Nation and State – What’s the Difference?

Normally, the terms ‘nation’ and ‘state’ are used interchangeably. But as students of political science, you must know that there is clear difference between the two. The idea of a ‘nation’ is different from that of a ‘state’. The nation is generally a product of emotions. whereas the state is a political, administrative body. Moreover, state suggests the interest of rulers, whereas the nation emphasizes the needs of the ruled.

Nation is subjective and State is objective. Nation is an emotional concept. This means that people are bound together because they share certain common things; ‘common origin, common customs, common interests in social, economic and political spheres. Due to these factors, people develop a feeling of brotherhood and oneness for one another. Nation is based on subjective sentiments. This means that the intensity of people’s feelings towards the nation differs from person to person and from society to society. However, it is difficult to measure the intensity of an individual’s feeling. It is a condition of the mind. Nationalism is a way of feeling, thinking and living. It gives a sense of possession. Spirit of Nationalism holds Nation together.

On the other hand, the state is a legal rather than an emotional concept. Power holds State together. The state regulates and controls the conduct of the people who permanently live on a given territory and is legally sovereign. The state is a condition of law. There is an element of obligation as regards the state. The state is objective. This means that the concept of ‘state’ is understood by all in the same way. All states consist of four essential elements, that is population, territory, government and sovereignty. If any of these is missing, the state cannot exist. While the nation is a psychological concept, the state is a political entity.

It has been noticed that there are many nationalities in one state. This is to say that people from different ethnic groups, with varying customs, traditions, languages, etc. live permanently in one state. Modern states are confronted with the problems of minorities. One solution put forward for resolving this issue is the policy of mono- national states, that is, ‘one nation, one state’. On this principle, the Jews were able to form a state for themselves, which they call Israel. Perhaps a few misguided Sikhs, wrongly claiming to be a separate race, are demanding a state separate from India on the basis of the principle of one nation, one state. In modern times we have two types of National States; viz. Mono-National states; and Multi-National states. The mono-nation states are based on the principle of “one nationality on nation.” Several mono-national

States have come into existence in the twentieth century as every nationality desires to have its own nation state. Thus in India, the Muslim constituted two nationalities and a homeland for the India Muslims was carved out by the partition of India, Pakistan consisting of the Muslim- majority areas. However, on the other hand, we have multinational states like the U.S.A. Switzerland, India etc. wherein the people belong to more than one nationality. However, such multinational state face the problem of national integration. In the United States, over a period of two hundred years, distinct “American” identity has emerged and thereby racial, linguistic and religious deferences have become secondary.

Zimmern has well brought out the distinction between the state and nation as under:

  1. Nationality like religion is subjective-statehood is objective.
  2. Nationality is psychological, statehood is political”.
  3. Nationality is a condition of mind, statehood is a condition in law.
  4. Nationality is a spiritual possession, statehood is a enforceable obligation.
  5. Nationality is, a way of feeling, thinking and living, statehood is a condition inseparable from all civilised ways of living.
  6. Origin of the State is ancient. Nation has emerged as a modern concept.

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