National Constitutions About Particular Nation-States

Sovereignty and identity have been widely discussed in relation to issues of nationalism, which echo the formation of the nation-state for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many nations have been building their nation on the basis of identity of the people, where race and culture of the mass has predominantly brought about the fuel for building a nation-state. The question that arises here is, is it a constructive way of building a nation? Are these nations sustainable? Some believe that nationhood cannot be defined before a political process just on the basis of culture or social structure. Calhoun stated “Nationalism was always a discourse about the multiplicity and distinctiveness of nations, of course, but it was also about the constitution of nations as the agents of history whose interest progress might be assessed” (86-104). This paper tries to understand the contribution of a country has in the process of construction of nation-states.

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Neither nationalism nor ethnicity is disappearing as part of an obsolete traditional order. Both are an integral part of modern identity creation process invoked by the elites and other participants in the political and social struggle of building a nation-state. These identities also shape everyday life, beliefs, traditions and difference and construct a specific version of such identities. Thus, it is impossible to define nationalism only on the basis of ethnicity or reflection of common history or language. Hence it is believed that in building a nation state, though ethnicity is an unavoidable ingredient, it needs to be ingrained in law. But historically it has been observed that most of the nation’s constitutions are again salient reflections of such ethnic strains and through the constitution these ethnic believes and dogmas are made the rhetoric for attaining democratic political ends.

The history of nation-state building has been different for different nations. Calhoun traces the building of nations in different countries. He defines the distinction between “Good civic” (and historically West European) nationalisms and “Bad ethnic” (Central and East European) nationalisms. The examples thus cited for the former form of nationalism is France and that of the latter is Germany.

Tracing the nation building of France we find that in the late eighteenth century France moved towards standardization of French language but did not hurry to equate French nationalism to language. On the contrary, French ideas of citizenship remained a political concept rather than giving it an ethnic flavour. On the basis of this political notion of nation and citizenship France produced the modern tale of successful formation of nation-state. But on the other pole was Germany, whose state builders nurtured intense and ethnically oriented German nationalism in building the German nation-state. Language and other ethnic criteria of German blood gained prominence in the definition of German nationality and struggle for unification.

The modern theory of multicultural citizenship is advocated by nations like the USA whose cultural history is rooted in multicultural milieu. In the US inclusion has become common and widespread. And to a great extent the tolerance shown by America has imbibed extensive patriotism among the polyethnic groups in the country (Kymlicka 169-179). Germany and the US have been similar in their tolerance to immigrants but the striking difference dawns when it comes to granting citizenship rights to these immigrants. Germany is reluctant in giving citizenship status to immigrants because their constitution identifies German citizens through ‘blood’. This has given rise to the current problem of a nation divided into two states and radicals who disbelieve everything ‘foreign’.

But the US provides citizenship to the immigrants on the basis of their skills and family trait. The US propounds the concept of ‘differentiated citizenship’. But the civil society theorists believe that the US concept of ‘differentiated citizenship’ pose a serious challenge to the basic definition of citizenship i.e. treating people as individuals with equal rights under the law (Kymlicka 169-179). This has accentuated the racial problems in the US which is supposedly a liberal and accepting nation. Citizenship is not just a certain status, defined by a set of rights and responsibilities. It is also an identity, an expression of one’s membership in a political community. (Walzar 291–308)

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In China, nation-state was itself made the bearer of local identity. Zhonghua minzu (the Chinese Nation) refers to the modern notion of a Chinese nationality transcending ethnic divisions, with a central identity to China as a whole. It includes all people who have historically interacted, contributed and assimilated with Chinese civilization. Zhonghua refers to the concept of China and is the term used in the formal names for both the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China. Minzu can be translated as nation, people, or ethnic group. Historically Chinese culture was a singular whole. In the late nineteenth and twentieth century china, was described as guo. Earlier meaning of guo was political unit defined only by its power; it now became a repository of ultimate values. With the redefinition, China retained its specific cultural content, as well as adopted a formal constitution like a sovereign nation. (Calhoun 86-104)

In different but comparably dramatic ways in all four cases the extent of material as well as cultural national integration was insufficient to sustain completely the integrity of the nation after the departure of imperial powers and/or the collapse of accomodating domestic regimes. As in case of India, the Indian nationalists brought forward in both ideplogy and practice a nation that ws defined in social relationand cultureal state (Calhoun 86-104). The partition of India and Pakistan (and later the independence of Bangladesh as well as communal separitist movement in India), the division of the two Koreas suggest the limitaion to the national integration that could be accomplished in opposition to the prevailing state power. In all the cases, one of the primary challenges in the post-independence era was to resume the struggle for national integration, equating the nation now increasingly with the state.

If one major source of nationalism is new levels of national integration, it is also true that seccissionist nationalisms are often forged from failed projects of broader national integration. Many East European countries and former Soviet Union offer ample examples. The post colonial states are particularly vulnerable to subordinate national groups, since these can employ the very rhetoric that the anti-colonialists used in winning their independence struggles. This is why the discourse of nationalism encompasses both fissiparous and sessionist movemenmts and unificationist or ‘pan’-nationalist movements. Croatioan and Ukranian nationalism and pan-Salvic nationalism arise from discursive formation. Thus we see that netheir a seccionuist nationalism from India or Ethopia or the feat to reunify divided nations like Germany or Korea can claim success. As Calhoun says “…the scope of the national unit is not determined by the form of the nationalist discourse” (86-104). It has to be imprintented in the nation’s way of thinking about what it means to be apeople, and how the people thus defined might fit into broader world system.

Israel, like Germany, adopted curiously similar policies of ethnic-priority immigration after World War II. “The only other democracy [other than Germany] with a right to return written into its law is Israel” (Kramer 167-185).

As discussed in the constitutional preamble of Israel, the State of Israel is a democratic and Jewish state. By the constitution, Israeli citizenship will be granted to all who are:

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  • Anyone born in Israel whose mother or father is an Israeli citizen and resident
  • Anyone born outside of Israel whose mother of father is an Israeli citizen
  • A Jew who immigrated to Israel by virtue of the Law of Return shall be eligible for Israeli citizenship in accordance with the terms and timetable determined by law
  • Regulations on awarding of citizenship for other reasons and on waiving or revoking citizenship shall be determined by law

Israel’s ethnic-priority policies screen according to citizenship in the formal sense of nationality or state membership. Some ethnic-priority schemes prefer certain ethnic or national-origin groups according to their supposed proximity (but actually their difference) to the state-bearing nation, whereas others are based on the putative sameness of immigrant group and state-bearing nation. Israel’s Law of Return is a permanent, state-constituting provision, applying to every Jew in the world. In its expansiveness and state-defining quality the Israeli ethnic-priority immigration is unique in the world.

Examples of “sameness” are ethnic Germans and Jews, who are believed to be not similar to but identical with the state-bearing nation. Whereas proximity schemes are justified in terms of homogeneity and assimilation, and thus in terms of state interests, sameness schemes are couched as the right of the ethnic migrant, to be held against the receiving state. In the German case, the right of return is a constitutional right, enshrined in Article 116 of the Basic Law; in Israel, it is formally a statutory right, but ideally a natural right that precedes the existence of the state.

Israel’s (as well as Germany’s) problem is the assumption of a straight line between fixed identities and policies, which leaves out the fundamental role of conflict and contingency, that is, politics and history, as intervening variables.

The study of ethnic-priority immigration in two putatively hard cases of “ethnic” state allows us to demonstrate how and why the ethnic-civic dichotomy, if reified as an empirical distinction between “ethnic” and “civic” states, does not hold. Certainly, there are ethnic gears to the German and Israeli states’ self-conceptions, and their respective Laws of Return are primary expressions of them. These laws indicate that state and nation do not overlap, as is the case in civic states, but that the nation is prior to and wider than the state.

In both the nations the legal instruments that define German identity remain defined by the ethnic nationalist past (Ignaitiff 57-102.). To most non-Germans or non-Israelites it seems absurd that a Turk born in Germany or an Arab born in Israeli soil should be unable to become a citizen, while a German from Siberia or a Jew from anyplace, with no prior history of residence in the respective countries should be entitled to citizenship.

The study of ethnic-priority immigration opens up a window into the constitution and contestation of the boundaries of the national community. This raise the question ethnic-priority policies effectively define a successful and sustainable nation-state? Or does a civic nationalism is a success when it comes to nation building? The answer is uncertain. For both the cases have demonstrated emerging problems in building national identity and subsequently nurtured racialism against minorities either in name of ethnicity or economic alienation and subjugation. Civil society theorists believe that in the nesessity of civility and self-restraint to a healthy democracy but deny that either the market or political participation is sufficient to teach these virtues of unity in diversity and that of common goal. It is the social circle that builds these virtues. As Walzar put it, “the civility that makes democratic politics possible can only be relating in the associational networks” of civil society (291–308).


Kymlicka, Will. “Multicultural Citizenship” The Citizenship Debates. Ed. Gershon Shafir. U of Minnesota Press, Minnesota, 1998. 167-185.

Walzer, Michael. “The Civil Society Argument” The Citizenship Debates. . Ed. Gershon Shafir. U of Minnesota Press, Minnesota, 1998. 291–308.

Calhoun, Craig. Nationalism. Open University Press, Buckingham, 1993. 86-104.

Eckstein, Susan. “Community as Gift Giving: Collectivist Roots of Volunteer-ism” American Sociological Review 66, Viking press, London, 1994. 829-851.

Ignatieff, Michael. “Germany” Pp. 57-102 in Blood and Belonging, 1999.

Kramer, Jane. “Skins” in The Politics of Memory Will Kymlicka. Multicultural Citizenship, New York, 1995. 215-253.

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