What is a Nation-State?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A nation-state is a state, or country, that has defined borders and territory. It is additionally a country in which a nation of principally the same type of people exists, organized by either race or cultural background. In the nation-state, generally, everyone would speak the same language, probably practice the same or similar types of religion, and share a set of cultural, “national,” values.

Immigration to Iceland is very low, making it an almost ideal nation-state.
Immigration to Iceland is very low, making it an almost ideal nation-state.

From this strict definition it’s easy to see that the US is not a nation-state. We have multiple ethnicities, numbers of religions practiced, and different cultural norms. Even though citizens of the US share the same borders and territory, we do not, in the sense of the nation-state, share a common nationality.

Following a series of uprisings in the early 20th Century, Ireland went from being part of the United Kingdom to a separate nation-state, the Republic of Ireland.
Following a series of uprisings in the early 20th Century, Ireland went from being part of the United Kingdom to a separate nation-state, the Republic of Ireland.

Another way in which a nation-state cannot exist is when there is a defined ethnic and cultural group that exists without territorial borders, and complete right of ownership to those borders. For example, when immigrants to the US declared the country to be a state, numerous Native American tribes were nations without being states. The borders of the various Native American nations were disregarded by the larger US state, resulting in repeated relocation of these nations to other areas and territories. These territories were only held at the permission of the US. Today, some tribes do have defined borders but they still in some cases may be subject to the laws of the US, making them not fully nation-states.

In fact, most countries do not completely fall within the definition of the nation-state, since most countries have immigrants. Once immigrants come to a country, especially in large numbers, the nation-state can no longer exist. Countries with only a small number of immigrants may still be seen as containing predominantly the same ethnicity and shared culture and may thus be considered as approaching the theoretical nation-state.

Iceland is considered almost an ideal nation-state since immigration to Iceland is quite low. Japan also comes close to being a nation-state because the sense of national identity and shared language is very strong. It is not coincidental that both of these countries are islands and thus less “crossing of the border” can exist.

The Republic of Ireland approaches the nation-state, though immigration to other countries often led to more Southern Irish people living outside of the Republic than inside it. It has relatively few immigrants, except returning nationals or their descendants, and shares a strong national identity. In the Republic of Ireland, the state is founded on the principles of the nation, with laws made respecting the deep Catholic beliefs of the country.

The desire to establish a nation-state can be one of the most devastating ones and may result in either mass eviction of other nationalities or ethnic cleansing. Hitler attempted to establish Germany as a nation-state by first exiling Jews, and then ultimately, by killing the majority of Jewish residents in Germany, and in other countries he conquered like Poland. Attempting to enforce a nation-state where none truly exists often results in high numbers of deaths for large minority populations and a lack of humanity to the extreme.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments



Name some countries which are nation states. In which category is Ghana?


So is Germany a nation state or is it a multinational state?


I believe that once a nation-state becomes involved with international business, they are no longer a sovereign nation state that truly supports themselves alone. This international business interaction can occur either through involuntary coercion (British India) of another nation with more powerful weapons or through voluntary choice (African leaders willingly producing slaves to sell) for potentially greater economic prosperity.


I would disagree with the definition put forward for 'nation', and from there, the assumption that the US is not a nation-state.

Although culture, language, etc. are very obvious forms of nation, I argue that there are others. A nation can be built upon shared values, beliefs, and ideas, as well as the simple act of identifying as a member of that nation.

The US is a very good example of a nation that may not share historical roots or language, but rather shares fundamental beliefs about how a country should be run.


"Name four European powers who collectively defeated Napoleon." sorry mate, that was Russia itself.


what are the achievements of nation-states ?


What about the treaty of westphalia in 1648? where does that come into play?


this is an outstanding definition of politics and the concept of nation, state and political system.


name some countries that are nation-states, like south korea.


Name four European powers who collectively defeated Napoleon.


Why was zolluviein set up in pursia in 1834? Why was it significant?


In the contest of pre-revolutionary France, what is referred to as the state general?


Anon15612 - interdependence is the act of depending on each other. It depends on what context you are using it in. With respect to nation-states, it is the dependence of two or more countries on each other.


what is interdependence?

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