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Hont: The permanent crisis of a divided mankind

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Hont. 1995. The permanent crisis of a divided manking: 'Contemporary crisis of the nation state' in historical . In Contemporary Crisis of the Nation State?, ed. John Dunn, 166-231. Oxford: Blackwell.

"Permanent Crisis" is defined on 169. If a crisis (in its medical sense) is the moment when the doctor either steers a patient towards recovery or towards death, what is the opposite of a crisis? It is the healthy state between relapses. Each relapse is a new crisis. So the "permanent crisis" is the stumbling in and out of relapses of one's problems. This is historical "normality"--not quite full health, but the normal state of affairs. Thus, this permanent crisis is normal--which helps us to rethink whether the "contemporary nation-state" is really in an abnormally bad state. There is normality and change.

Thus, ascertaining whether there is a "contemporary crisis" requires some historical perspective--is what is happening now out of line with historical thought on "nation states"?

A broad question: "whether it has ever been possible to justify the existence of 'nation-states' as sovereign occupiers of certain definite tracts of the surface of the globe" (171)

"Nation-state" meant (in its earliest usage, especialy in french revolution) that the state belonged not to an empire, but to equal members of a single "nation." But if there is still inequality or differences among groups within this nation, then there is more than one nation. The natural deduction is that every ethnic group should have its own state (173).

Even if states can justify having communal property (territory) for their nation, is it really a crisis if so-called "nation-states" are losing some of that property by breaking up into smaller "nation-states"? After all, this would seem to be a success for nation states, by making them ethnically more pure (177). Perhaps what we used to think were "nation-states" (the ones that broke up) were just concealed empires, and nation-states are just now emerging victorious?

"Despite the ubiquity of the term in contemporary political science and historiography, it is hard to find a genuinely historical definition of the 'nation-state' which could be consistently applied in conceptual analysis. Most discussions of the 'nation-state', both in its domestic and international aspects, consequently, are riven by contradiciton and inconsistency" (177). In plain English: There has never been a true "nation-state," so analyses that speak of "nation-states" smell worse than a slaughterhouse in August.

A critical review of the "state-building" literature: states formed as monarchs expanded their kingdoms, forcibly incorporated people, and consolidated control. Eventually, people began to identify themselves with the state, especially as the "nation" gained more control of the state through democratization. Thus was born the "Nation state", a forcible union of nations, which is doubtfully a "nation" in any sense.

Research on similar subjects


Hont, Istvan (author)Comparative PoliticsDemocracyOrigins

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