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22 Characteristics of a Nation

A nation is a society that is based on stable power structures. This can be viewed as a system for getting along and achieving common goals as a very large group. The following are the basic characteristics of a nation.


A system of politics. Most developed countries have a democratic system based on political rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of the press, right to vote and the right to run for political office. Politics is the way that a society makes decisions and accepts a common path. A mature nation will typically have a number of political intuitions, laws, traditions and norms that seek to stabilize the government against the undue influence of a single individual.


Civility is the duty to try to work within the law, institutions and culture of a nation to resolve disputes. This can involve the generation of creative tension such as nonviolent political protests. Likewise, civility calls for the government to respond to peaceful attempts to reform the system in a reasonable way.

Rule of Law

Nations implement rules known as laws that are implemented with a justice system that includes law enforcement, courts and correctional institutions. The justice system of a nation is foundational type of power that is the basis for all other systems.


In a well designed democracy, no one is above the rule of law. A nation is often structured with systems of checks, balances, oversight, complaint processing, whistleblower protection and audit such that there is a way to monitor, investigate and prosecute all members of the government including top level bureaucrats and politicians.

The People

State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it lies; and this lie slips from its mouth: 'I, the state, am the people’.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
A state derives its authority from the will of the people and that support can be withdrawn. Philosophically, the people retain a Right of Revolution which is a duty to overthrow a government or system that has ceased to serve the will of the people, meaning the majority of people strongly view the government as oppressive and civil means of reform have been exhausted.

Rights & Freedoms

Nations typically provide rights and freedoms that outline obligations and limits of the government. This prevents the political majority from severely oppressing those who disagree with them. Rights and freedoms also guarantee a minimum quality of life such as the right to pursue happiness without undue interference by the state.


People may identify with their nation and a nation typically works to promote this with shared culture such as symbols, traditions, norms, holidays, events, values, stories and shared experiences.


Institutions are stable structures and patterns of human behavior that have value to a society. These including things like courts, banks and families that represent the building blocks of nations.


A nation has a history that may serve to unite or divide people. Each nation also has traditions that represent a continuation of the past and heritage that represents value that has been passed down from the past.


A nation has a national culture that overlaps with various traditional cultures, super cultures and subcultures. The national culture serves to unify as does tolerance, cultural interaction and openness.


Hard infrastructure such as bridges and soft infrastructure such as hospitals. Efficient infrastructure increases economic competitiveness and quality of life and is a major difference between developed and developing nations.


The economy of a nation including its markets, institutions, systems, companies and capital.

Human Capital

Human capital is the productive and creative potential of the population of a nation. This represents the collective talents, knowledge and know-how of a nation and is the true basis of its future economic growth.

Developed Nations

Developed nations have stable institutions and great economic capacity that allows for a high standard of living and quality of life.

Developing Nations

Developing nations have a relatively low standard of living due to issues such as stability or low economic capacity. Some developing nations have improved quality of life and are quickly moving towards being fully developed.

Social Structure

A nation has a social structure composed of socioeconomic classes such as upper class, bourgeoisie, middle class, working class and the nonworking poor. The foundation of a developed nation is a large and thriving middle class that have the capacity to save, improve and take risks. In many cases, a developing nation has an elite but not much of a middle class.


Taxation serves to fund valuable government services but can also become oppressive where it is excessive. In many cases, tax burden is heavily placed on the middle class as the upper class may have access to aggressive structures and strategies to reduce taxation. In developed countries, taxation may be used to provide a minimum quality of life by funding public services such as education and healthcare.


A nation encapsulates a geographical location or set of geographical locations. As a general principle, there is only one nation associated with each geographical location. As such, a nation is a physical place and isn't a conceptual or free flowing thing such as a culture.

Shared Defence

Historically, societies are commonly conquered or controlled by outside forces such as other societies unless they take steps to secure a shared defence, such as military organizations, that act as a deterrent.


It should be noted that a military isn't always used as a defensive deterrent. For example, imperialism is when a nation seeks control over other nations by invading them or exerting pressure or influence over them.


The systems of nations are connected to other nations. These connections increase over time by a process known as globalization. This is a long running process that has occurred since the beginning of history but has accelerated due to factors such as the internet. Globalization can increase the stability of all nations. For example, it is more difficult for nations to engage in serious conflict when they have integrated supply chains such that they depend on each other economically.


Resilience is the capacity of a nation to endure the stresses of time and to not destroy itself. The characteristics of nations such as stability, quality of life and economic competitiveness change with time. Nations can fall into decline, collapse due to outside interference or both. It is common for nations to suffer from myopia whereby a single strategy is scaled out and taken to its logical conclusion. For example, a nation that successfully grows its economy but then becomes obsessed with this model such that it is willing to pay any cost for further growth.


Postmodernists tend to emphasize that a nation is a social construct or in the words of Benedict Anderson an "imagined community."1 This is not altogether accurate as nations are physical entities that include most of the infrastructure, capital, natural resources and land of the planet. Likewise, intangible elements of nations such as institutions, identity, culture and tradition are very real and can not be considered imaginary. For example, an army, bank or a family isn't "imagined."
It is counterproductive to try to define nations in terms of ethnicity as all or most nations are composed of multiple ethnicities. Nations often look like a single ethnicity from a distance without examining their actual structure but are multi-ethnic when you look at the details. For example, it is common for pundits to incorrectly claim that Japan is a single ethnicity when in fact it is a thoroughly multiethnic society2.
Overview: Nation
Definition (1)
A society that is based on a stable power structure.
Definition (2)
A system for cooperation accepted by people in a place that includes a system of shared defense that prevents outside interference.
Definition (3)
A stable society based on hard power such as military, police and justice systems such that it isn't easily disrupted.
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1Anderson, Benedict. Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. Verso books, 2006.
2 Lie, John. Multiethnic Japan. Harvard University Press, 2009.


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