Language, politics, and the nation-state (2023 revision)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionary

Abstract / Description of output

The “nation-state” is the concept of a continuous expanse of territory occupied in the majority by the people that has traditionally inhabited it, and governed autonomously by them. This people is assumed to be ethnically and culturally unified, with the principal cultural manifestations of their unity being shared religion and language. In mainstream political thought for a period starting in the first decade of the 19th century and continuing to the early years of the 21st, when increases in migration across the globe made the concept of a unified nation appear ever more illusory, the nation-state was taken to be an entity
grounded in natural justice and rights, representing the best path to the peaceful coexistence of peoples. This ideology arose with the German Romantics, in their opposition to Napoleon’s imperial project in Europe, a project connected with the ongoing struggle of the European powers to amass overseas empires greater than one another’s (see Joseph, 2006a). Since then, it has been usual to think of the nation as something natural and organic, while the state, insofar as it is not coterminous with the nation, is artificial and arbitrary. Appiah (2005, p. 244)
argues however that “if anything is arbitrary, it is not the state but the nation.” Nations matter because of how individuals feel about them, based on shared experiences, especially of texts of various kinds. “States, on the other hand, have intrinsic moral value ... because they regulate our lives through forms of coercion that will always require moral justification” (p. 245). This is particularly so in the wake of the 20th-century legacy of states undertaking “ethnic cleansing”
through genocide, in order to turn the nation-state ideology into a reality on the ground, when the rise of minorities was perceived as a threat to it.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Encylopedia of Applied Linguistics
EditorsCarol A. Chappelle
Place of PublicationHoboken, NJ, USA
ISBN (Electronic)9781405198431
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 19 Nov 2023


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