Egg or Chicken Question: The state creates the nation or
the nation creates the state?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, a nation is a ” ?large body of people united by common
descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory” ?( ?Oxford
Dictionary) ? whilst a state is “the civil government of a country” ?( ?Oxford Dictionary) ?. There
is a very fine line of difference between the two terms as they are both communities, a nation
being more ethnic/experiential based whilst a state being more geographical/politically based.
A nation can survive in multiple states whilst a state is fixed in a particular geography despite
its ability to grow to accommodate more states or geographical areas, for instance, as a result
of war or imperialism. With those slight variations, does a state create a nation or a nation
create a state? This essay will serve to address this question.
States in many cases create Nations . As Massimo d’Azeglio, one of the unifiers of Italy,
stated: “Italy has been made; now it remains to make Italians.”. What became today the
standardized Italian language, was once merely spoken by 10% of the Italian population in
1860. France, similarly, spoke varying languages and dialects and even had different
currencies in 1860. The modern “French Language” was “a foreign language to half of all
French children”. When and after the French Revolution had erupted in 1789, French rulers
expressed a continuous desire “to form French citizens”. In order to achieve Italian and
French nationalism and identity, many political efforts were implemented during the 19th and
20th centuries, including developments in the railways and transportation to allow the mixing
of people from different parts of the state and for a common national language to be spoken
between them. Moreover, education was highly state censored to fit its national agenda and
elementary schooling was compulsory with the imposed “national language” solely being
allowed to be spoken in schools. The states went further to use aspects to link people together
such as religious services and compulsory military service. It was thought that religion would
make people have a common goal and military service would make people have a common
enemy, the basic aspects of a nation. Therefore, from the example of Italy and France, it is
evident that nations can be deliberately constructed by states ?(Alesina et al. 2015:2) ?.
Nations, on the contrary, also hold ability to establish states. Unlike France and Italy,
Germany consisted of many small states who shared “a common heritage” ?(Westmoreland
2015:6) ?. Through the German Model, Westmoreland highlights that “the most common
markers of national identity are language, ethnicity, and religion” ?(Westmoreland 2015:7) ?.
Before the creation of the German state of 1871, all German states had their own vernacular
(ancestral) languages. It is estimated that until the 1700s there were as many as 500 different
dialects across Germany ?(Herald 2009) ?and due to business and political ties between the
German states, an administrative language ” High German”, Spoken across the German
region developed. This linguistic link was an “effective tool for identifying what was actually
German land” though” it was common to use natural geographic features to identify where
states existed” at the time ?(Westmoreland 2015:7) ? . Westmoreland also states that Ethnic
identity is important in the creation of a state as it is where “people can identify themselves as
being similar to one another and also identify themselves as being separate from others”.
Though those states are sometimes created through “the removal of all but one ethnicity” in
an area of land, Germany was created through the joining of Kingdoms sharing common
ethnicity. Being Germanic or part of the German nation, “ethnically distinct from the French,
Italians, and Poles surrounding them” is what created the German state ?(Westmoreland
2015:8) ?. A religious Protestant nation also contributed to the creation of the German state.
The creators of the State, the Prussians, did it through the “idea of the protection of state
values, namely the Protestant values”. “Initially, the border for Germany was drawn around
Protestants and not Catholics (Catholic German areas nowadays)” before outgrowing this
barrier ?(Westmoreland 2015:9). ?From this example, it is evident that states can be a product
of nations whether ethnic or religious ?.
In addition, the State of Israel also proves that nations are capable of forming states. During
the 19th century and earlier, Jews were subject to remarkable anti-semitism, particularly in
the Austro Hungarian Empire, Germany and Eastern Europe. In a nationalistic Europe,
leaders were “distrustful of minority populations”, predominantly national communities that
“tightened their bonds” like Jews and seemed rather alienated from the majority. In the
Russian Empire, this distrust was expressed through the massacring of thousands of Jews and
the annexation of their properties starting from 1881 till the 20th century, forcing many to
migrate away from Europe and into the United States ?(The Consolidation of National States
in Europe, page 2) ?. Even though the growth of the 19th century “Enlightenment” movement
gradually drove European jews into further social integration and many to convert to
Christianity or leave Judaism all together, they were still labelled as “Jews”. The Jewish
community hence understood that "Jew" points to “more than just the name of a religion”.
Zionist Jewish ideology consequently emerged with a belief that: ” Jews were a people
without a country and would remain politically powerless as long as they did not have a
national home”. This became known as the “Jewish Problem” allowing a breakthrough in
Jewish Nationalism ? (Isseroff 2005:3) ?.
This nationalism exacerbated with the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in
France for spying for Germany in 1894 though he proved innocent. Theodor Herzl, a jewish
Viennese journalist/reporter of the trial published a pamphlet “Judenstaat (Jewish State)”
after watching crowds shouting “Death to the Jews”. The pamphlet suggested a solution for
the “Jewish Problem”, this being “mass migration of Jews from all over the world to a land
that they could call their own”.
In 1897, the first “Zionist Congress” was organised by Herzl in Basel in which the “World
Zionist Organisation” was founded, declaring their desire “to establish a home for the Jewish
people in Palestine (Ancient Israeli Kingdom)” ?(The Consolidation of National States in
Europe, page 2) ?. Indeed, Jewish Masses responded by moving to Palestine for the next half
century. After the jewish support of Britain against Turks in World War One, the Balfour
Declaration was made in 1917 in favour of granting Jews their national home and when the
League of Nations sought to apply the declaration by appointing Britain to rule Palestine in
1922. During this time, Palestine would be split into a Jewish side and a palestinian side by
1947 as was passed by the UN. In 1948, the Israeli provisional government declared the State
of Israel which was made official after the immediate recognition of President Truman of the
USA. It can hence be seen that the creation of the State of Israel was a result of the political
efforts of the Jewish Nation across the world, proving nations’ capability of creating states
(National Archives, ?U.S . R ec o gn itio n o f t h e S ta te o f I sra el) ?.
In Singapore, the nation is in contrast to Israel, the construct of the state. Singapore is heavily
multi-ethnical with 75% of the population being Chinese, 13.7% Malay, 8.7% Indian, and
2.6% other nationalities (mainly Central Asian and European). Ortmann states that:
“Ethnicity cannot be the central focus of a definition of “nation” here because the multiethnic
immigrant state with its colonial history would never be able to become a nation”. Even
though the Chinese are the majority, Chinese culture isn’t promoted as ” it is problematic for
a government in a multiethnic state to promote an ethnic identity because it would favor one
group over another and create tensions”. Instead, the state creates a new nation based on
Hobsbawm’s “Invented Tradition” theory where “a set of practices, normally governed by
overtly or tacitly accepted rules” become “norms of behavior by repetition” and as a result
generate a “common culture that is supportive of the political system” ?(Ortmann 2009:25) ?.
The government’s efforts in creating a Singaporean nation can be summarised as follows:
They preached a goal of economic “modernity, development, and economic success”
following Singapore’s independence in 1965 and rejection from the Malaysian Union. They
achieved this through integration in the global economy rather than relying on local
businesses alone as well as through the hard work of the nation that was motivated by public
housing schemes “HBD”. More so, the government promoted a sense of national patriotism
by encouraging national symbols like the flag, the Singaporean national anthem and the
national pledge. Singapore was also lead in a strict fashion by the “People’s Action Party”
and their strive for the creation of the nation is highlighted through them being referred to by
the public as the “National Party”. In return, dissident parties were undermined as the “PAP”
rose as the party of the Singaporean nation which still rules Singapore till today ?(Ortmann
2009:28) ?. More so, a “nation” feeling of unity was popularized by the media that reinforces
“the cultural values and social attitudes being inculcated in our schools and universities” and
occasional “dissenting articles” are “consistently followed by a government response”.
The government moreover used the common enemies strategy to create national unity as
emphasised by Singapore’s location as a “Chinese city surrounded by Malay states” or
“enemy territories”, a threat along with its small geographical size and lack of natural
resources. Indeed, this created a united goal of “enhancing the dependence on the state
(Singapore)” through the spread of national psychosis ?(Ortmann 2009:29) ?. In 2002, an “IPS
Survey” showed that Singaporeans were increasingly sharing a common (national) identity.
Nowadays, it is common that most Singaporeans rally for the annual “National Day Parade”
“without knowing what the parade is actually for, or even caring about its
meaning” ?(Ortmann 2009:35) ?. Thus, states can be responsible in the creation of nations by
stimulating common goals, fears and invented traditions that later become an automatic
response in populations that have nothing else in common.
In conclusion, the ability of the state to create a nation in comparison with a nation’s ability
to create a state as illustrated in this essay can be seen as equal. Which creates which depends
on special circumstances ranging from political situations such as in Singapore after its
independence where it needed national unity for the state to prosper economically, hence
artificially creating a nation, to the discrimination against a certain nation such as jews which
resulted in the creation of a state where their safety would be guaranteed. Nations and states
can both create each other.
Bib lio gra p hy
? Oxford Dictionary, Definitions of “Nation” and “State”. Available at:
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/nation ? and:
? Alesina, A. and Reich, B. (2015) Nation Building. Available at:
? Westmoreland, JB (2015) The Relationship Between National Identity And State
Borders:Appalachian State University. Available at:
? Herald, H. (2009) The “High” and “Low” of the German Dialect. Available at:
? The Consolidation of National States in Europe, “Nationalism and Anti Semitism”.
? Isseroff, A. (2005) A History of Zionism and the Creation of Israel. Available at:
? National Archives, ?U.S. Recognition of the State of Israel. Available at:
? Ortmann, S. (2009) “Singapore: The Politics of Inventing National Identity” from
“Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs”. Publisher: GIGA German Institute of
Global and Area Studies, Institute of Asian Studies and Hamburg University Press.
Available at: ?https://journals.sub.uni-hamburg.de/giga/jsaa/article/view/169/169