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Is nation-state outmoded in the twentieth century Assignment

On one hand, nationalism is becoming stronger, not weaker. Nations are seeking their identities and would like to strength their sovereignty.1 Wars arise here and there, now and then. For instance, the former Yugoslavia divided into several nation-states, and fought for the territory encouraged by the nationalism and religions. The concept of “union” is anathema to these neo-states. Most states are imbuing their people with patriotism to strengthen the unity of the nation.

On the other hand, countries are more and more interdependent on each other for goods and expertise.2 A numerous multinational corporations, international communities are organized and begin to play the more and more important roles in the international relations. In European Union, its member-states even give up part of sovereignty such as Tariff, to the Union. But in traditional political science, sovereignty is indivisible. Humans are facing many global problems such as environmental protection, cracking down the multinational crime, which cannot be reached by a single nation-state. All these are challenge the traditional concept of state, nation, as well as the current nation-state system.

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Facing the contradictory of the trend of international political system, there are arguments on the question “Is nation-state outmoded in the twentieth century?” I think it’s important to answer it.

This essay is organized as follows:

* Conceptions: the definition of nation-state. What’s meaning of “outmoded”?

* Clarify the historical position of nation-state: the developmental track.

* Focus on the relationship of nation-state and war: What role does the nation-state play in the war? Explore the operation of the nation-state system on dealing with the international issues.

* Concentrate on the influence of economical globalization to nation-states.

* Discuss the importance of nation-state on managing the internal affaires.

* Makes a conclusion.


In order to analyze the theme properly, I would like to clarify the concepts of nation-state first. The following authoritative definitions are taken from the International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences.3

Nation: ‘A portion of mankind may be said to constitute a nationality, if they are united among themselves by common sympathies, which do not exist between them and any other – which make them cooperate with each other more willingly than with other people, desire to be under the same government, and desire that it should be governed by themselves, exclusively…’

State: ‘The state is a geographically delimited segment of human society united by common obedient to a single sovereign. The term may refer to the society as a whole or, more specifically, to the sovereign authority that controls it.’

Nation state: ‘The modern nation state is one particular form of the territorial state. The size of the territory must reconcile the imperatives of unity, which impose upper limits, with the requirements of a modern division of labor, which impose lower limits.’

Nation state is sometimes used to mean a political institution combing the concept of nation with state.4 However, those that nevertheless united by national feelings, can be and often are offered to as nation state.5 For example, the East Timor people are will not to be a part of Malaysia, but we regard the Malaysia as a nation-state. In some cases, the feeling of common emerges and develops among the state. For instance, the minority nationalities in China didn’t have much common feeling before the establishment of PRC. So I argue that the national emotion that nation-state base on is not solid and determinant as we thought.

There are another several essential elements of nation-state, such as sovereignty, territory, etc. I think sovereignty is the most important one, by which nation-state differs from the dynastic country and other organizations significantly.

In traditional politics, sovereignty is an absolute, indivisible, and perpetual power,6 by which nation-state has an absolute power within the state and the equal position with other states in international relations. Nation-state with sovereignty can govern itself, for instances, determine the tariff, manage its internal affairs, and especially have its own military to use force when necessary. In a word, sovereignty is so essential that no sovereignty, no nation-state. So when we explore the nature of nation state, we should link it with sovereignty.

What’s meaning of “outmoded”? I think there are two levels on this question.

Firstly, “nation-state is outmoded,” means that the nation-state system do harm to the people of the world and hinder human advancement. It is no debate that nation-state system is both positive and negative. We should compare the advantages and disadvantages of nation-state and then draw a conclusion. However it is hard to use data or a certain measure to judge which one is major.

Secondly, we should discuss that whether or not there is a new system to take place the nation-state system, which will inherit the former’s advantage and overcome its disadvantages.

The developmental track of nation-state.

To discuss whether nation-state is outmoded, it’s necessary to make clear the historical position of nation-state.

French revolution and Napolenic war turned the European countries from dynastic state of the eighteenth century to the true nation-state.7

The threat of enemy got the people together and produced the common consciousness. Thus nationalism was created. Then the nationalism spread to the other areas of the world following the colonialist war, especially during and after the two world wars. After the World War II, lots of weak nations got out of the colony governance and obtain independence. A global nation-state system was completed. The weak nation-state devoted into strengthening their state in order to protect national interests and fight against the Hegemony.

In a sense, nation-state is based on the national feeling. However, as I mentioned before, I can see that national feeling is not perpetual. In fact, it is produce of history with the particular essential elements. So theoretically it is not unchangeable. For example, now more and more people in Taiwan feel they are Taiwanese instead of Chinese because of the fifty years’ separate and ideology imbuing. On the other hand, the nationalism links with the common culture, religion, etc. Since it came to form, it is not easy to change. So it is impossible that nationalism would disappear recently.

Nationalism was once the weapon with which people fight for independence on form. In the late twentieth century the legitimacy of struggle for independence disappear. Weak nations use it to pursue the true independence on politics (democratization) and economy. So these states feel that it’s important to remain the nation-state system and strengthen it. In these decades, the trendy of globalization arises among the nation-state system that is changing this system. Nation states have to compromise and cooperate each other on many issues. It is in the nation-state system that all these actions take place, and nation-state is still the major actor.

Nation-state and the war

According the cause of war, there are some types of war: some for the property; some for ideology; some just because of the emperor’s careerism. In late twentieth century, especially these years, national war is the major type. National war doesn’t mean that people fight only for the feeling of pride. There are complex background and causes. What I want to do is to clarify the role nation-state play in the war.

Someone argues that nation-state makes the barrier to separate the people and cause the conflicts and bring the wars. I don’t think so. Although regional wars take place in nation-state system, the amount and scale of wars are not larger than before. The differences of economic interests, culture, and religion can all cause the conflicts, even the war. The culture exchange and economic cooperation can help to remove the misunderstanding and hostile. And the nation-state system doesn’t impede this.

Someone argues that every nation-state with sovereignty can use the military force if it wants, which is too dangerous. If that is the case, why there are civil wars under the single sovereignty? One the other hand, under the nation-state system some wars were stopped through some ways such as the war in East Timor.

But the nation-state does influence war.

Every nation-state regards the territory inviolable as a symbol of sovereignty. Some wars on the territory should have been avoidable such as the Falkland island war between Britain and Argentina, the conflicts on the islands between Greece and Turkey.

Nation-states don’t trust each other and hold the military competitive. For example, India and Pakistan compete to develop unclear weapon, which threaten the region’s stability and security. Every year a great lot of money and technology are put into the military development. It’s really a waste.

Nation-state and economical globalization

Someone argues that the economical globalization challenge the nation-state system. In an industrial and postindustrial world, there is a much greater interdependence among states.8 In theory, all countries can benefit from the trading with one another because trade allows each country to specialize in doing what it does best.9 But there exist the trade war between the states. Although the nation-state recognizes the benefit of trade, it will not specialize one particular industry because it will make it controlled by other states strategically. So nation-state set the tariff barriers and import limitation, which all impede the rapid economical development. However, the tariff barriers and import limitation can protect the developing countries’ national industry. It is hard to image that under this unequal and uneven economical system, how great impact the absolute free trade would takes to the weak national industry of the developing countries. Even the rapid development on the whole global economy doesn’t benefit everyone inevitably. Nation-state system is necessary to protect the developing nations.

On the other hand, nation-state can cooperate well among this system. For example, nation-states organize some international community such as WTO to regulate their behavior and develop a rational partnership. That suggests that nation-state system can still deal with the globalization challenge not only on economy but also on environment protection, crashing the multinational crime. Etc.

Karl Max argued that the economical pattern determine the political pattern. The increasing interdependence is shaping the landscape of the world including the political system. Nation-states are seeking cooperation partners, devoting to establish a good regional environment, and give the priority to economy. It seems that nation-state is transforming in rules of behavior, the patterns of interaction, the level of action, its functions and governance strategy.10 “The state is no longer an actor in its own rights. Its role has changed from authoritative allocation and regulation into the role of partner and mediator.”11

Although the nation-state’s power is weakened in a sense, but the nation-state is still dynamic enough to cope with these issues.

Nation-state and the internal affairs

Nations are going towards regional and worldwide integration, supranational decision-making organization such as European Union. The emergency of more extensive communities and the decision-making related to them, however, cannot replace the nation-state, which will still be needed to manage the affairs of each nation.12

Although the nations are seeking the cooperation with others, it is no debate that all the countries will be against the intervention on internal affairs from the other. The liberal democracy is a good system. But the American model democracy cannot be imported into all the developing country such as China because of the difference of national conditions, where the national independence is the a necessary prerequisite to development and democratization just as the West Europe and American in the nineteenth century. It is no debate that nation-state has the more advantage on finding a suitable way to develop with the reference of the West experience than copying and importing directly. To these nation-states, there is a long way to go, a lot of difficulty to overcome. So national struggle is the first essential step towards the emergency of the stable democracy in the future. It took West Europe more than two hundreds years to develop to current level. The developing countries need time too. So the nation-state system is helpful and essential to these countries.


There are more than tow hundred years from the emergency of nation-state in West Europe, but for most countries, the nation-state has existed only for less than one hundred years. The nation-state system are still developing and transforming.

The nation-state is the most stable and suitable system currently, which still has the sufficient dynamic to self-transform and deals with the challenges.

And to most developing countries, the nation-state system is helpful and essential. They need more time to develop among this system.

But we cannot ignore the fact that the globalization economy and the communication technology are bringing the whole world more and more close. Some nation-states such as West European countries have united a multinational organization-European Union. Maybe it suggests the future of the nation-state. None or less, the trend is there.

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