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The Nation State Revisited

It has become fashionable to claim that the nation state has lost its place. Globalization, it is said, means that nations can no longer control their own affairs. They must join with others, as in the European Union or ASEAN or Mercosur, and they must increasingly rely on global institutions like the United Nations, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization.

But such a view is risky. Indeed, on closer inspection, it proves to be dubious, when not simply wrong. The nation state, with both its strengths and weaknesses, is alive and well.

To begin with its strengths, the nation state remains the only political space in which the constitution of liberty thrives. The democratic credentials of organizations like the EU are doubtful, and entirely absent in the case of the UN and other world institutions. Moreover, despite the frequent search for new identities, European or Latin American or otherwise, and despite many references to a new cosmopolitanism, or even a “world civil society,” most people feel at home in their own country – the nation state of which they are citizens.

Migration is generally migration to other countries. Many countries are currently debating the integration of migrants. What does it take to be British or German or American? Such debates about immigration make sense only if we recognize that citizenship is defined by and for nations.