Intellectual Self Defence

Brains are delicate things…

Nations versus States versus Countries

I have been reading and thinking about states and nations and countries for a long time, and I still don’t have all this clear in my head. Partly because I am not that bright, partly because it’s quite tricky stuff.

A nation is, I suppose, a large group of people who have a shared language or two and enough common customs to be going on with. They may exist in ‘exile’ or diaspora (spread out). They may live in a country, in which case the borders of the nation and the country are the same., but may include other nations or be split over two countries.

A state is a unit of political organisation that traditionally was based on a specific patch of land under the control of a bunch of ‘born leaders.’ We now have technocratic elites.
Most, but not all, of the planet’s land-mass is under the ‘control’ of a particular state. There used to be city-states, but they have mostly been swallowed up. The state tries to legitimise itself by ‘protecting’ (in the real and Mafia sense) the nation and the country, and dressing itself up in those colours (anthems, flags etc). Recently nation-states have started to find it harder again to control their elites, who are part of a ‘transnational capital class’.

States are not simply political bodies, however; they are also institutions: they are Weberian machine bureaucracies geared to standardisation, predictability and, especially, legal-administrative control over resources and people. Institutions as well as states compete for discretionary power but as the formal monopolist on the means of violence the state will not tolerate competing power centres.
Jeroen Warner Global environmental security: an emerging ‘concept of control’?
in Stott and Sullivan eds (2000) Political Ecology: Science, Myth and Power

Military/security elites can often be parasitic on those they proclaim they are ‘helping’, or exist as a local cop on the beat for a bigger elite. For instance, Palestine under Arafat’s “Palestinian Authority” has been described as a Police State without the state.

The real object of the larger country today is not to occupy and liquidate the dependent state, but to weaken and deprive the nation inhabiting it- the nation being a source of threat and a defender of liberty. Today it is not the dependent states that are imperilled, but the nations,which the dominant powers- with the help of these very dependent states- seek to break up and decimate.
Ryszard Kapuscinski, Warsaw Diary, Granta 16.

Non-resident citizens, immigrant citizens, residents of encompassing jurisdictions, such as the European Union, and multiple citizens are categories of people who experience citizenship in ways that violate the one to one correspondence of state and citizenship upon which state licensing of political power has long rested. One of the great advantages of states, to speak and act on behalf of nations, is undermined when the key link between the two, an affective and singular citizenship, is eroded by movements of people that transgress rather than reinforce the boundaries of states.
John Agnew 1999 Mapping Political Power Beyond State Boundaries: Territory, Identity, and Movement in World Politics
Millennium Vol 28, 3, pp. 499-521.

Territorial currencies developed on a large scale only in the nineteenth century, long after the Westphalian system of states was in place. Symbolically, however, currencies (including the symbols found on coinage and bank notes) were important elements in establishing state legitimacy long before. As noted in connection with statehood and citizenship, modern statehood was not achieved without relation to nation-building, even though ‘state’ and ‘nation’ can be distinguished analytically and confused deliberately, the former referring to a set of institutions ruling over a discrete territory and the latter signifying a group of people who share a common destiny and occupy a common space…
John Agnew op cit page 517

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