Disentangling the Nation-State: Medieval Models for Rethinking Nations and Polities



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In the twenty-first century the nation-state has become the fundamental ordering principle of the world and deeply permeates our thinking and talking about politics. This thesis has two principal objectives: to show that the nation-state and the underlying notion of the sovereign national community is insufficient and limiting as a category for political organization and identification today, especially in Europe; and to disentangle nation and state by introducing the medieval understanding of the nation as an alternative in the European discourse on nations, polities, and identities. I show that before 1100 medieval nations formed on the basis of shared language, customs, laws, and/or imagined descent, but – critically – that these communities neither constituted a jurisdictional unit nor coincided with political borders. Today this medieval understanding of the nation would aide us conceiving more realistic and durable approaches to multiculturalism, immigration, political integration, and globalization. I supplement my analysis with two additional medieval concepts – the corporate vision of community and the dialectic of the individual – to illustrate how unity, cohesion, and loyalty can be fostered when national solidarities do not undergird political community, and how individuals can accommodate the different identities that result from the disentangling of nation and state.



nations, states, Europe, medieval, nation-states