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Nation (adopted into German around 1400 , from Latin natio , " people , clan, origin" or "birth", originally for a "birth community", derived from the verb nasci , "to be born") denotes larger groups or collectives of people whom common characteristics such as language , tradition , manners , customs or ancestry can be assigned.

However, this definition of the term is empirically inadequate, since, for example, in the opinion of Eric Hobsbawm, no nation fully meets this definition. In addition, the term is also used in general terms as a synonym for state and people, from which the nation is separated in the scientific representation. The attributed cultural characteristics can be represented as the national character of a people or a national community . The term “nation” turns out to be a construct that becomes effective when people act on it.

In the pre-bourgeois period, at the first universities, students from certain European regions were categorized as the respective nation ( nationes ) (e.g. Bavarian nation). The state-related development of a nation , in which the (actually different) terms state and nation were linked or equated with one another, happened at the beginning of the bourgeois age and modernity . Against this background, between State , Nation (cultural nation) and national state to distinguish. Only in a nation state does the state structure coincide with the concept of the nation.

The concept of the nation has meaning for the areas of international law and politics.


For political collectives, which, as in the French Revolution (1789–1799), constitute a nation as a state with a constitution in the National Assembly , there are terms such as will nation or state nation . State and nation are used synonymously here. Instead of ethnic constructions, common ideals such as “ freedom, equality, brotherhood ” serve as the basis that willingly hold the community of the nation together. In this context it was also postulated that territorial or other particular group ties would have to be shed in order to enable the creation of a common nation. Belonging to the nation was often linked to a promise of emancipation and a compulsion to assimilate .

The Swiss Confederation , which consists of German, French, Italian and Romansh-speaking population groups, is considered to be a nation of will with a heterogeneous national people . An ethnic nation or cultural nation , on the other hand, does not necessarily form a uniform nation, since a supranational cultural area such as the Arabic language and cultural area can also serve as a national horizon of identification. People who form an ethnic nation are also addressed as a people in an ethnological sense . In addition to the ethnic groups or nationalities of multiethnic states , this can also apply to ethnic minorities within nation states, for example the Chukchi within Russia .

The social construction of the nation is reflected in a number of contradictions. For example, language cannot always be used as a national definition feature. So form z. B. the German-speaking countries do not have a common nation. Even states like Brazil and Portugal are not a common nation, despite their cultural affiliation to the Lusophonie , because they have experienced different state-building processes (→  nation-building , state-building ).

Concept history

In Latin, natio originally referred to a community of people of the same origin, followed by a community identified by common language, customs and traditions , and in Roman usage initially as a foreign name for strange immigrant people who live with the local population . With the ius gentium , a separate legal basis was created for dealing with people who did not have Roman citizenship .

Following on from Roman usage, the 'nationes' or 'gentes' in Christian Latin are primarily the non-Jewish pagans , as followers of pagan cults or as convertible pagans who accept the gospel with the Jewish Christians and form the community of the church with them .

At the medieval university, the students had to enroll according to their countries of origin in nations with their own statutes and procurators . These university nations, usually four of them, were named after the most important regions of origin of the local students. At the Paris University a distinction was made between the nationes gallicorum, normannorum, picardorum and anglicorum , the "Gallic" also including the Italians, Spaniards, Greeks and Orientals and the "English" including the Germans and their northern and eastern neighbors. At the University of Prague , the "Polish" nation included students from the Kingdom of Poland as well as students from the eastern parts of the empire, the "Bohemian" also Hungarians and South Slavs , the "Bavarian" apart from the Bavarians the Swabians , Franks , Hesse , Rhinelander and Westphalia as well as the "Saxon" the North Germans , Danes , Swedes and Finns .

As a self-designation for a people with political-state unity and a peculiarity based on common ancestors and history, the term nation has been gaining importance in French since the 16th century, which then emerged in the 18th century with the French Revolution with an emphasis on totality and sovereignty of the state people against class and particular claims to state sovereignty also in the other European languages. As a result of the revolution and the growing population, the idea of ​​the nation as a state as a whole developed a high level of dynamism, which initially opposed autocratic feudalism , economically and politically restrictive small states and country-based thinking (German princely states or German linguistic and cultural areas) or against imperial foreign rule ( multi-ethnic states Russia , Austria-Hungary ).

Johann Christoph Adelung describes in his standard work Grammatical-Critical Dictionary of High German Dialect at the end of the 18th century the term nation as “the indigenous inhabitants of a country, insofar as they have a common origin and speak a common language, incidentally, they like a single one Make up a state, or be divided into several [...] Also special branches of such a nation, i.e. i. Inhabitants of a province who speak one dialect are sometimes called nations, in which understanding it is customary in the old universities, where the members are divided according to nations [...] Before this word was borrowed from Latin, people for nation were used in whatever understanding it is still used by ancient nations. Because of the ambiguity of this word, however, it has largely been abandoned in this meaning and sought to introduce people by nation, which word has already found approval ”. For the German dictionary of the Brothers Grimm , the nation is “the (indigenous) people of a country, a large population of states”. The term is therefore "since the 16th century from the French. nation, ital. nazione (from the lat. natio) ”has been incorporated into the German language. The definitions of terms are similar in the Oeconomic Encyclopedia by Johann Georg Krünitz , which was created around the same time, and, much more extensive, in the Meyers Konversations-Lexikon , which was created in the second half of the 19th century .

In his famous 1882 speech Qu'est-ce qu'une nation? named Ernest Renan past, present and future as the factors affecting the principe spirituel constitute the nation. A people formed a nation not because of a common race, language or religion, not because of common interests or because of geography, but rather because of shared memories of the past and a desire to live together now and in the future. In this respect, the nation is a daily plebiscite .

Social science term

In the social science context, the term is used in very different ways. B. as the desired company of Ferdinand Tönnies , as an imagined community (see Benedict Anderson ), as a group based on primordial ties (see Clifford Geertz ), as a collective (Klaus P. Hansen), furthermore as a historically contingent concept (see Rogers Brubaker ) or as a combination of the above terms (see Anthony D. Smith ). The historian Otto Dann defines the nation as a society that forms “a political community of will”. It is rooted in a shared historical experience and sees itself as a community of solidarity . All members of a nation are legally equal and share a basic consensus on the common political culture . Every nation is based on a certain territory , the so-called fatherland . The main goal of every nation is the nation state , in which it can independently shape the living conditions of its citizens ( sovereignty ).

Political science term

For a political association of people who do not belong to any common ancestry , culture or language community, a state that does not invoke the national togetherness of its nationals would also be conceivable. Nevertheless, in most cases, a togetherness as a nation is also postulated. This is intended to emphasize the unifying character of a unified, politically sovereign organized and orderly state as a socio-psychological living space of its citizens. In classic multiethnic states, in which, by definition, different nationalities have their home, tension-filled opposites of different and sometimes competing national identities often arise in this context, which one tries to amicably abolish with different solution strategies ( partial autonomy , parity models , etc.).

In France , a centralized state, one tries under the symbol of the Grande Nation , the estates , but also the autonomous aspirations of the regions, the dynasts and ethnic groups such. To integrate e.g. the Bretons , Corsicans , Basques and Alsatians into the French state; In some cases, attempts were made to replace their mother tongues with the French state language. Today their care is again very prominent. In contrast, there is, for example, the multi-ethnic state of Switzerland , which sees itself as a so-called nation of will and whose inhabitants assign themselves to different language communities (Switzerland consists of German, French, Italian and Romansh-speaking communities). Immigration countries such as Canada , the USA or Argentina lack a number of typical features of historically much older European nations, but they still use this term very decidedly. The Indians of the North American continent increasingly see themselves as belonging to independent Indian nations.

Cultural nation and state nation

By comparing the history of ideas in Germany and France in the 19th century, Friedrich Meinecke developed the classification of a Central European cultural nation and a Western European state nation.

Cultural nation

The cultural nation is a very sustainable concept of the nation, as it describes the linguistic and cultural space ( language and tradition ) of a people. Nation is then the unity in language, culture and traditions preserved through history (see popular term ). It cannot be defined by territorial boundaries, but rather combines, for example, with national monuments , national heroes , a national anthem and a national allegory as means of identification. The unity of the national language is mostly shaped by a national literature.

Nation is then understood more ethnically homogeneous (as a people ), but also as a tribe (tribal people, formerly ethnic tribe ) (see also tribalism , reservation ). This definition of the nation is often based on the common ancestry of the members of the nation and a resulting cultural and linguistic unit. The quest for ethnically homogeneous nation states led to so-called ethnic cleansing in the 20th century .

State nation

The state nation or citizenship nation is a nation based on the will of its citizens . Historically, it is seen as exemplary in Great Britain , France and especially in the United States of America . It is the common political values ​​to which all citizens are committed that constitute a nation. Thus the state nation becomes a daily plebiscite (Ernest Renan).

People's nation, cultural nation, state nation, class nation

The sociologist M. Rainer Lepsius differs in its advice delivered in 1982 typology of structural characteristics and function definitions of the respective idea of nation four types: The People's Nation , which imagines itself as an ethnic community of descent, the cultural nation (following Meinecke), the nation of citizens who (like for example, the United States defined) via the individual civic equality rights and the democratic process of legitimation, and finally the class nation in which the membership of the Marxist -understood social class is essential for membership in the national community. He cites the GDR as an example of the latter .

According to the historian Vito Gironda, the difference between the concepts of people's nation and citizenship lies in dealing with immigrants and national minorities : In a people's nation , their integration or even assimilation into a defined cultural community is a prerequisite. In a citizen nation, on the other hand, there is the possibility for everyone to integrate into this cultural community and its value system.

Nation as a substitute for religion and nation building through religions

The attachment to the nation sometimes serves as a substitute for religion ( nationalism ): There is a kind of “cult of the nation”. The nation is seen as something “sacred” for which one makes “sacrifices” up to “martyrdom”. On the other hand, many nations use their religion or denomination as a defining feature (→  religious state , state religion ).

State-philosophical term

Johann Gottlieb Fichte is assigned the essentialist definition according to which nation exists beyond time and only needs articulation. Accordingly, Fichte sees the nation as an ontological unit created by God, existing in all eternity and independent of history . Carl Schmitt also ties in with essentialist ideas of people and nation . This accepted a crisis of the nation state, to overcome it he developed a concept of a greater area based on peoples and ethnic groups in 1939, which was to be based on the imperial idea and a "prohibition of intervention by foreign powers".

The Jacobins represented in the French Revolution an idea of nation that sees the nation a unit that needs to be formed as a nation-state politics. Nation is therefore the community of will of those who defend the values ​​of the constitution. This tradition remained powerful in France.

The philosopher Anton Leist defines nation as “a social collective that is created (based on ethnic, cultural, historical, geographical and political beliefs) through the mutual attribution of national belonging among its members, that shares a public culture and that has the will to organize in a state ”.

International law term

In international law the actual commonalities of a people (or an ethnic group ) are used. According to Articles 1 and 55 of the Charter of the United Nations, individual peoples have a right to self-determination, regardless of whether they are already part of a state (see right of peoples to self-determination ). According to the historian Jörg Fisch , “a state of the world in which each people does not have to form its own state, but is allowed to form it and in which each person can belong to the people of their choice [...] can be thought but not realized . ”
The historian Peter Jósika argues in this regard that the political community as the smallest political unit should always be the starting point for any supra-regional and therefore also national self-determination. Jósika refers to the law of community autonomy that is valid in Switzerland, which is based on the principle of local self-determination, as a model.

The law of the Federal Republic of Germany chooses a hybrid form between the principle of citizenship and the principle of nationality for its citizens .


Web links

Wiktionary: Nation  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink: L'Etat-nation / state Nation. On the early modern genesis and postmodern questioning of the national . In: Rainer Hudemann, Manfred Schmeling (eds.): The 'Nation' on the test stand / La 'Nation' en question / Questioning the 'Nation' . Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2009, p. 3.
  2. ^ Nation. In: Digital dictionary of the German language . Retrieved February 11, 2020
  3. Eric J. Hobsbawm: Nations and Nationalism: Myth and Reality since 1780. Campus, Frankfurt am Main 2005, p. 16.
  4. Benedict Anderson: The Invention of the Nation. To the career of a momentous concept. 2. to add a post. Ed., Campus, Frankfurt am Main / New York 2005, ISBN 978-3-593-37729-2 .
  5. See Duden, German Universal Dictionary , 5th edition, Bibliographisches Institut & FA Brockhaus AG, Mannheim 2003, keyword “Nationstaat”.
  6. Ernest Renan: Qu'est-ce qu'une nation? Conference fait en Sorbonne, le 11 mars 1882 . In: Henriette Psichari (Ed.): Œuvres complètes de Ernest Renan . tape 1 . Paris 1947, p. 895-905 .
  7. Quoted from Dieter Langewiesche : Nation, Nationalism, Nationstaat in Deutschland und Europa . CH Beck, Munich 2000, p. 39 f.
  8. ^ Christian F. Feest : Cultures of the North American Indians . Könemann, Cologne 2000, p. 22-23 .
  9. ^ Anja Stukenbrock: Linguistic nationalism. Language reflection as a medium of collective identity creation in Germany (1617–1945) (=  Studia Linguistica Germanica , Vol. 74), Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2005, ISBN 978-3-11-090132-0 , p. 50 f. (accessed via De Gruyter Online); Peter Alter: Nationalism. An essay on Europe. Alfred Kröner Verlag, Stuttgart 2016, ISBN 978-3-520-71301-8 , p. 40 f.
  10. ^ So Peter Alter: Nationalism. An essay on Europe. Alfred Kröner, Stuttgart 2016, ISBN 978-3-520-71301-8 , p. 44.
  11. ^ M. Rainer Lepsius: Nation and Nationalism in Germany . In: Geschichte und Gesellschaft , special issue 8: Nationalism in the world of today (1982), pp. 12-27.
  12. Vito F. Gironda: Left Liberalism and National Citizenship in the Empire: A German Path to a Citizenship? In: Jörg Echternkamp and Oliver Müller: (Ed.): The politics of the nation. German nationalism in war and crises 1760 to 1960 . Oldenbourg, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-486-56652-0 , pp. 107–130, here p. 123 (accessed via De Gruyter Online).
  13. Peter Alter: Nationalism. An essay on Europe. Alfred Kröner, Stuttgart 2016, p. 37 f.
  14. Carl Schmitt: International law large area order with intervention prohibition for non-spatial powers. A contribution to the concept of the Reich in international law (1939); Andreas Koenen: Visions of the "Reich". The Political-Theological Legacy of the Conservative Revolution . In: Andreas Göbel, Dirk van Laak, Ingeborg Villinger (eds.): Metamorphoses of the political. Basic questions of the formation of political unity since the 20s . Akademie Verlag, Berlin 1995, ISBN 3-05-002790-8 , pp. 53-74; Felix Blindow: Carl Schmitt's imperial order. Strategy for a Greater European Area . Akademie Verlag, Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-05-003405-X (both accessed via De Gruyter Online).
  15. ^ Anton Leist: Nation and Patriotism in Times of Globalization. In: Christine Chwaszcza and Wolfgang Kersting (Hrsg.): Political philosophy of international relations. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1998, ISBN 978-3-518-28965-5 , pp. 365-408, here p. 375.
  16. Jörg Fisch, The Self-Determination Right of the Peoples. The domestication of an illusion. CH Beck, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-406-59858-6 , p. 23 .
  17. Peter Jósika: A Europe of Regions - What Switzerland can do, Europe can also ( Memento of November 6, 2014 in the Internet Archive ), IL-Verlag, Basel 2014, ISBN 978-3-906240-10-7 .