AP English Language and Composition
04 October 2019
Humans are introduced to the concept of ‘the nation’ at an early age, regardless of time or place. It relies on the shared belief in the concept. Without social contracts acknowledging truths made, society would not exist. For the betterment of everyone’s lives, humanity has decided to articulate and widely adopt abstract notions of unity to maintain peace and to contribute to general growth. Being a social species is nothing without the depth of communication. Yet, if one were to poll a population with the question “What is a nation?” the overwhelming majority would not be able to give you a meaningful, objective, descriptive answer.
So, what is a nation? It’s whatever you want it to be. I’m just telling you outright, here at the start. I promise you, this answer is not as unsatisfying as it feels.
You, dear reader, are likely an American. I’m not important enough to warrant much of an audience. Being an American, you are: an anglophone, a fast food fanatical fan of burgers and pizza, a feller of Irish or German descent, and a gun-toting nationalist with Hero syndrome. Now, that evaluation may have wildly varying degrees of accuracy, but it’s undeniable that those labels are fairly American. Yeehaw, God bless Yankeeland. There’s a vague common culture among the population of the area you inhabit, y’know?
But, culture isn’t the sole dimension to a nation. Again, area pops up. How big are you willing to define your area? That’s a question with answers that’ve killed countless. India and Pakistan, for example. Pakistan split off from India, because it felt it was a culturally distinct area. It left, now Kashmir is a warzone. Israel and Palestine: a bit unique. Israel says it’s that area’s nation; Palestine says it isn’t. Palestine says it’s that area’s nation; Israel says it isn’t. Naturally, death.
“My nation is my country. Area and culture, tick, tick. Simple, right?”
Let’s take a look at the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. What is it? It’s a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. What is Great Britain? It’s an island with three countries on it. What are the three countries on that island? England, Wales (depending on where, when, and who you ask), and Scotland. The United Kingdom is a country, with three countries in it. See how a nation isn’t a rigid and definable concept? If you’re from Scotland, do you say you feel Scottish or British? Maybe European? What about Northern Ireland? Nobody even knows if they should call that a country, or a province, or … People blew up other people in Belfast because they kept arguing over whether or not they felt Irish or British.
When I said that nobody could give a satisfying answer to “What is a nation?” I didn’t mean that negatively, and I certainly hadn’t proved it scientifically. Nationality is intentionally vague, because that’s its job. Hitler’s nationalism was accepted on the belief that all the Germanic lands were a single nation. San Marino, one of the tiniest countries on the planet, became a country because one guy, hundreds of years ago, didn’t feel Roman. A nation is what you, or the many, or whoever that matters feels it is. It’s this multidimensional creature that slaughters and breeds. It relies on belief, land, power, and culture to keep it alive and healthy. I hope your nation is tame and domesticated, because “the people” can be the most dangerous beasts around.