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Modern empires and nation-states

Breuilly, John (2017) Modern empires and nation-states. Thesis Eleven, 139 (1). pp. 11-29. ISSN 0725-5136

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Identification Number: 10.1177/0725513617700036


Empires and nation-states are not opposed or distinct forms of polity but closely linked forms. Pre-modern empire existed without any contrasting form of polity we might call a nation-state. Rather, they contrasted with non-national state forms such as city-states, small kingdoms and mobile, nomadic polities. These in turn were in constant interaction with any neighbouring empire or empires, perhaps becoming the core of an empire themselves, perhaps taking over all or part of an existing empire, perhaps maintaining some autonomy by virtue of remoteness or lack of attractiveness, perhaps by balancing opposed empires against each other. Empires did not have a national core, and non-empires were not national. By contrast, modern empires have always had a clearly designated nation-state core and a physically separate set of non-national peripheries. This has been crucial to ensuring that when formal empire is ended, both the imperial core and the former colonies are defined as nation-states. But ex-imperial nation-states and ex-colonial nation-states are really two kinds of states. Much contemporary confusion about the prospect for a world order of nation-states revolves round the failure to make that basic distinction.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2017 The Author
Divisions: Government
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Date Deposited: 05 Jun 2017 15:44
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 00:33

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