These two terms (State and Nation) have very often been confused and inter-changeably used and employed even by the eminent political thinkers. But while speaking, in terms of Political Science, these two terms are quite distinct from each other. Etymologically also they have been derived from different sources.
The term “State” has been derived from the word “Status” earlier employed by the Teutons whereas the term “Nation” is derived from the Latin word “Natio” which commonly connotes the idea of birth or race. But despite their different sources of origin the two terms have acquired their own meanings in common usage and these acquired meanings are quite different from their original meanings. There is only a slight difference between the two terms. Professor R.N. Gilchrist believes that the term “nation” is very near in meaning to state.
It has a broader significance. It is the State plus nationality. He gives the example of the British Nation. When we speak of the British Nation, we mean the British people organised in one state and acting spontaneously as a unity.
He hesitates to speak of the Austro-Hungarian nation, though he could speak perfectly and correctly of the pre-war Austro-Hungarian nation. “The nation”, says T. Green, “underlies the State”, and the state is “the nation organised in a certain way”.
He also points out that the members of a nation “in their corporate or associate action are animated by certain passions arising out of their corporate or associate action are animated by certain passions arising out of their organisation”.
After so much of discussion on these terms, we can make the following distinction between State and the Nation:
(1) The State is a concrete political organisation whereas the nation is abstract and spiritual.
(2) The State is constituted of the four essential elements, namely, Fixed Territory, Population, Government and Sovereignty. All these essential constituents and indispensable for the organisation of the State. Whereas the nation is constituted of many cultural elements, all of which are most indispensable for the existence of the nation.
(3) The nation is ethnic and because it is ethnic it is not limited to one state alone. It may include more than one state. For example, German nation included Eastern and Western Germany, Austria and Switzerland because Germans and German-speaking people lived there. But only a few thinkers pay attention to this fact. Generally, it is believed that a nation is limited to a state.
(4) The State can exist in the absence of national feelings but a nation cannot. For example, before 1918, Austro-Hungary was a state but it could not be regarded as a nation because it did not possess that requisite unity of spirit which was required to make it a nation.