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May 26, 2011 2:15 am


On Nation Building



The June issue of The Freeman is out and I have a piece on nation building and state building, riffing off the work Chris Coyne.  A snippet:

Although the phrase “nation-building” sounds much more constructive and well-intentioned than the destruction and death that have normally accompanied the use of American power, the reality is that attempts to build nations are likely to fail. What the nation-builders overlook is a distinction made by Ludwig von Mises almost 100 years ago: A nation is not necessarily the same as a “state.” In his underappreciated little book Nation, State, and Economy, Mises argued that “nations” are defined not by geography or by political institutions, but most fundamentally by language and other similar cultural institutions that provide a basis for “mutual understanding.”

Therefore the nation, Mises argued, cannot be understood as a static object that we can manipulate as we wish: “Nations and languages are not unchangeable categories but, rather, provisional results of a process in constant flux; they change from day to day, and so we see before us a wealth of intermediate forms whose classification requires some pondering.”


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