What Is the Difference Between a State and a Nation?

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A nation is an aggregate of people united by descent, history, culture or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory. A state is a nation or territory with an organized political community under one government.

There are many differences between what is considered a state and what is considered a nation, although both terms are frequently used interchangeably. For instance, states are characterized by territory, population, government and sovereignty. There can be no state in the absence of any of these four elements.

On the other hand, a nation can be a number of states or a group of people with a common heritage and a sense of unity. Common race, religion, aspirations, language, history, culture and territory are some of the elements of a nation. However, none of these elements is absolute because they change as the nation evolves over time.

Formation and Organization
A state can be created by conscious endeavors of its people. Elements such as economic gains, a need for governance and the rule of law play a key role in the creation of a state. However, no special efforts go into the formation of a nation. This is because cultural identities and unity of a population develops slowly and steadily over time.

A state is a political entity that fulfills the security and welfare needs of the population. It is a legal entity concerned with external human actions. However, a nation is a united unit of a population but is less concerned about the population‰Ûªs physical needs.

Sovereignty is the soul of any state because sovereignty means the ability to rule itself. On the other hand, it is not mandatory for a nation to be sovereign. For example, before independence in 1947 India was a nation but not a considered a sovereign state. With the end of the British rule the nation became a sovereign state.

A state is a territorial entity, making possession of territory essential for its legitimacy. However, a nation can exist without fixed territorial borders. For example, before 1948 the Jews were considered a nation with no territory of their own. However, in 1948, the State of Israel was formed with the end of the British Mandate in Palestine, which provided the nation with land.

However, as in the United States, individual states can join together to form a nation.

The Rule of Law
A state uses its police power to enforce a set of laws while there is no nationwide police force, as such. However, there is a difference between laws enacted in an individual state and nationwide or federal laws that are enforced across the states making up a country. For instance, in the U.S. a state, such as New York, can prosecute individuals who break its law. The United States as a nation has separate types of laws that can span multiple states in order to punish individuals for defined federal crimes.

In a modern society, states continue to pursue the objective of national integration. This is done through collective living, inclusive governance and development of strong emotional, psychological and spiritual bonds. In this regard, unity in plurality has become one of the widely accepted guiding principles in civilized multinational states.