Mapping the world's opinions

What is a Nation? Show more Show less

Are nations ancient or modern? Are they natural or artificial? Are they a tool of liberation or coercion? Despite many predicting globalisation would make them obsolete, nations are now back in fashion in a world where leaders tout America First, the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese People, and Hindutva. Understanding the nation now seems more important than ever.
Modern nations reflect long existing human communities who display a basic unity over a continuous historical period.
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Nations are natural ethnic communities

Ethnic communities form the basis of nations.

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Ideas that some human groups are on some level innately different, whether due to innate characteristics or the circumstances they live in, from each other has a long history. However, it became strongly associated with scientific racism in the 19th century and is now widely discredited. Those who still argue credibly for some sort of innate natural difference as the basis for nations usually opt for a relatively soft version of this emphasising issues like kinship loyalty.

The Argument

The world is divided into various distinct ethnic communities which constitute nations. These ethnic communities are shaped and made distinct by territorial and biological factors. The sort of territory which a group inhabits shapes their cultural character. Biological factors are variously attributed to racial distinctiveness or sense of obligation to other members of an ethnic group based on inherited kinship loyalties. Nations, therefore, exist whether or not they have political independence.

Counter arguments

Ethnicity is a notoriously difficult concept to define. There is little evidence of territory shaping any identity in any particular way. For example, mountainous regions have produced cultures as varied as Quechua, Karen, and Montenegrin. Ideas of ethnic unity are very dubious. Theory of innate human difference along ethnic lines is widely discredited as a pseudo-science. Ideas of kinship struggle to explain nations which contain a wide variety of different ethnic groups such as the American nation of immigrants or India which contains over 2000 ethnic groups according to some counts.


[P1] Nations are ethnic groups. [P2] Ethnicity is shaped by material factors and persists across time.

Rejecting the premises

[P1] The criteria defining ethnic identity is very hard to describe with any consistency. [P2] Ideas territorial factors shape human culture and mentality are dubious. [P3] Ideas of racial difference are discredited. [P4] Many modern nations contain multiple different ethnic groups. [P5] Ethnicity is not timeless but emerges from historical processes.


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This page was last edited on Tuesday, 3 Dec 2019 at 14:34 UTC