the state and the sense of the nation are tenuous at best, and are mixedwith other forms of political organization, such as tribal structures. Mostof my examples are taken from the United States, though
thenation-state has taken root elsewhere, similar dynamics can be seen in othercontexts.
I.The State is not Natural, but Artiﬁcial
a)History of the Term
The word “state” is sometimes used loosely to refer to the political formthrough which a stable group of people is organized. Nomadic groups areusually the only kind of political community excluded from this deﬁnition,as it implies some form of geographical stability. The state is thus treated, asFriedrich Engels says, as a necessary and ancient “product of society at acertain stage of development”,
and questions of, for example, “church andstate” are perennial questions.
In more precise usage, however, “state” refersto a more limited development characteristic of modernity. The stateemerged in Europe amidst the late Renaissance and Reformation. As BrucePorter puts it, “The state as we know it is a relatively new invention, origi-nating in Europe between 1450 and 1650.”
The state in this more precisesense is a political form based on the distinctly modern concept of sover-eignty, which may be deﬁned as “supreme authority within a territory”.
Asformulated by Jean Bodin, Thomas Hobbes, and other lesser ﬁgures of theearly modern period, the state claims
authority—as opposed tomere coercion—a supreme authority that no lesser authorities within a rec-ognized set of geographical borders may legitimately oppose. Sovereigntyis a departure from earlier forms of governance in which people’s politicalloyalties were based not necessarily on territoriality, but on feudal ties,kinship, religious or tribal afﬁliation.
If a stranger committed a crime onsomeone else’s land, it would be necessary to ﬁnd out to whom he or sheowed loyalty in order to know what law applied.It is perfectly acceptable to use the term “state” in the looser sense, pro-vided one is clear that it is not being used in the stricter sense. Confusion isproduced when, as in the case of Charles Curran above, the two senses areintermingled. It should be made clear that, although political community insome form may be natural and ancient, the sovereign state, as we know it,is not. One could claim that the modern state is just one more variation onthe theme of the state, but that would be extremely misleading. In the ﬁrstplace, the term
began to appear in a political context only in the latefourteenth century, and until the sixteenth century it was used either to referto the state of the ruler himself (
) or to thecurrent condition of the realm (
). The emphasis was on a person-alized kind of rule embodied in the prince. Only in the sixteenth centurydoes there arise the concept of an abstract “state” which is independent of
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2004
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