‘The nation has conquered the state’: Arendtian insights on the internal contradictions of the nation-state

Peter J. Verovsek*

*Corresponding author for this work

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The globalisation of political power into structures ‘above’ or ‘beyond’ the nation-state has increasingly been called into question as part of a ‘sovereigntist turn’ in contemporary politics. While such demands for local control by bounded peoples may be democratic, empirically they often also take a nationalist form. Building on Hannah Arendt’s analysis of how ‘the nation conquered the state’, I argue that the slippage from democratic to national sovereigntism is rooted in fundamental conceptual instabilities within the concept of the nation-state. Whereas the first term in this hyphenated construct favours certain individuals based on their ethnic background, the latter is a universal concept that demands the equal treatment of all. My basic thesis is that these internal contradictions help to explain the nationalist tendency in calls to return political power to the nation-state. I illustrate these points by drawing on examples from the ‘illiberal democracies’ of Central-Eastern Europe, focusing on Poland and Hungary.

Original languageEnglish
JournalReview of International Studies
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22-Aug-2023


  • Hannah Arendt
  • illiberal democracy
  • nation-state
  • neo-nationalism
  • new sovereigntism

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