TOEFL Lecture 8 (Listen and Read)
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Now, we're all familiar, I think, with the United Nations organization,
and we're very accustomed to a world divided into nations
but many of you may not realize how recent the idea of the 'nation-state' really is.
Most of the history of civilization's been a history of much smaller units
from primitive tribes to Greek city-states
and later of the much larger units usually called 'empires'.
The concept of a political and cultural 'nation', as we know it today,
didn't appear until near the end of the 18th century,
at the time of the French and American revolutions.
Let's look at a couple of terms first, just to make them clear.
Strictly speaking, a 'nation' is a cultural concept:
a group of people in a particular area who are usually defined as sharing a common history,
common traditions, the same language or ethnic origin, et cetera.
A 'state', on the other hand, is a political concept:
it's a political unit, an administrative unit, a territory controlled by a government.
So, what we're talking about here, 'nation-states', what we often call 'countries',
are those areas where these two concepts, 'nation' and 'state',
are roughly congruent, where they coincide in time and space.
And this's the basic structure, the infrastructure of civilization, of the world we see today,
the basis upon which treaties are signed, on which wars are fought, and for which people often die.
One historian has said that a nation-state is an 'imaginary community',
because the citizens of even the smallest nation-state will never meet all their fellow citizens,
or even hear about them
yet in each citizen's mind is some image of 'oneness', of unity with his fellows.
Some think that this image is the direct result of the development of printing
and the popular press which likewise expanded in the 18th century
and which, in its language and its audience, has helped define these national communities.
Well, imagined or not, nation-states are very real to us today.
In fact, they seem like the only natural form for society
in spite of their very recent origins don't they?
But at the same time, they seem to be the cause of so much turmoil in our world:
wars, nuclear standoffs, ideological conflicts,
conflicts over resources and markets... the list seems endless!
So maybe we'd better take a more careful look at the factors that seem to contribute to the idea of 'nation-statehood'.
First, geography is an obvious factor.
Countries like Japan and New Zealand have very clear boundaries,
and their physical isolation makes these nations very homogeneous.
However, geography is often irrelevant.
Ireland and Cyprus are certainly very strongly divided islands.
And many countries, notably African countries,
have boundaries that have nothing to do with natural features or ethnicity or anything else.
They are simply straight lines drawn in the last century by former colonial powers.
And then there's language, which is also used as a rationale for nationhood.
The United States and Germany and France are all large, successful states that're defined mostly by language.
But on one hand, many international boundaries cut directly across language lines, as with Belgium and The Netherlands
while on the other hand, countries like South Africa and India include speakers of many different languages.
And a common ethnicity that is, a common genetic background and a common cultural heritage
have certainly helped determine the identity of many nation-states.
Nevertheless, many larger counties, like China, are composed of many ethnicities
while other ethnic groups, like the Kurds, for instance, are conspicuously stateless.
Finally one more major determinant is religion.
Religion has also played a big part in defining nations:
Catholic Ireland. Buddhist Nepal. And of course, Jewish Israel.
But again, many states suffer internal strife, violent conflict,
on account of religious differences, Iraq being the most obvious current example.
So it should be clear to you that none of these factors are foolproof definers of the nation-state.
In fact, they as often complicate the situation.
Would it then be reasonable, therefore, if we divided Iraq, for instance, into three nations,
into Sunni and Shi'ite and Kurdish nations?
Would that solve many of their problems?
Drawing lines usually just creates new problems.
Minorities become smaller minorities.
Surrounding states endure altered confrontations.
The fracturing of other states is encouraged.
And re-drawing a state's boundaries wrongly suggests that conflicts,
ethnic and religious and linguistic conflicts can be decided by dividing peoples,
when the real solution probably lies in trying to unite them,
lies in recognizing individual rights, in devolving power to the local level,
and in a sort of 'pan-nationalism' that focuses on maximizing cooperation among nation-states
and in that way minimizing the impact of hard boundaries poorly defined by any factor.
This what is happening so successfully with the European Union,
the organization which we'll be taking a closer look at now.
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