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State & nation

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A common mistake is to confuse state and nation. The state may represent the nation in certain functions, but the treatment of one as synonymous for the other is the cause of much confusion and hostility. It is common for the media to report the views expressed by the Government in international negotiations with the words: “Britain said X”. Britain did no such thing. “The British government said X”, or even better, “The representative of the British government said X”.

Government as temporary representative not national mouthpiece

Though this may sound pedantic, one may better understand the negative effect if one considers the words applied to some more controversial countries: “Iran said X” or “Israel said X”. It is important to remember that the governments of Messrs Ahmadinejad and Netanyahu are not the embodiments of their nation and people. Their governments may change, and an entirely different international approach be adopted. If we maintain in our mind that the people who express these views are temporary representatives of a viewpoint that does not have general and perpetual agreement in the country, and not a mouthpiece for the views of a nation, we will make it easier for nations to switch from hostility to cooperation when governments or policies change.

Government action ≠ national interest

The distinction also matters at a domestic level. If we confuse state and nation, we may be fooled into thinking that opposition to the government is unpatriotic or undemocratic. And we may fall for the illusion that anything the government does must be in the national interest. These are important delusions to resist. With certain provisos (e.g. where people are being persecuted), we have a duty to accept but not to respect or support the actions of a democratically-elected government.

Dr. Radut Consulting