Literally, a sovereign entity dominated by a single nation. A mythical and intellectual construct with a highly persuasive and powerful political force. It is the primary unit in the study of international relations. Its meaning is found in the coincidence of its two parent terms, ‘state’ and ‘nation’. ‘State’ refers to the political organization that displays sovereignty both within geographic borders and in relation to other sovereign entities. A world of nation‐states implies an international system of pure sovereign entities, relating to each other legally as equals. ‘Nation’ refers rather to the population within, sharing a common culture, language, and ethnicity with a strong historical continuity. This manifests itself in most members in a sentiment of collective, communal identity. When the two concepts, ‘nation’ and ‘state’ are combined, this creates an enormously compelling mixture of legitimacy and efficiency for governing elites.

Unfortunately, there does not exist, has never existed, a nation‐state in the perfect sense. Nevertheless, it has commanded a strong following, as governments have endeavoured to attain the legitimacy and political stability it brings.

From: Iain McLean and Alistair McMillan, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics (3rd ed.), Oxford University Press, 2009.

For the past 200 years, Latin American governments (or “states”) have claimed to represent the power of the nation, even while waging war upon their own populations. The Mexican government, for instance, claims to represent the Mexican people (“nation”) and the US government claims to represent the will of the American nation.* One of the key questions for us this semester is to what degree this pairing of nation and state has truly been a vehicle for achieving justice, liberty, self-determination, and self-fulfillment. With your peers, discuss how, if, or why not your life experience match the political idea of a nation-state.

FOOTNOTE: Although the USA claims the title “America,” this is problematic for a number of reasons. First, all countries in the western hemisphere are part of the Americas, and therefore the USA should not have monopoly over the term. Second, it is important to remember that the term “America” comes from the name of the 16th century Italian author Amerigo Vespucci. The native peoples of the hemisphere had many names for these lands, none of which were America. The term “America” hence carries with it two layers of colonial imposition: first, by the Europeans who appropriated indigenous peoples’ land 500 years ago and renamed it America; second, by the USA, which appropriated the term for itself within the last two centuries.