Britain’s insular position helped the British in attaining the full stature of an organised and conscious nationhood.
The attempt of the English, in the early fifteenth century, to dominate France roused the national spirit in that country too. A similar awakening, due to various causes, had come in Spain and Portugal. The sixteenth century saw the Danish and Swedish peoples also similarly organised. A new type of State, thus, emerged. The old concept of the State was replaced by the State based on bonds of nationality strengthened by natural boundaries. A national State, with a distinct and separate territory of its own, gave rise to the modem theories of sovereignty and equality of States. The nation-State also helped the growth of international law.
The nation-States began their careers as absolute monarchies. When Papal authority was set aside, and feudal rights were giving way, it was natural for the people to cling to the central institution in which their political life was embodied. The growing national consciousness of the people had made them realise the need for consolidation. But consolidation demanded concentration of authority. Protestantism, too, while limiting the authority to a territorial State, placed the spiritual and civil authority in the hands of the King.
The political thought of this period also supported absolutism. Machiavelli freed the ruler even from the limitations imposed by public morality. The theory of Divine Right of Kings championed the cause of absolute monarchy.
But the absolute authority of the Kings could not remain unchallenged for long. The next stage in the development of nation-State was the conflict between the King and the people. The people demanded their rights and privileges. They began to realise that power was ultimately theirs, if they wished to wield it.
It was the rise of democracy and the aspirations for a representative system of government. Democracy brought with it three main principles; equality, popular sovereignty and nationality. The manifestation of the first principle was found in the Declaration of the Rights of Man drawn up by the French Revolutionaries in 1789. Ever since 1789, this principle “has been at work emancipating and elevating the hitherto unfree and downtrodden orders of society, and removing civil, religious and race disabilities from disqualified classes in the State.” The Declaration of the Rights of Man also embraced the concept of popular sovereignty.
It means, in simple words, that the people are the source of all authority, and law is the expression of their will. Finally, the principle of nationality requires that the people, who feel they are one, are free to choose their own form of government and to manage their affairs in their own way. Here, again, it may be stated that the French Revolution was primarily responsible for the revival of the national sentiment. The advance of democracy wrecked absolutism and brought about a great improvement in the political customs of the civilised nations.
The selfishness of the ruling families was checked and methods of government became milder and fairer. Laws were made with due consideration of the interests of the people, and opinions were freely brought to the test of discussion. Another characteristic of the democratic State had been the pursuit of the policy of laissez faire in the field of industry, trade and commerce. This policy “to let people alone” had certain obvious results. First, there had been a great expansion in enterprise and invention. Secondly, there had been a movement of diffusion owing to economic freedom.
Finally, there had been a marked tendency in concentration both of capital and land. The modem State is a nation-State and it has become the basic pattern throughout the world. It actualizes the principle of self-determination, or the right of each nation to govern itself. Loyalty in the nation-State is expressed to the nation, or, in other words, to the people.
A nation-State, accordingly, places emphasis on the ethnic, if possible, and geographic unity of the people. It adopts all means at its disposal to preserve the integrity of its natural frontiers and tries to maintain a homogeneous and united people. This has been the course of the development of the State during the past five centuries.