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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.

Nations are natural communities Show more Show less

Modern nations reflect long existing human communities who display a basic unity over a continuous historical period.
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Nations are natural cultural communities

Nations are defined by cultural unity

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Originating with Herder is the idea that mankind is divided into a variety of distinct incommensurable cultural communities. The idea has proved very influential and to this day many assume nations are, and should be, based on cultural unity.

The Argument

Nations are long-existing communities of people whose unity has been sustained by a shared cultural heritage. This heritage might include language, religion, myths and legends, cultural artefacts, value systems, generalities, etc. Modern ethno-symbolist theory sees cultural unity as being based on a common set of inherited myths and symbols. These form the basis of a common set of beliefs and values about the world and shared reference point for all members of the cultural community. Nations are merely a modern expression of this ancient sense of cultural community.

Counter arguments

Many modern nations contain a variety of different cultural groups and are nonetheless called nations. Those nations which are culturally homogeneous only became so thanks to sustained political and governmental action to promote a particular national culture. Evidence of pre-modern cultural homogeneity is very thin.


[P1] There exist long standing coherent and distinctive cultural communities. [P2] These cultural communities are the natural basis from which people organise themselves socially.

Rejecting the premises

[P1] Many modern nations are not culturally homogeneous. [P2] National homogeneity is rarely natural and is instead the result of sustained efforts to promote a particular culture.


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This page was last edited on Friday, 17 Jan 2020 at 10:47 UTC