a product of the European phenomenon introduced in the nineteenth century.
France is an example of such nation states that many nationalists have tried to explain its origin. French nationalists like Eric Hobsbawm argue that it was the French state that came first and was followed by the French people. He argued that the state made a great contribution to the formation of the French nation. He disputed the existing theory that considered the French nation as being born by French nationalism. He supported his ideas by applying the concept of the language used in France at the time of French Revolution in 1789. Hobsbawm argued that the number of people who spoke French was only half of the total population and that approximately 12 percent were able to speak French fairly. After the languages of the people were unified for everyone to use French language, the French nation was born (White & White, 2007).
The example of France used above provides the cases of the issues that nationalists raise when defining the two entities. There are distinct characteristics that differentiate the two. A nation has several ethnic groups with each of the ethnic groups having its region within the nation to live. Each of these groups has their own language and culture that distinguish them from the rest. In addition, the ethnic groups practice its own economic activity that is valued by its culture and determined by the prevailing environmental conditions (Chan & Mclntyre, 2002). This is a typical scenario in Africa where a country like Kenya has approximately forty ethnic groups. Since the ethnic groups have their own ways of life, there exists a difference in their economic status and the general development. The ethnic groups that live in productive areas seem to have the better lives and experience major regional development like infrastructure and social amenities. The ethnic and regional boundaries that divide the various regions do not allow people from other ethnic group to trespass. The boundaries have resulted to ethnic conflicts since some communities feel that they have powers to control a whole nation because their regions are endowed with resources. On the other hand, the ethnic groups that are not endowed with resources feel that they should have their share of the national resources.
As opposed to the nation, the nation-state has a unified life whereby all people feel as part of the large nation. The public administration is centralized and the internal diversity of the nation is recognized. The national culture is emphasized by the state policies formulated by the public administration. The population is considered to be a nation which is united by national values and common language, culture and descent. Before the nineteenth century, the state nations tried to create a common language. Language policy was the major catalyst in unifying the nation’s language. In addition, the education system was modified in order to be an instrument of creating unified nations. Many countries made primary education to be compulsory for all their citizens. On the other hand, the curriculum developed for secondary education was made uniform for it to fit all the people. Before the various ethnic groups accepting the language reforms, there were various forms of ethnic conflicts. However, in the countries where the people would live as the language policies provided, cultural homogeneity was the outcome. On the contrary, there was cultural divergence along the borders of the nations.
This paper has discussed how nations were transformed into nation-states. In the beginning of the nineteenth century, many nations had many ethnic groups. The various ethnic groups had their ways of life that were distinct from other ethnic groups. Many countries in Europe formulated policies to unify the culture and languages in order to give birth to nation-states. However, other countries especially in Africa did not change their way of life. As such these countries still have many groups of people who are separated by ethnic boundaries. These nations have diverse cultures and the people of every ethnic group have their language, culture and economic activity. There are instances where ethnic conflicts arise when different ethnic groups disagree in some issues of interest like sharing of resources.
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