Before the Emergence of Nation States, there was the Feudal System. As this form of government was phased out, nation-states emerged and took their place.
After the Thirty Years’ War in Europe in 1648, the Peace of Westphalia was established. The treaty recognized the sovereignty of individual states and established the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other states, which became known as the Westphalian system.
The Westphalian system established the nation-state as the dominant form of political organization in Europe and provided the foundation for the modern international system.
The balance of power, which characterized that system, depended for its effectiveness upon clearly defined, centrally controlled, independent entities, whether empires or nation states, which recognize each other’s sovereignty and territory.
The Westphalian system did not create the nation-state, but the nation-state meets the criteria for its component states (by assuming that there is no disputed territory).
Nation-states still exist today and are partially responsible for the way we view ourselves as citizens of our countries.
Before the Nation State
In Europe, during the 18th century, the classic non-national states were the multiethnic empires, the Austrian Empire, the Kingdom of France (and its empire), the Kingdom of Hungary, the Russian Empire, the Portuguese Empire, the Spanish Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire, the Dutch Empire and smaller nations at what would now be called sub-state level.
The multi-ethnic empire was an absolute monarchy ruled by a king, emperor or sultan. The population belonged to many ethnic groups, and they spoke many languages. The empire was dominated by one ethnic group, and their language was usually the language of public administration. The ruling dynasty was usually, but not always, from that group.
This type of state is not specifically European: such empires existed in Asia, Africa and the Americas.
Chinese dynasties, such as the Tang dynasty, the Yuan dynasty, and the Qing dynasty, were all multiethnic regimes governed by a ruling ethnic group. In the three examples, their ruling ethnic groups were the Han-Chinese, Mongols, and the Manchus.
In the Muslim world, immediately after Muhammad died in 632, Caliphates were established. Caliphates were Islamic states under the leadership of a political-religious successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. These polities developed into multi-ethnic trans-national empires. The Ottoman sultan, Selim I (1512–1520) reclaimed the title of caliph, which had been in dispute and asserted by a diversity of rulers and “shadow caliphs” in the centuries of the Abbasid-Mamluk Caliphate since the Mongols’ sacking of Baghdad and the killing of the last Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad, Iraq 1258. The Ottoman Caliphate as an office of the Ottoman Empire was abolished under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1924 as part of Atatürk’s Reforms.
The Holy Roman Empire was a limited elective monarchy composed of hundreds of state-like entities. Some of the smaller European states were not so ethnically diverse but were also dynastic states ruled by a royal house. Their territory could expand by royal intermarriage or merge with another state when the dynasty merged.
In some parts of Europe, notably Germany, minimal territorial units existed. They were recognized by their neighbours as independent and had their government and laws. Some were ruled by princes or other hereditary rulers; some were governed by bishops or abbots. Because they were so small, however, they had no separate language or culture: the inhabitants shared the language of the surrounding region.
In some cases, these states were overthrown by nationalist uprisings in the 19th century. Liberal ideas of free trade played a role in German unification, which was preceded by a customs union, the Zollverein. However, the Austro-Prussian War and the German alliances in the Franco-Prussian War were decisive in the unification. The Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire broke up after the First World War, and the Russian Empire became the Soviet Union after the Russian Civil War.
A few of the smaller states survived: the independent principalities of Liechtenstein, Andorra, Monaco, and the Republic of San Marino. (Vatican City is a special case. All of the larger Papal States save the Vatican itself were occupied and absorbed by Italy by 1870. The resulting Roman Question was resolved with the rise of the modern state under the 1929 Lateran treaties between Italy and the Holy See.)
Causes of the Emergence of Nation-States
Two significant contributors to the nation-state’s emergence were the Thirty Years’ War and the Peace of Westphalia.
The Thirty Years’ War began in 1614 and ended in 1648. It was the bloodiest war in world history until World War I. Historians are unsure how many people died, but it is estimated to be between eight and twelve million. Not only did they die in combat, but because of famines and plague.
The Holy Roman Emperor decided that everyone within the empire must be Catholic. The Northern territories had been allowed to have their religions since 1556 after signing the Peace of Augsburg. They were Protestant and would not convert to Catholicism, so the Holy Roman Emperor’s new decree sparked the Thirty Years’ War.
The war began over religion, but merged into a political dispute. Kingdoms didn’t want the others to gain more power than they had, so traditionally Catholic Kingdoms joined forces with Protestants and vice-versa. The war was settled with the Peace of Westphalia (1648) – a name that comprises a series of treaties.
According to these treaties
Every kingdom in attendance was in equal standing with the others.
No kingdom, during the meeting, was of more or less important than the other.
Each country was independent of the other which meant that they were not ruled by each other, but by themselves.
Lastly, the sovereigns of a kingdom could choose the religion of their kingdom and the others couldn’t become involved.
Here we see the emergence of the concepts required for a nation-state to work. The kingdoms were equal and independent, which meant that each country was entitled to govern as it saw fit without the interference of the other countries. The countries were not to interfere with how each sovereign ruled.
Impact of the Emergence of Nation State
Nation-states changed the course of human history. Borders were established, and people who lived within the nation shared a sense of kinship. This led to the rise of nationalism.
Nationalism is a concept that means someone identifies with their country and supports it but excludes people who are different from the idea of what a citizen of their country should be.
Nation-states and nationalism are partial reasons for the World Wars.
The way that we understand our citizenship comes from the current model of nation-states.