The Elements of Politics

Henry Sidgwick

Chapter XIV

The Area of Government---States and Districts

§2. To get a clearer view of this ideal, let us examine more closely the conceptions of ``State'' and ``Nation'' as currently used.

I must begin by distinguishing between (1) the narrower use of the word ``State'' to denote the community considered exclusively in its corporate capacity, as the subject of public as distinct from private rights and obligations; and (2) its wider use to denote the community however considered. In previous chapters we have been led to conceive the community as capable of holding property and incurring debts in its corporate capacity: and, in speaking of these as the property and debts ``of the State'', we intend to distinguish them from the aggregate of the properties and the debts of the members of the community. This distinction, we may observe, is recognised by foreigners as well as natives. Thus, if Greece were to go bankrupt the wealthy Greeks in England would not be held liable for any part of the sums that their State owes to Englishmen; and, according to the usage of war, an invader of England would freely take the public property of the English State, but he would not seize the property of individual Englishmen beyond exacting certain limited ``contributions''. A similar distinction is implied when we speak of philanthropic duties as incumbent on ``society'' but not on ``the State''. At other times, however, we apply the term rather to the ``body politic'' considered as an aggregate of individuals: thus we might speak of England as a rich State, having in view the wealth possessed by the aggregate of Englishmen. It would be inconvenient to be obliged to avoid altogether either use of the term; but I shall try to prevent the ambiguity from causing any confusion.

In the present chapter I shall take the wider signification. I shall mean by a State what I have also called a political society or community; i.e. a body of human beings deriving its corporate unity from the fact that its members acknowledge permanent obedience to the same government, which represents the society in any transactions that it may carry on as a body with other political societies. And I shall assume this government to be independent, in the sense that it is not in habitual obedience to any foreign individual or body or to the government of a larger whole. It would, however, be contrary to usage to apply the term ``State'' to all human societies living under independent governments---including (e.g.) nomad tribes:---it must be added therefore that the term implies a certain degree of civilised order. The exact degree of civilisation implied, according to usage, is hardly clear: but we may lay down (1) that in a community that is called a State there is understood to be an effective consciousness of the distinction before explained, between the rights and obligations of the community in its corporate capacity and the rights and obligations of the individuals composing it; and (2) that the community so designated is understood to be in settled occupation of a certain territory. It seems essential to the modern conception of a State that its government should exercise supreme dominion over a particular portion of the earth's surface: and if we once admit that the range of governmental control is to be limited, the advantage of determining its limits by territorial boundaries is obvious: since the government's task of protecting its subjects from wrong would manifestly become tenfold more difficult if they were liable to be brought into contact, to an indefinite extent, with persons who might legitimately refuse all obedience to their government. Accordingly, in modern times, it is generally recognised as a fundamental right of a civilised state that its government should have unquestioned power of determining and enforcing law within the limits of the territory that is recognised as belonging to it. It is only in the case of weak and imperfectly ordered communities that serious limitations of this power are demanded by the civilised communities who have dealings with them: and it is perhaps doubtful whether, even in such cases, more good than harm results from granting the demand.

Indeed, in modern political thought the connection between a political society and its territory is so close that the two notions almost blend, and the same words are used indifferently to express either: thus we sometimes mean by a ``State'' the territory of a political community, and we sometimes mean by a ``Country'' the political community inhabiting it. We speak of crossing the boundaries of a ``state'', and we say that a ``country'' has made up its mind.

So far I have considered the unity of a State as depending solely on the fact that its members obey a common government. And I do not think that any other bond is essentially implied in the definition of a State. But we recognise that a political society is in an unsatisfactory and comparative unstable condition when its members have no consciousness of any bond of unity among them except their obedience to the same government. Such a society is lacking in the cohesive force required to resist the disorganising shocks and jars which foreign wars and domestic discontents are likely to cause from time to time. Accordingly, we recognise it as desirable that the members of a State should be united by the further bonds vaguely implied in the term Nation. I think, however, that attempts to give definiteness to the implications of this latter term are liable to obscure its real meaning: since I can find no particular bond of union among those that chiefly contribute to the internal cohesion of a strongly-united society---belief in a common origin, possession of a common language and literature, pride in common historic traditions, community of social customs, community of religion, which is really essential to our conception of a Nation-State. The common idea of a nation no doubt contains the survival of the familiar conception of kinship as the normal bond for holding men together in a political society: accordingly in popular talk it is often assumed that the members of a Nation are descended from the same stock. But this assumption in modern civilised countries is in palpable conflict with facts: some of the leading modern nations---so called---are notoriously of very mixed race, and it does not appear that the knowledge of this mixture has any material effect in diminishing the consciousness of common nationality. Again, the memories of a common political history, and especially of common struggles against foreign foes, have a tendency to cause the community of patriotic sentiment which the term ``nation'' implies: still, the present imperfect cohesion of the Austro-Hungarian State shows that this cause cannot be counted upon to produce the required effect. In the case just mentioned differences of language seem to have operated importantly against cohesion: and indeed in most recent movements for the formation of states upon a truly ``national'' basis---whether by aggregation or division---community of language seems to have been widely taken as a criterion of nationality: still, it seems clear from the cases of Switzerland on the one hand and Ireland on the other, that community of language and community of national sentiment are not necessarily connected. Again, at certain stages in the history of civilisation, religious belief has been a powerful nation-making force, and powerful also to disintegrate nations: but these stages seem to be now past in the development of the leading West-European and American States. I think, therefore, that what is really essential to the modern conception of a State which is also a Nation is merely that the persons composing it should have, generally speaking, a consciousness of belonging to one another, of being members of one body, over and above what they derive from the mere fact of being under one government; so that, if their government were destroyed by war or revolution, they would still tend to hold firmly together. When they have this consciousness we regard them as forming a ``nation'', whatever else they may lack: thus we should speak without hesitation of the Swiss nation, because we attribute to the Swiss this community of patriotic sentiment, in spite of differences of language and religion; but we could not properly speak of the ``Austrian nation'', whatever stability we may attribute to the Austrian---or rather Austro-Hungarian---State: because we do not conceive the members of this State as united into one whole by any such esprit de corps.

The difference between ``State'' and ``Nation'' may be illustrated further by the modem term ``nationality'', used in a concrete sense,' to denote a group of human beings. For by ``a nationality'' we usually mean a body of human beings united by the kind of sentiment of unity or fellow citizenship that is required to constitute a nation, but not possessing in common an independent government which they alone permanently obey: being either divided among several governments, or united under one government along with persons of a different nationality. Under either of these conditions, such a ``nationality'', in modern Europe, usually desires--and if occasion offers, strives-to become a nation; but not always, as the persons composing it may think themselves unable to maintain their independence alone-as is the case (e.g.) with the Magyars in the Austro-Hungarian State. Still, even in such cases as this latter, the persons belonging to the nationality are conscious of a certain artificiality in the composition of the larger political whole of which the nationality forms a part.

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