What is a nation-state?
Post 18th century, the key factors cited are (1) common language, (2) common economic market, and (3) common culture.
But when commonality of language, markets, and culture daily spill across geo-political boundaries, are these factors enough?
Moving back in time, we identify more primal factors – i.e. that special ‘something’, which distinguishes us from them – usually viewed in terms of tribal ethnicity and /or religious affiliation.
As the recent rhetoric of American presidential candidates demonstrates, the importance of this distinction between us and them should not be underestimated – but then again, in a nation-state where the demographics (legal or illegal) are so fast-changing, then surely it is not ethnicity alone holding together groups as diverse as Latinos, European whites, and African-Americans. Even religious affinity doesn’t seem to count much anymore – and in a nation-state where church and state are supposed to remain separate, it probably ought not to count at all.
Moving farther back in time, we identify something potentially more useful – the underlying myth (i.e. a belief with no empirical foundation) justifying the establishment of a unique territory in which persons sharing the same belief can be contained and sustained. For example, in ancient Israel the myth of the ‘chosen people’ justifies a separate homeland for all those identifying themselves with that group. Such national myths (intensified and expanded upon throughout national history) are called upon to formulate and format future national goals.
In the case of the USA, the national myth undoubtedly has something to do the constitutionally guaranteed pursuit of happiness and its Lockean counterpart, the pursuit of property. One of the reasons given for the current anger erupting on USA political scene is that middle class white families no longer feel enfranchised by the ‘American Dream’ – i.e. happiness (economic success) can be achieved by anyone willing to work long and hard enough.
So what happens when the ‘dream’ is gone?
The answer depends, I suppose, on how one defines a nation-state.