Most of us in the US probably don’t know the difference between using «country», «state», «nation», or «nation-state.» It’s common to use them interchangeably, and no one will correct you if you do. Unless you have studied comparative politics (comparing different systems of government) or international relations (how each government relates to another foreign government), it really won’t matter to you. Even if you have studied political science, the lines of the definitions may still be a bit blurry. Nevertheless, there is a difference and it is an interesting one.
Simply, a «country» refers to the people within a certain boundary. So, our patriotic song, «My Country ‘Tis of Thee», can be interpreted as a song about American bravery — the people who helped make it the «sweet land of liberty».
A «state» refers, specifically, to the seat of government within this boundary. For example, a «failed state» would be a place where there is no government control or protection of its people; a «rogue state» is one that «went rogue» and respects neither its people nor international law. We all want to live in a «secure state» — leaving the government to do its job so we can tend to our respective livelihoods and passions without worry.
A «nation» or a «nation-state» refers to the state and its people. So, in our «I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all» (1885) means that we, the people, stand together and pledge our loyalty to our democratic government (our Constitution).
In return, we will receive liberty, justice, and protection. I need to note here, that the phrase «one nation under God» was later added in 1954 during the Cold War. Not only was the US and the USSR competing for superpowerdom, such as, in geopolitical spheres of influence, resources, and nuclear arms, but ideology, as well. Which means, the US government wanted to prove to the government of the Soviet Union that our system of government was better because we allowed our people to worship and the Soviet Union didn’t. Thus, it was using our right to have freedom of religion as a political statement.
«What country are you from?» «What’s your nationality?» are two questions we often ask foreigners. What we are actually asking of each other is, «Where do you come from where you share a common bond of language, food, clothing, and tradition that is different from me?».
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