The History and Logic of the Growth of Western Nation-States

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.6, 2015


The History and Logic of the Growth of Western Nation-States



Zhang Fengyang


“Nation” and “state” have different sources, and their purposes differ greatly, too. The former is a branch of the pedigree of a “community,” offering its individual members an object of emotional attachment, whereas the latter originates in a “governing body,” whose core structure is an organized system of political power characterized by violence. In early modern Europe, the development of the market economy placed on its agenda of practice the task of building a modern state, that is, integrating a political order, but this gradually brought about the failure of the classical republican mode of civil mobilization, creating space for the modernity of ancient nation consciousness. The territorial state that emerged in the age of absolutism resulted in large-scale nation-building that transcended the diversity of the original ethnic groups and imposed political protocols. The milestone of the French Revolution further decoupled state sovereignty from a single personified ruler and established the nation-state community of destiny and the political arrangements of a democratic republic as the basic structure of the modern state, releasing enormous cross-cultural transmission spillover effects and eventually rebuilding the political imagination.