International Relations-PSC 201
THE NATION-STATE SYSTEM
Background and Approaches
A nation denotes a common ethnic and cultural identity shared by a single people, while a state is a political
unit with a governance system controlling a territory and its inhabitants.
The nation promotes emotional relationship amongst its members, while states provide political and legal
foundation for the identity of its citizens. The term nation-state has been used by social scientists to denote
the gradual fusion of cultural and political boundaries after a long control of political authority by a central
government. The nation-state plays a dominant role in international relations.
Nation and Government
While governments come and go, a state has more permanence. Students and scholars of international
relations can depend upon the continued existence of a state as a viable political entity.
The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 created the modern nation-state. The treaty established the principle of
internal sovereignty (preeminence of rulers from other claimants to power) and external sovereignty
(independence from outside powers).
England, Spain and France obtained independence from dominance by the Holy Roman Empire. It is often
said that the Peace of Westphalia initiated the modern fashion of diplomacy as it marked the beginning of
the modern system of nation states. Subsequent wars were not about issues of religion, but rather revolved
around issues of state. This allowed Catholic and Protestant Powers to ally, leading to a number of major
Another important result of the treaty was it laid rest to the idea of the Holy Roman Empire having secular
dominion over the entire Christian world. The nation-state would be the highest level of government,
subservient to no others.
Scholars like Machiavelli, Bodin and Grotius defended the authority of the state and provided justification
for the secular state independent from the authority of the Pope.
Approaches to IR
There are three approaches to studying the social-cultural, political and economic forces at work within
Objective (Attributive) Approach: identifies nationalism and the nation-state in terms of observable
and quantifiable attributes, including linguistic, racial and religious factors.
Subjective (Emotional) Approach: views nationalism and the nation-state as a set of emotional,
ideological and patriotic feelings binding people regardless of their ethnic backgrounds.
Eclectic (Synthetic) Approach: A more subjective than objective approach, seeking to
supplement notions of nationalism and patriotism with interethnic interaction and education
processes to explain creation of a common identity.
Further Evolution of Nation-State
State systems underwent further evolution on account of rise of representative government, the industrial
revolution, population explosion, independence of developing countries, economic growth and multilateral
Population explosion: uncontrolled growth of population
Sovereignty: dominion, rule or independence
Multilateral initiatives: joint efforts often involving different nations and with many objectives
International Relations-PSC 201
Linguistic: concerning language
Quantifiable: scientific or verifiable
Students are advised to read the following chapters to develop a better understanding of the various
principals highlighted in this hand-out:
Chapter 2 in `"A Study of International Relations" by Dr. Sultan Khan.
In addition to reading from the textbook, please visit the following web-pages for this lecture, which
provide useful and interesting information:
Table of Contents: