Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

The Misuse of the Term "Nation State"

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

The Misuse of the Term "Nation State"

Article excerpt

The author argues that the clarity of discourse is lost by the misuse of the terms "nation" and "nation state," attributable to ignorance of the evolutionary history of human society. He maintains that human social organization evolved from pair-binding and the family, and thence through an elaboration of kinship ties to the emergence of larger societies that were relatively homogeneous, both genetically and culturally, and which are properly known as nations. The term "nation-state," originally devised to refer to a nation that enjoyed a degree of self-government and political autonomy, has increasingly come to be used in recent decades to describe any geographically-delineated political aggregate of individuals living, willingly or unwillingly, under a common government - no matter how varied their biological origins, culture or personal value systems. He regards this terminological misuse as a significant affront to clarity of thought because societies which are united by common values and a belief in common, shared origins, are more able to live together in harmony and to be willing to sacrifice personal interest for each other's good than those which lack such unifying sentiments.

Key Words: Band; Descent group; Clan; Phratry; Tribe; Feudalism, Nation; Nation state; Nationality.

It is generally accepted that human social organization evolved from pair-bonding. Pair-bonding led to the emergence of families, and beyond families, kinship ties formed a basis for the regulation of behavior in larger tribal societies, and to a lesser extent in the much larger societies which we know as nations. Nations have been defined as human populations that share, or at least believe that they share, a substantially common history, culture, and ancestry.

As such, the term "nation state" was originally devised to refer to a nation that occupied a distinct territory and enjoyed a high degree of political autonomy. However, in recent decades the term has been increasingly applied to any geographically-delineated political aggregate of individuals living under a common government, no matter how varied their biological origins, culture or personal value systems. This results in so much ideological confusion, and I felt it desirable to once again invite attention to this contradiction in thought, drawing largely on an explication of social evolution first presented not less than thirty years ago in my Introduction to Anthropology (1974).2

The Origins of Human Society

While nonhuman primates tend to respond to sexual stimuli with very direct and largely unrestrained biological responses, human societies heavily restrict sexual behavior according to elaborate conventions, and it has been suggested that under these circumstances much of the emotional energy associated with sex tends to be sublimated into other activities. But the practice of pair-bonding leads among humans to something even more important than this. It leads to the institutionalization of the family, a social group comprising in its simplest form the original pair-bonded adults plus their offspring.

Anthropologists and sociologists still debate the ideal definition of the term family, but all agree that in some way the idea of the family combines the idea of pair-bonding with the concept of the household, as a cooperating economic unit. The evolutionary history of the family as a social institution makes this clear. The pair-bond is a form of cooperation which developed because it promoted the survival chances of the offspring. A family may therefore best be defined as a social group comprising one or more males linked by a socially recognized set of mutual obligations and privileges to one or more females, together with their offspring, who face the problem of survival as a joint enterprise.

The human family is the basic unit in a more complex network of community ties. As memory developed among our hominid forebears, so the pattern of behavior learned in infancy tended to be preserved into adulthood. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.