Government » Introduction to Government » Basic Concepts of Government

Differences Between Nation and States

Differentiating Between Nation and States

A nation refers to a group of people who feel bound into a single body by shared culture, values, folkways, religion and/or language. A state refers to a portion of land with a sovereign government and laws. States often coincide with nations (and are called nation-states but not always). States that overlap multiple nations tend to have civil wars; states that exclude parts of a nation tend to have wars with the neighboring state(s) that contain the rest of the nation.

1. Elements:

The State has four major elements—population, territory, government, and sovereignty. In the absence of even one element, a State cannot be really a State. A state is always characterised by all these four elements. On the contrary, a nation is a group of people who have a strong sense of unity and common consciousness. Common territory, common race, common religion, common language, common history, common culture and common political aspirations are the elements which help the formation of a nation, and yet none of these is an absolutely essential element. The elements which go to build a nation keep on changing.

2. Geographical Boundary and Extent of Frontiers:

A state is limited to a fixed territory. A nation does not need to have a definite geographical territory but a state must always have a clearly defined territory over which it has a legal jurisdiction. In modern times, a state cannot extend its borders without running into a problem with her immediate neighbour. The boundaries of a modern state are fixed. A nation, on the other hand, can extend beyond its territorial boundaries and could sometimes even occupy a wide geographical area. The Jewish Nation, for example, spreads into several countries.

3. Sovereignty:

We have already seen that sovereignty is an essential element of a state. In the absence of sovereignty, the state loses its existence. It is the element of sovereignty which makes the state different from all other associations of the people. It is not essential for a nation to possess sovereignty. The basic requirement of a nation is the strong bonds of emotional unity among its people which develop due to several common social cultural elements.

4. Legal Entity:

The state is a political organisation which fulfills the security and welfare needs of its people. It is concerned with external human actions. It is a legal entity. On the other hand, a nation is a united population of people which is full of emotional, spiritual and psychological bonds. A nation has little to do with the physical needs of the people or responsibilities or duties to them. In fact, there can be two or more than two nations within a single state. Before the First World War, Austria and Hungary were one State, but two different nations. Most of the modern states are multinational states.

5. Stability:

A nation is more stable than the state. When sovereignty ends, the state dies, but not in the case of the nation. A nation can survive even without sovereignty. Recall that sovereignty is the full right and power of a governing body over itself, without any interference from outside sources or bodies. For example, after their defeat in the World War II, both Germany and Japan lost their sovereign statuses and outside powers began to control them. They ceased to exist as States. But as nations they continued to live as nations, which after some months regained their sovereign statuses and became sovereign independent states.

6. Creation and Evolution:

A state can be created with the conscious endeavors of the people. Physical elements play an important role in the birth of a state. For example, after the Second World War, Germany got divided into two separate states West Germany and East Germany. But Germans remained emotionally as one nation. Ultimately in October, 1990, the Germans again got united into a single state. In 1947, Pakistan was created out of India as a separate State. A nation is a unity of the people which emerges slowly and steadily. No special efforts go into the making of a nation.

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