Did Industry Cause Nations?

An interesting claim: the nation-state didn’t exist before, and was caused by, the industrial revolution. Oh there were empires before, but most people didn’t identify much with empires, or see empires as much influencing their lives. In contrast people identify with nation-states, which they see as greatly influencing their lives. More:

Before the late 18th century there were no real nation states. … If you travelled across Europe, no one asked for your passport at borders; neither passports nor borders as we know them existed. People had ethnic and cultural identities, but these didn’t really define the political entity they lived in. …

Agrarian societies required little actual governing. Nine people in 10 were peasants who had to farm or starve, so were largely self-organising. Government intervened to take its cut, enforce basic criminal law and keep the peace within its undisputed territories. Otherwise its main role was to fight to keep those territories, or acquire more. … Many eastern European immigrants arriving in the US in the 19th century could say what village they came from, but not what country: it didn’t matter to them. … Ancient empires are coloured on modern maps as if they had firm borders, but they didn’t. Moreover, people and territories often came under different jurisdictions for different purposes.

Such loose control, says Bar-Yam, meant pre-modern political units were only capable of scaling up a few simple actions such as growing food, fighting battles, collecting tribute and keeping order. …

The industrial revolution … demanded a different kind of government. … “In 1800 almost nobody in France thought of themselves as French. By 1900 they all did.” … Unlike farming, industry needs steel, coal and other resources which are not uniformly distributed, so many micro-states were no longer viable. Meanwhile, empires became unwieldy as they industrialised and needed more actual governing. So in 19th-century Europe, micro-states fused and empires split.

These new nation states were justified not merely as economically efficient, but as the fulfilment of their inhabitants’ national destiny. A succession of historians has nonetheless concluded that it was the states that defined their respective nations, and not the other way around. …

“nation building” … required the creation of an ideology of nationalism that emotionally equated the nation with people’s Dunbar circle of family and friends. That in turn relied heavily on mass communication technologies. … Nationalist feelings … arose after mass-market books standardised vernaculars and created linguistic communities. Newspapers allowed people to learn about events of common concern, creating a large “horizontal” community that was previously impossible. National identity was also deliberately fostered by state-funded mass education.

The key factor driving this ideological process, Maleševic says, was an underlying structural one: the development of far-reaching bureaucracies needed to run complex industrialised societies. For example, says Breuilly, in the 1880s Prussia became the first government to pay unemployment benefits. At first they were paid only in a worker’s native village, where identification was not a problem. As people migrated for work, benefits were made available anywhere in Prussia. “It wasn’t until then that they had to establish who a Prussian was,” he says, and they needed bureaucracy to do it. Citizenship papers, censuses and policed borders followed.

That meant hierarchical control structures ballooned, with more layers of middle management. Such bureaucracy was what really brought people together in nation-sized units, argues Maleševic. But not by design: it emerged out of the behaviour of complex hierarchical systems. As people do more kinds of activities, says Bar-Yam, the control structure of their society inevitably becomes denser.

In the emerging nation state, that translates into more bureaucrats per head of population. Being tied into such close bureaucratic control also encouraged people to feel personal ties with the state, especially as ties to church and village declined. ,..

Nation states still thrive on a widely held belief that “the world is naturally made of distinct, homogeneous national or tribal groups which occupy separate portions of the globe, and claim most people’s primary allegiance”. But anthropological research does not bear that out, he says. Even in tribal societies, ethnic and cultural pluralism has always been widespread. Multilingualism is common, cultures shade into each other, and language and cultural groups are not congruent. …

for every Syria or Iraq there is a Singapore, Malaysia or Tanzania, getting along okay despite having several “national” groups. Immigrant states in Australia and the Americas, meanwhile, forged single nations out of massive initial diversity.

What makes the difference? It turns out that while ethnicity and language are important, what really matters is bureaucracy. This is clear in the varying fates of the independent states that emerged as Europe’s overseas empires fell apart after the second world war.

According to the mythology of nationalism, all they needed was a territory, a flag, a national government and UN recognition. In fact what they really needed was complex bureaucracy.

Some former colonies that had one became stable democracies, notably India. Others did not, especially those such as the former Belgian Congo, whose colonial rulers had merely extracted resources. Many of these became dictatorships, which require a much simpler bureaucracy than democracies.

Dictatorships exacerbate ethnic strife because their institutions do not promote citizens’ identification with the nation. In such situations, people fall back on trusted alliances based on kinship, which readily elicit Dunbar-like loyalties. Insecure governments allied to ethnic groups favour their own, while grievances among the disfavoured groups grow – and the resulting conflict can be fierce. Recent research confirms that the problem is not ethnic diversity itself, but not enough official inclusiveness. (more)

Added 6a: Ancient Egypt had a strong state, if not mass media. So industry made such things far more common, even if elements did exist before. Cities are similar – the ancient world had them, but cities only held a few percent of ancient population. With industry, the majority of the population is now in cities, and cities have new elements.

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  • Back in 1977 David Friedman wrote “A Theory on the Size and Shape of Nations“, in which reliance on trade, rent or labor as revenue sources all give rise to different types of polities.

    To say that borders didn’t exist before nation states seems a bit of a stretch. What about the Roman limes? Both Hadrian’s Wall and the Great Wall would seem to be fortified borders.

    • chris_p_a

      Agreed – and didn’t the US founding fathers explicitly fight a war of independence? Who were they fighting against and what did they think they were fight for if not nation states?

      But it is certainly true that the scope and size of states has grown considerably since industrialization started. And the two are probably correlated – a more complex interrelated society has more coordination problems, which often (but not always – see microsoft windows) requires a strong state to solve. The simplest of these coordination problems is crime – its in everyone’s interest to have low crime rates, but no-one person cannot impose low crime rates on the rest of society, hence the need for some kind of collective action to resolve. The problem is of course scope creep, so we don’t just get necessary coordination problems solved (like traffic laws) we also get HUD and sugar subsidies.

      • Sui Juris

        But American resistance to George III’s government was due to its attempt to increase the reach of the central government into what they thought of as the rights of the local colonies. That attempt to increase the scope of government paralled the industrialisation of England in particular, and the British Empire as a whole, in the C18th. Which is surely what the OP would predict?

      • I disagree, microstates like Singapore or Lichtenstein don’t seem to have bigger crime problems. I think Tyler Cowen had it right that the scope of government had been limited by communication technology, and that is what is responsible for the modern bureaucratic state.

      • IMASBA

        Singapore is not a microstate in terms of population. Liechtenstein is completely dependent on being a tax haven and being protected, supplied and shielded by its larger neighbors. There is no way Liechtenstein on its own could even maintain a viable building inspection agency or criminal forensics labs, etc…

      • Singapore is most certainly a city-state, not a nation state, which are the subjects of this post. I will agree that war is a major factor in nation-building, but is Liechtenstein being supplied with building inspectors by its neighbors? If you want to consider Liechtenstein an exception, add Luxembourg to the list. It occurs to me that while Iceland does have a distinct identity & language to qualify as a nation state, it is also small enough to serve the point about size. It seems to me that one major city provides enough “economy of scale” to support a polity.

      • chris_p_a

        I think you misunderstand my example on crime. My point was not that you need a large state to fight crime but that crime is one kind coordination problem which needs some kind of collective organisation to resolve. If the state is small and/or the crime threat is low then the collective organisation can also be small. I don’t see there are large economies of scale in crime fighting organisations generally. So it is no surprise to me that Singapore is just as good at fighting crime, as say, Germany. What I do mean is that as society gets more and more complex then more and more coordination problems arise, which tends to encourage the development of a centralized state. You don’t need driving laws and driving law enforcement if they only traffic is the occasional horse rider. But you do if you have freeways.

      • Crime is only one kind of coordination problem, but I don’t see how other issues wouldn’t apply just as well to Singapore. In terms of population it’s not extremely small, and most would agree it’s complex. If by small you meant territorially, then that doesn’t at all address the shift from city states to larger territorial units. Also with the crime threat, I was assuming that was somewhat endogenous to the state’s crime fighting capacity, so if I Singapore instead had lots of crime that would have been evidence for your argument! You are now talking about “centralization”, which is a bit different from the size of a territory. But I think the same logic can still apply. Switzerland is perhaps the most decentralized state, it’s not a primitive society of horseriders, but it doesn’t seem that collective action problems significantly hamper it. What is unusual about Switzerland is that the protections from mountains mean it doesn’t have to go to war, and it is rather divided linguistically. Finally, your general point about complexity may be correct but your specific example of traffic laws may be a poor one 🙂

  • david3368

    Isn’t this just Gellner’s Nations and Nationalism? Bureaucracy and acquiescent labour required for industry required for ‘the good life’, creates modern cognitive styles and also nation-states?

    • Stefan Schubert

      Yes, Gellner is one of the most important proponents of this theory of nationalism, the “modernist” one. It’s most important competitor, “primordialism”, claims that nationalism has deep biological roots and that most pre-modern societies also were nationalist in one way or another. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nationalism#Causes


    I’m pretty sure Ancient Egypt would fit the modern definition of a nation state and it indeed had a strong government, a large bureaucracy that was drawn from the whole population and a very active foreign policy (partly to get resources). It seems the industrial revolution made such development more likely but they did exist before.

    • Agreed.

    • Doug

      I’d add that Rome had clearly defined and assigned citizenship. They also had censuses and to a lesser extent clearly defined borders. Elements that the author suggests are key concepts of modern nations that only emerged in industrial history.

      I think the author is confusing the nature of medieval feudalism with a lack of effective government. Rather than citizens who had direct allegiance to the centralized state, there were vassals who had an allegiance to their lord, going up the chain from peasant to king. Lords had a direct and comprehensive relation with their vassals in the same way that modern governments do with their citizens.

    • VV

      Also China was a nation state long before industrialization.

    • Ancient Egypt and old China have been termed systems of “Asiatic despotism.” The state did have a crucial economic role in the lives of the common people (most centrally, irrigation, according to Wiltfogel), but what’s missing is the sense that the state in any sense spoke or acted for the people. People respected and (most of all) feared the deified Pharoah.

      In other words, the “people” were conceived in terms of their duties to the state, not by their membership in a polity (whether ethnically based or other).

      • IMASBA

        In the case of Egypt (which I know more about than China) the state was not only something to be feared. In times of disaster the central government would help affected regions far away from the capital, the scribe and artisan schools and the military were national institutions that offered career options to all Egyptians (even children of peasants), the army stationed soldiers at strategic locations (such as the edge of the sinai) to protect everyone against brutal raiding tribes, the navy protected commercial shipping and in Egyptian mythology the task of the pharaoh was to protect Egypt, including the belief that a dead pharaoh would put in a good word with the gods for all those who worked on his tomb and temples.

      • in Egyptian mythology the task of the pharaoh was to protect Egypt, including the belief that a dead pharaoh would put in a good word with the gods for all those who worked on his tomb and temples.

        The “good word” provision demonstrates a sense of relation to ruler rather than relation to a people. So, does “Egyptian” mean a people or whoever happened to be subject to the pharaoh? That, I think, is the relevant question. (Doesn’t it strike you as odd to speak of Ancient Egyptian nationalism?)

      • IMASBA

        It means whoever served the pharaoh willingly (no slaves were used in the construction of holy monuments as far as we know). In addition they believed the gods favored Egypt more than other lands. All Egyptians also shared a common language and religion. The country of Egypt strongly tied into their culture and mythology: the Nile (floodings), the desert. It’s really as much nation state as you’re gonna get without the technology necessary for a welfare state.

      • Right, but we still are faced with whether there’s anything terribly important that’s qualitatively different.

        I suggest the difference is this. (Please correct me if it contradicts the evidence.) Despite the national characteristics of Ancient Egypt, it did not inspire nationalism. What was missing is the sense of a communal tie among ordinary Egyptians. The nationhood of Egypt, such as it was, was organized entirely vertically. Egypt was united by its submission to the pharaoh and the pharaoh’s duties to his subjects, not by sentimental ties binding ordinary Egyptians to ordinary Egyptians, which could only be induced by the multifariousness of the interventions of the modern bureaucratic state.

        [The question is whether the relative isolation of England or the cultural commonalities among Egyptians (along with very important but highly focused state interventions) suffices to induce a genuinely nationalistic sentiment.]

      • IMASBA

        There must have been some nationalistic sentiment, otherwise revolts and civil wars would have been much more common than they were. In fact most cities didn’t even have walls, so civil war was apparently not even something an Egyptian expected to see in their lifetime. At the end of the second intermediate period the Egyptians from Upper Egypt reconquered Lower Egypt from the Hyksos, after two centuries, and the country quickly became a unified state again and that was not the only time Egypt bounced back to its original borders after an occupation. It seems like there were definite borders between areas that immediately accepted the rule of a pharaoh and those that did not and those borders corresponded to the borders of the cpuntry of Egypt.

        The intertwining of the priest class and the government would also inspire nationalist sentiment, I’d wager.

      • What makes you think revolts and civil wars are correlated with nationalism’s absence? (You need nonlocal collective sentiment to wage revolution or civil war.)

        Why would the priests develop a rationalization system based on an ‘Egyptian people’ rather than based on duties owed to the pharaoh and benefits conferred on his subjects? (Here, there’s likely some textual evidence one way or the other.)

        If some localities are more likely to accept the pharaoh’s rule because of historic ties to the pharoah, why couldn’t that replace nationalistic sentiment as the basis for boundaries?

      • IMASBA

        “What makes you think revolts and civil wars are correlated with nationalism’s absence?”

        The relative lack of revolts and civil wars in Egypt indicates that people didn’t want to split the country and that ambitious generals trying to cut out a piece of the kingdom would not be seen as legitimate rulers, only those who controlled the Egyptian capital and were acknowledged by the priests would be accepted as rulers. Even during the Akhenaton debacle the country stayed united and united it reinstated the old ways after Akhenaton’s death. The military was powerful enough to contend with mighty foreign empires and yet people didn’t fear infighting between the generals and/or governors.

        There also was not just one continuous line of pharaohs. Dynasties died out or were replaced through marriage (when a princess married outside of the royal family). It was the institution that the people were bound to, this is really evident in the Hyksos case I talked about earlier. The people living in the Hyksos occupied part of Egypt had not lived under a pharaoh for almost two centuries when the Hyksos were finally driven out of Egypt and everyone seamlessly united under the pharaoh again. There were no separatists, no minorities speaking another language or worshipping other gods (except for some foreign merchants of course) and (for the times) very little violence was necessary to keep even the most remote village under the control of the central government.

        Finally there are texts where Ancient Egyptians divided the world up into 4 groups, somewhat equivalent to how other people later came to distinguish races and ethnicities. If I recall correctly they saw Egyptians as one group, Nubians (black Africans in Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia, black people born and raised in Egypt were considered proper Egyptians) as another, the peoples of the Libyan desert as yet another group and the peoples of the Levant, Mesopotamia and Anatolia (probably also the Minoans) as the fourth group.

      • Ronfar

        Ancient Egypt also had a fairly large labor surplus compared to many other ancient societies: the amount of labor required to feed itself was relatively small, leaving lots of manpower available to do things like build pyramids. Or store excess grain in good years and distribute it in bad ones.

  • ckp

    The Peace of Westphalia is what gave us our modern notion of borders and territorial integrity. Nation-STATES are new, nations themselves are not, see “Nations: The Long History and Deep Roots of Political Ethnicity and Nationalism” by Azar Gat.

  • cournot

    Please remember that Singapore was split off partly because it was predominantly Chinese. Ethnic tensions in Malaya (Malaysia + Singapore) were such that making Singapore independent left Malaysia with a clear minority of Chinese. Even then, problems between the Chinese and the bumiputra Malaysians limited reform till the later compromises of the 70s and 80s that created affirmative action for the non-Chinese and allowed progressive economic policy to take hold.

  • Tige Gibson

    There is a strong movement to undermine bureaucracy (by reducing the size of government) right now, but most people deny what is likely to happen without it. Maybe half of these people are doing so to reinforce racial and religious identity.

  • truth_machine

    Typical soft science BS.

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  • Cambias

    But surely there was a developing sense of “national” identity long before industrialization. You can see it in Shakespeare’s Henry V, which means Elizabethan era at least (since one can hardly take Shakespeare as history of the time he’s writing about, but one can take him as representative of the time in which he was writing).

    I’d link the development of nationalism to the rise of maritime trade. If all your travel and communication is by foot or horse, then each village you pass is only a little different from the last one, so the distinctions aren’t noticeable. Marco Polo’s account of his journey is striking in how he appears not to notice the physical appearance of the peoples he encountered — because he moved along a gradual change from Venice to China.

    But when you travel by boat, you get on the boat in London, you get off in Venice, and everything is very different! Never mind sailing to Africa or Asia.

  • kurt9

    The claim is valid. Villages were self-sufficient in daily items in pre-industrial times. There was some trade in mostly luxury items (spices, pottery, etc.), especially during Roman times. The relevant question is what value-added was there in large scale political entities in pre-industrial times to people who were largely self-sufficient on the local level.

  • Dave Smith

    Good grief there is so much endogeneity in this that I don’t think I’d ever be convinced either way.

  • stevesailer

    “In 1800 almost nobody in France thought of themselves as French.”

    Is that a typo? At the peak of Bonaparte’s era?

    • IMASBA

      I think that sentence was about the whole of modern France. Of course people in Paris or Lyon thought of themselves as French in 1800, but people in Corsica, Brittany and the Occitan speakers in the South didn’t feel that much French, although the felt more French than they felt German, Spanish or Italian so they still remained a part of France and were available for military service.

      • VV

        It’s not like today there are no industrialized countries with ethic minorities where many people don’t identify with their legal nationality.
        There is an independence referendum in Scotland right now as I’m writing this..

      • IMASBA

        The UK is skirting the edges of most definitions of a nation state (though of course all of those definitions have some measure of uncertainty in them: the dictionary doesn’t say something is a nation state when x% of the population feels as belonging to the country).

      • VV

        @IMASBA: Uh? I would say that the UK is the prototypical industrialized nation state. This doesn’t prevent it from having ethnic differences.

        @peterdavidjones:disqus: I’m not an expert of British politics, but I’m under the impression that many Europeans in general have become dissatisfied with “traditional” parties and politicians, and have become progressively attracted to “alternative” parties such as the UKIP in the UK, FN in France, M5S in Italy, various far right parties in Germany, Hungary and Greece, and so on.
        Some of these “alternative” parties, which include the SNP, focus on regional autonomy or and independence to emphasize their difference from the traditional politics of the central government, which they portray (and is often perceived) as distant and unrepresentative.

      • IMASBA

        @ VV

        I like Peter David Jones’ explanation. The UK is a nation bureaucratically, but it’s not, or barely, an ethnic/cultural nation. In that regard France is more the prototypical nation state (it always sought to incorporate territories under its central authority and spread its language and culture). The UK is still built up like an empire, a coalition of different nations with a supreme government above them but lots of local government, the way it used to be in most of the world in pre-industrial times (which is also when the British Isles were first united). But of course there is so much vagueness and no exact universal definition, as in any poli-science discussion.

      • Peter David Jones

        Yeah the jury’s out in whether the UK is a mini empire or a practical joke designed to confuse people, with its four national football teams and one national rowing team.

      • The thesis in the main essay is that cultural naturalism is a byproduct of bureaucratic nationalism. If the thesis is true, then Scotland should have fused with England, given that bureaucratically they were united from before the industrial revolution.

        [My impression from afar agrees with the thesis. The Scottish national issue seems subterfuge for a political issue: the Scots hate austerity more than the English do and like the welfare state more. (Odd, considering the stereotype of a Scot.)]

      • Peter David Jones

        In the heyday of the nation state, the policy of the UK was to iron out ethnic differences, to the point of literally banning the kilt.

        How we got from there to here is an interesting story having a lot to do with soft power and charm offensives.

        I don’t think the SNP – generally to the left of the labour party – would like to be bracketed with the FN, etc. Nationalism is very different depending on whether it comes from the majority or minority.

      • Peter David Jones


        It’s Nae.

        Maybe there were always two things under the rubric “nation” — the ethnic nation, and the bureaucratic nation — and the “rise of the nation state” was the rise of the idea that the two had to coincide.

        Looking at it that way , there perhaps was never a reason for the two to conflict since they do different things. Ethnic nationalism
        can be satisfied by ceremony and symbolism, bureaucratic nationalism by taxation and treaties.

        Which gets us back to Scotland. Something that emerged from the campaign , to the point of being a cliche, is that the Yes campaign was based in the heart, and the No in the head, or, as we might like to put it, in System 1 versus system 2.

      • Peter David Jones

        The Scots have arguably got the best of both worlds under the present arrangements, since their parliament is able to push through a more generous arrangements than the rest of the country, but Scotland doesn’t have to find all the funds. Cynics might interpret that as a subtle bribe to stay in..

      • stevesailer

        I think it’s more reflective of the historical illiteracy of the theorist: 1800 was 11 years into the enormous forcing ground of nationalism that was the French Revolution. Intellectuals who make mistakes that glaring in explaining their pet theories probably haven’t examined their overall ideas with enough critical rigor.

      • Were there still lots of Occitan speakers by then? I thought langue d’oc mostly got crushed in the Albigensian crusade.

    • Mark Caplan

      Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Corsica, making him Italian. “Napoleon” is Italian for Big Man of Naples. His mother and father were Letizia and Carlo, not Joie and Charles.

  • stevesailer

    Shakespeare wrote this about 200+ years before 1800:

    This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
    This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
    This other Eden, demi-paradise,
    This fortress built by Nature for herself
    Against infection and the hand of war,
    This happy breed of men, this little world,
    This precious stone set in the silver sea,
    Which serves it in the office of a wall,
    Or as a moat defensive to a house,
    Against the envy of less happier lands,
    This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,

    • stevesailer

      When I was a history major in the 1970s, it was a common claim that nationalism didn’t begin until 1789 (although nobody said 1800, that would be silly), but then I’d go to English class and read Shakespeare, who was clearly an English nationalist two hundred years earlier.

      • The question is whether this was a widespread sentiment. If it were, would Shakespeare have even bothered to express it?

      • stevesailer

        Shakespeare was a businessman in the business of telling the English public what they’d pay to hear. One of the things they liked to hear were expressions of English nationalism.

      • Your example, then, is just one of many nationalistic expressions in Shakespeare?

        [Sigmund Freud would be most surprised to hear that Shakespeare was an English nationalist. He thought that Shakespeare was a Frenchman named Jacques Pierre.]

      • stevesailer

        Sure, Shakespeare’s “Henry V” is chestbeating English nationalist propaganda (which is why Olivier filmed it during WWII).

      • OK, then granting your point about Shakespearean nationalism, the question is whether this speaks to the question of mass nationalism. Shakespeare, after all, appealed to Londoners, whereas the mass of the Englishmen were farmers.

      • stevesailer

        Shakespeare was a small town boy who made good in the big city, then retired back to his small town. He was a pretty representative Englishman for his time.

        Now, there was a big difference between England and Eastern Europe. The English, of all levels of society, were more nationalistic and more advanced than Eastern European peasants. They were more nationalistic because they were more advanced and more advanced because they were more nationalistic.

      • stevesailer

        The idea of nationalism spread from northwest Europe to the rest of Europe and to the rest of the world because it had a better track record than the alternatives.

  • The counterexamples (e.g., China, Rome, Egypt) offered by commenters ignore the qualifications RH clearly stated: “Oh there were empires before, but most people didn’t identify much with empires, or see empires as much influencing their lives. In contrast people identify with nation-states, which they see as greatly influencing their lives.”

    Napoleonic France is another counterexample I find dubious. I don’t actually know how the “average Frenchman” thought about Napoleon, but I know something about how he was received in the countries he invaded, such as Germany, where liberals supported him. If Napoleon was seen to represent French nationalism, it would have been otherwise (I would think).

    • IMASBA

      Rome might be a bit dubious but China and Ancient Egypt were definitely not just empires, they were nation states, with some colonies and vassals of course, but the people in the homeland identified with the central government.

      • stevesailer

        Roman Republican nationalism was famously powerful.

    • stevesailer

      Here’s Pericles’ Funeral Oration from about 430 BC (as recounted by Thucydides). It sounds awfully Athenian Nationalistic to me:


    • VV

      Rome had a bureaucracy that tracked who the residents living on its territory were and which legal status they had.
      This legal status, specifically whether or not one was considered a Roman citizen, significantly influenced people’s lives.

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  • An interesting claim: the nation-state didn’t exist before, and was caused by, the industrial revolution. Oh there were empires before, but most people didn’t identify much with empires, or see empires as much influencing their lives. In contrast people identify with nation-states, which they see as greatly influencing their lives.

    A formal problem with this thesis (or the way it is formulated here) is that it defends a qualitative claim (nation states didn’t exist) with reasoning that only supports distinctions of degree (people didn’t care much, etc.)

    A crisp definition of “nation-state” is desperately needed to make sense of the thesis.

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  • Techy3

    There seem to be two reasonable claims and one silly one entangled in this article and discussion:

    1) The crucial foundation for a nation-state is a substantial, coordinated bureaucracy, not a common ethnicity, language or religion.

    This is reasonable. China had a nation-wide bureaucracy and exam system to select that bureaucracy long before industrialization. So did Rome although the bureaucratic elite was more hereditary than meritocratic and the tests (the honors race) were more of rhetorical and sporting prowess than literacy and numeracy. England had a national census and the beginnings of a national bureaucracy can be traced to Henry Plantagenet’s spread of the King’s Court to promote a common law administered by his appointees in the 12th century.

    2) Industrialization also requires the large-scale coordination of resources, properties, contracts, labor and infrastructure. Thus industrialization creates the conditions for nation-state formation and nation-state formation facilitates industrialization.

    Napoleon restructured the French state to mirror the army with centrally administered national exams in a common language (which, among other things, opened up universities to jews and closed them to exclusive speakers of Provencal, Occitan, Britannic etc.). He also replaced the sale of judgeships and magistrate officers to local nobles with a centralized legal code and appointees. So the authors claims that French nation-building was linked to a project to industrialize and modernize the economy are correct.

    3) There were no real nation-states before industrialization. This is silly.

    • stevesailer

      Or the adoption of nationalism was driven by the discovery that it worked better on the battlefield than the alternatives. Goethe famously was at the Battle of Valmy in 1792 when a French citizen army defeated a Prussian mercenary one. He consoled his defeated Prussian colleagues: “From this place, and from this day forth begins a new era in the history of the world, and you can all say that you were present at its birth.”

      • Techy3

        Goethe was late to that conclusion. In “War and the Rise of The State,” Bruce Porter describes strong evidence of links between the emergence of nationalism, state-building and war going back to about 1600.