I have been thinking a lot lately about nations vs. states as defined by Portland, Maine author Colin Woodard in his new book “American Nations.”:
A state is a sovereign political entity like the United Kingdom, Kenya, Panama, or New Zealand, eligible for membership in the United Nations and inclusion on the maps produced by Rand McNally or the National Geographic Society. A nation is a group of people who share — or believe they share– a common culture, ethnic origin, language, historical experience, artifacts and symbols. Some nations are presently stateless — the Kurdish, Palestinian, or Quebecois nations, for instance. (pg. 3)
He also states just before that that Americans are “among the only people in the world who use statehood and nationhood interchangeably.” (pg. 3) Basically his book is about different parts of North America and how they look at the world differently. Quebec/New France sees things far differently then Dixie/Deep South or the Empty Quarter/Far West. (First terms by Joel Garreau from “The Nine Nations of North America”; Second from “American Nations”/Woodard)
I was also thinking about this issue further in how much trouble it causes in the post-colonial world. From the example, Woodard mentions of the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq and Iran or the powderkeg of nations/ethnic groups that hate each other and just need a spark for war like the Hutu and Tutsis in Rwanda.
The issue of nation vs. state also has huge influences in Iraq, where the Talib nation of the Kush mountains is in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and is not defined by nation/country. Afghanistan is the perfect example of a country that is almost impossible to control centrally, because it has been and always been tribes, as well described in James Michener’s “Caravans.” It didn’t become militarized until the Soviet invasion of the late 1970s and intervention of NATO gave weapons to the muhajdeens who later became the Taliban. History brings intersting lessons.
Personally I prefer to use the term country over state for the rest of this article, since as an American I think of states as being Maine, New Jersey, and California; not Burundi, Afghanistan, Israel and the United States.
I don’t know if this is something fixable. There have been some separatist movements, the most recent being South Sudan last year. But, it’s hard to make a country out of several countries.
For instance, it may have been possible early in the 20th Century to make a Kurdistan in several countries (Turkey, Russia, Iraq), I think it would be hard now. I do think the Kurds would love to have their own country in Northern Iraq, I don’t think that is coming.
Democracy doesn’t just happen. It’s a process, a process that needs to have a rule of law. Without this, all you get is high corruption and often dictators.
So, it’s something to look at in the 21st Century. Post-colonialism is at least to me clearly one of the 20th Century’s failure. I am not sure how to move to good government in post-colonial nations. It certainly won’t be easy.