An Overview of Nation States and their Constitution
Defining the Nation State
Nation-building is a long evolutionary process, and in most cases the date of a country’s “formation” cannot be objectively determined; e.g., the fact that England and France were sovereign kingdoms on equal footing in the medieval period does not prejudice the fact that England is not now a sovereign state (having passed sovereignty to Great Britain in 1707), while France is a Republic founded in 1870 (though the term France generally refers to the current French Fifth Republicgovernment, formed in 1958).
An unambiguous measure is the date of national constitutions; but as constitutions are an almost entirely modern concept, all formation dates by that criterion are modern or early modern (the oldest extant constitution being that of San Marino, dating to 1600).
Independence dates for widely recognized states earlier than 1919 should be treated with caution, since prior to the founding of the League of Nations, there was no international body to recognize nationhood, and independence had no meaning beyond mutual recognition of de facto sovereigns (the role of the League of Nations was effectively taken over by the United Nations after the Second World War). See also: disputed territories.
Many countries have some remote (or fantastically remote) symbolic foundation date as part of their national mythology, sometimes artificially inflating a country’s “age” for reasons of nationalism, sometimes merely gesturing at a long and gradual process of the formalizing national identity. Such dates reflect not the formation of a state (an independent political entity), but of a nation (an ethnic or cultural grouping), terms that are often conflated in the context of nation states.
The relationships between ethnicity, race, nationality, and statehood are diverse and complicated. At bottom, the underlying question is a question of the relationship between social identity and political administration. Of the social identities listed (ethnicity, race, and nationality), the concept of nationality is the most inclusive; but of course, it is still an exclusive category. As can be seen in the supposedly multi-national, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-cultural United States of America, the multiplicity of groups who rule does not mean that any and all groups rule; multiplicity does not mean all-inclusivity, there are still nations who belong and nations who do not …see national minorities. Therefor, every nation state is nationally exclusive whether or not it is a traditional, singularly national state or a multi-national state. Nowhere do we find an unproblematic attempt to correlate nations and states. The basic project is a failure in its fundamentals.
Despite the failure of states to maintain rule by select nations, the project of reproducing the nation (or, multi-nation) state continues to predominate in the world today. Those movements and forces that undermine national integrity are largely seen as bad: transnational corporations, communists, anarchists. For as much as world culture and capital continues to globalize, national identity pushes against its own corrosion. Stateless nations mostly aspire towards the creation of their own nation states, or at least official recognition by multinational states. Nationalist movements, of stateless nations or not, continue to consistently reinforce the fundamentals of the nation state.