Nationalism and the Modern State

Nationalism has been defined by Breuilly (2001) as political movements that seek or exercise state power and justify their actions based on nationalist arguments. It has also been defined by Hutchinson and Smith (1994) as an ideology based on the premise that a person’s commitment and loyalty to the nation state supersedes other personal or group interests. According to Breuilly (2001), three main assertions are ascribed to nationalism. The first claim is that a nation exists if it has a well-defined and distinctive personality. The second assumption is that the nation’s interests and values take precedence above those of the individual and organizations. The final assertion is that the nation must be as free as possible from the domination of other nations, governments, or entities.

Many scholars agree that there is a strong link between nationalism and the modern state (Conversi, 2012; Vincent 2010). The concept of “modern state” is fraught with dispute. Critics have condemned as insufficient the usual definition of the modern state as a human society that only claims the legal use of force inside a specified territory (Morris n.d.). Critics point out that if this definition is adopted holistically, then criminal organizations, the Roman civitas, and the Greek poleis would qualify as modern states, which is obviously absurd. Morris (n.d., p.200) defines a modern state as a political organization occupying a distinctively shaped region that asserts sovereignty over its domains and independence from other states. Scholars do not generally agree on whether the modern state is a product of nationalism or nationalism is a product of the modern state. This paper seeks to answer the question: Is nationalism a product of the modern state, or was the modern state produced by nationalism?

Many historians observe that the modern state emerged in Europe between the 15th and 18th centuries and extended to other regions of the world through colonialism and conquest (CQ Press 2015). Continue reading …

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