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New Study Reveals that the Nation State Remains Strong

Even in times of globalization, the nation state remains the most important social unit. This was the conclusion drawn by a recent project carried out by the Austrian Science Fund FWF, refuting previous claims that the state is in decline. The project clearly shows that a country’s citizens have more in common with one another than people from culturally related regions spanning several countries – a scenario that applies not least to Bavaria and Austria.

"The state is dead. Long live the state." This saying, which was used in the past to refer to the continuity of monarchies, has not lost any of its relevance today. Even though the nation state is often said to be dying out in the face of globalization and European integration, a team headed by Prof. Max Haller from the Institute for Sociology at the University of Graz undertook a project entitled "National identity and citizenship", which proved that this is not the case at all. The findings of this project clearly show that the nation state still has high social significance.


These results are based on a world-wide study that formed a central part of the project. It provided results in three different areas:

First, people still identify most closely with their own country rather than a community, region or higher-level entity, such as the EU. While more than half of those questioned felt a very close connection with their own country, only 30 percent could relate in the same way to the concept of "Europe". This solidarity is also demonstrated by people’s unwillingness to emigrate – only 4 percent said they would be prepared to move to another region within the EU and only 1 percent would be prepared to move to either another country or region outside of Europe.

Second, people within a country have the most similar values, as Prof. Haller explains with an example: "It would be easy to assume that Catholic Bavarians identify more closely with Austrians rather than Protestant north Germans, who also have a different ethnic and linguistic origin. However, this is not the case. As far as values are concerned, Bavarians share more common ground with north Germans than with Austrians. This shows that identification with a nation state is more important than the lower-level regional unit."

Third, state structures and a country’s predominating values play a large part in shaping the views of its inhabitants. This factor becomes apparent when inhabitants are asked to assess the social (in)equality of their own country. In countries where inequality is high, for example in Brazil, people can be very critical of the system. However, in countries such as the U.S., the belief in individual advancement can considerably weaken these critical faculties. In these countries, the dream of rising from rags to riches is commonplace.


The findings of the studies are based on an evaluation of extensive data from international statistical data manuals and the "International Social Survey Programme" (ISSP). Prof. Haller explains: "We can use the ISSP to access data from social-scientific research institutions in more than 40 countries. For example, our research group has been collecting data on Austria for more than 20 years now."

This project, which also includes studies on national and European identity, Europeans’ attitude towards democracy, understanding of citizenship and political participation, was able to use this data to evaluate the importance of the nation state empirically. As a result, the myth that the nation state is threatened with extinction is disproved for the foreseeable future. The FWF project shows that, despite global changes, citizens continue to identify with their country in terms of security and justice, welfare and culture.

Till C. Jelitto | alfa
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