The nation is a container for ideas about identity and culture, borders and boundaries, common descent and shared history. In its deictic form—“we” the nation—it is rhetorically powerful, alluding to a sense of collective values and goals. When hyphenated to the state, it takes on a formal connotation, bringing to mind government infrastructure and economy. Nation has a normative dimension: we all “ought” to belong to one, or at least have roots in one; and these origins are seen to define us—and to define who does not belong.

In its cognate form—nationalism—it is used by turns in a positive sense, such as in the context of claims for autonomy and self-determination; and in a negative sense, as a label for antagonistic behaviors and exclusionary practices. The distinction is sometimes a matter of standpoint: “we” are patriotic while “they” are nationalist. Regardless, the nation is still regularly used as a metaphor …

This essay may be found on page 125 of the printed volume.

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