11/26/07 - states and nation-states

In today's excerpt - in the Middle Ages, European city-states and other forms of government begin coalescing into nation-states. Then, in the 18th and 19th centuries, with the divine right of kings discredited, these nation-states have to develop a basis for insuring the loyalty of their subjects:

"From 1000 to 1500, the major activity of European states was warfare: preparing for war, paying for war, recovering from war. This circumstance ... drove European states toward a common form: a territorial state with sufficient wealth generated in towns and cities, and a population sufficiently large to sustain armies. For a while, states that were small but wealthy (such as the Dutch) could hire mercenaries, while those that were large but poor (such as Poland) could conscript serfs into their armies and force them to fight. But by and large, the combination that was to prove most successful in the European system of warring states was those with both urban wealth to pay for wars and young men from the countryside to fight in them. Those who had these weapons could claim to be sovereign within their territories and then by force if necessary make others subject to them. ...

"In the nineteenth century, states underwent additional changes, becoming much closer in form and function to twentieth-century states, and became linked with another force that of nation-building or nationalism, giving us the modern nation-state. ... The idea of 'nations' and nationalism' ... arose only after modern states and industrial society had emerged. States were confronted with a dilemma, especially acute after the French Revolution called into question all the traditional sources of state legitimacy (divine ordination dynastic succession or historic right), of how to ensure loyalty to the state and to the ruling system. ...

"Industrialization created new forms of communication, especially the railroad and the telegraph, which in turn spawned economic and emotional needs among people who seemed to share common bonds of language and culture but did not have a unified state—in particular the various German and Italian states. This gave rise to the idea that a 'nation'—that is, a 'people' sharing a common language and culture—ought to have a single unified state. ... This idea informed the rulers of states who were feeling pressured by the revolutionary uprisings below, and offered them a way to begin ensuring the loyalty of 'their people.' The problem these rulers faced, though, was twofold. The first aspect was how to get their people to identify themselves as a 'nation', and then link that identity with the state. For this, public education (at first elementary, but in the twentieth century increasingly secondary, too) was especially useful, and so too were historians in constructing celebratory 'national histories.' "


Robert B. Marks


The Origins of the Modern World: A Global And Ecological Narrative from the Fifteenth to the Twenty-first Century


Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.


Copyright 2007 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.


59, 140-141
barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment