state-nation as nation-state

A secure ethno-religious majority can act self-consciously to produce and re-produce a “nation-state,” or state based on or integrated in relation to a “national identity.” As everybody knows and must forget, that the construct must in some sense be a fictitious construct does not prevent it from serving the real, in other words violent, work of self-construction. Depending on other factors, the nation-state will abide minorities to greater and lesser extents, and may even produce a functionally sufficient semblance of equality in opportunity and participation, even if a memory and experience of oppression, and a sense that assimilation despite whatever appearances may remain revocable, remains never fully eradicable.

The alternative in a global system of states or world state of states will be one or another form of “state-nation.”1 In propitious circumstances the state-nation may close the circle of sovereignty, and effectively equalize the two terms simply in being seen to do so or in seeing itself as having done so: a people re-produced by an idea or abstraction, always awaiting re-consecration (typically and perhaps exclusively in rituals of war), with a global destiny that it never seems to complete: Its notion turns the whole world upside down, since the ideal state-nation is the universal homogeneous state, the world state or the democracy whose demos would be all of humankind, not any particular state within history but the action of history itself under a declared progressively “federative concept.”2 In every lesser circumstance, and relative to disadvantages, the state-nation will survive, if at all, as a more palpable tyranny or subjection: typically the rule by a minority in arms, often as an unstable order or brute order of disorder, or order dependent on external force or support for whatever transitory appearance of stability.3

For the same reasons, as the state-nation, however successful hitherto, encounters its limits – in the non-universality of its universalism in conception and in practice (one pointing where not leading to the other) – its discovered differences from other states reinforce its sense of particularity: Ironically, in its magnified sense of national difference it becomes all the more like “all of the others.” The observation of this irony, all the more when as déjà vu, will tend to be experienced as self-doubt or confirmation of decline. A failure to reject it will provide further evidence along the same lines, but a failure of expression, in word or deed, may not be taken as a failure of concept. Put differently, the nation-state as culmination of the state-nation would be only an actual failure, a failure to reach the concept on its own level – not a descent to a lower one, but discovery of an incapacity or unwillingness to ascend.


  1. The term refers to theoretical frameworks introduced more or less concurrently by Hegel and von Clausewitz – see Gopal Balakrishnan’s typically very useful observations in “Algorithms of War,” published in Antagonistics (2009). []
  2. The reference is to Jefferson’s phrase, as previously discussed. []
  3. I use the word “order” here, rather than “state,” because, as we have discussed previously, “stable state” is a redundant or tautological expression. []

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5 comments on “state-nation as nation-state

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  1. I’m not sure I’m getting this. Would this final state-nation cease in fact to be a nation? Would the idea of nation become obsolete?

    At any rate, if my questions aren’t useful, this still serves as test of the subscription process – let’s see…

    • Seems you’re getting it pretty well, or well as it is to be gotten at this point. So the state-nation as step beyond nation-state in a progressive scheme does, as you gather, point to or presume a next stage of the end of nations (or, prophetically, all nations joined together in the eternal) or the obsolescence of the nation as central identity referent. One imagines an extended phase during which the old national identity would become less meaningful, like skin color or gender or family name: still facts of life, but decreasingly matters of life and death and destiny.

      The final state-nation would be simply the state of the “nation of all humankind” or “the United States of Earth” or “World Communism” – which I suppose under some constructions would have to include all self-conscious entitites or all entities capable of passing a Turing test, perhaps on the way to imagined higher-order self-realizations of Spirit and post-individual humanity or transhumanity or other such speculative conceptions beyond any useful or sensible definition of “nation.”

      In the meantime, any state not moving beyond itself would be to that same extent falling backward into the lower form of nation-state, lower and backward because under this framework always a form of tyranny or reign of falsehood or brute contingency impairing free self-realization. The state-nation would be the state viewed from the perspective of that which is to be superseded. The state-nation conceived or embraced as nation-state against its post-national destiny would be the state-nation succumbing to corruption or decline.

      So let’s see if the subscription worked for you.

  2. Yes I got an email notification. Will I have to continue to approve each new post subscription?

    Back to the (nation ((state) nation)).

    So state-nation as the post-nation state of political Earth? A different condition,to be sure, of the pre-nation state, but which perhaps also could be called a state nation.

    • On the comment subs: I think the alternative would be to subscribe to all blog comments – which could be arranged. In the past were you auto-subscribed on every thread? It’s possible that “notify” on your future comments will default to checked, but I think you’ll still have to confirm each time, as that’s considered an “opt-in only” best practice.

      BTW, if you have a account, or get one, you can find all of your comments at blogs (both blogs as well as blogs like this one that are connected) collected in one place. You may already be pre-set-up for it by virture of having subscribed.

    • The orders that existed before nation-states go by different labels in different frameworks, but the pre-nation-state order implies different types of disconnection between “nation” and “state.” The French or the Cherokees or the Jews might at any time have been nations without necessarily possessing political-administrative “states” in the modern form and sense of the term. Or Medieval European civilization might be seen as a “state” in a very broad sense of the term, but it wasn’t administered in such a way as to produce a virtual “nation.” The idea of the “state-nation” presumes that the idea of the state has first been consolidated or recognized in such a way, as an ordering principle, as to integrate or bind together a populace administratively, or politically, somewhat as earlier ideas of blood ties or language or shared histories or other bases of identity integrated the nation as a basis for a nation-state.

      The “state nation” is, for Hegel and I believe for Clausewitz, and anyway in this framework as we’re exploring it, the community that achieves or actualizes a collective self-consciousness according to or in pursuit of an idea of the human, and necessarily according to some variation on the modern idea (universal human rights). The German nation-state would have been the state created by the Germans (or the German nation) for the Germans. A German state-nation would be a state or transitional state that cared for human beings as free citizens according to universal or theoretically universalizable (modern liberal) precepts, most of those citizens happening to be Germans and located in the environs of historical Germany. The US and USSR were “states” first, nations second and unevenly. (I’ll have to review sometime how systematic Hegel was with his terminology, and also re-read his justification for the state at the national level – or the mass modern state still short of the world state – as the highest attainable level of collective self-consciousness mediating between individuals and the whole.)

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