For most of human existence we lived in tribes. We were related by blood to other tribe members; it was an extended family affair. Loyalty to the tribe and defense of the tribe came naturally, you might say.
Modern nations, like so many other facts on the ground, are a social construct. Some nations, like the U.K., bounded all around by salt water, have an easier time with national identity than others. But since the coming of the EU and open borders, even the UK is having trouble defending its “Britishness” from “foreigners.” And let’s not forget that Scotland is holding a referendum on September 18, 2014 to decide if it will secede from the UK and be its own nation.
The U.S. struggles with identity issues of its own. How does a young nation, a nation of immigrants, determine who is a “Real American?” We’re working on that. Strangely, I am a Real American, though I am quite aware of my Polish roots and have a photo of my Polish grandparents, who never did learn to speak English. Meanwhile, my friend, whose parents came to America over 200 years ago, may not be Real American because his skin is brown. He may be one of those from whom American needs to be taken back, as self-styled patriots are fond of saying.
Patriotism is a nation-connected emotion often employed by leaders to get us to go to war. The tribe is in danger-you are not such a cad that you refuse to defend your tribe, are you? This primitive appeal to tribe is very effective. When the war is over, the same leaders try to divide us-we are no longer a tribe, but a bunch of competing classes and races that should duke it out with each other and ignore their pocket-picking. This is also very effective.
A whole lot of misery is caused today by some past victorious imperialist with a map and a magic marker, drawing lines across landscapes, slicing some ethnic groups in half (50 million Pashtuns) and leaving some ethnic groups out in the cold entirely (30 million Kurds.)
Well, we have to have some kind of nation, because history clearly teaches that smaller units, like tribes and city-states are inevitably overrun by nations. The exact size and magic marker squiggles will continue to be debated.
1000 Years of Border Changes in Europe