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Cite this entry Search the SEP Advanced Search Tools RSS Feed Table of Contents What's New Archives Projected Contents Editorial Information About the SEP Editorial Board How to Cite the SEP Special Characters Support the SEP PDFs for SEP Friends Make a Donation SEPIA for Libraries Contact the SEP © Metaphysics Research Lab , CSLI , Stanford University Open access to the SEP is made possible by a world-wide funding initiative. Please Read How You Can Help Keep the Encyclopedia Free War First published Fri Feb 4, 2000; substantive revision Thu Jul 28, 2005 War should be understood as an actual, intentional and widespread armed conflict between political communities. Thus, fisticuffs between individual persons do not count as a war, nor does a gang fight, nor does a feud on the order of the Hatfields versus the McCoys. War is a phenomenon which occurs only between political communities, defined as those entities which either are states or intend to become states (in
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order to allow for civil war). Classical war is international war, a war between different states, like the two World Wars. But just as frequent is war within a state between rival groups or communities, like the American Civil War. Certain political pressure groups, like terrorist organizations, might also be considered “political communities,” in that they are associations of people with a political purpose and, indeed, many of them aspire to statehood or to influence the development of statehood in certain lands. What's statehood? Most people follow Max Weber's distinction between nation and state. A nation is a group which thinks of itself as “a people,” usually because they share many things in common, such as ethnicity, language, culture, historical experience, a set of ideals and values, habitat, cuisine, fashion and so on. The state, by contrast, refers much more narrowly to the machinery of government which organizes life in a given territory. Thus, we can distinguish between the American state and the American people, or between the government of France and the French nation. At the same time, you've probably heard the term “nation- state.” Indeed, people often use “nation” and “state” interchangeably but we'll need to keep them conceptually distinct for our purposes. “Nation-state” refers to the relatively recent phenomenon wherein a nation wants its own state, and moves to form one. This started out as a very European trend—an Italian state for the Italian nation, a German state for the German people, etc., but it has spread throughout the world. Note that in some countries, such as America, Australia and Canada, the state actually presides over many nations, and you hear of “multi-national societies.” Most societies with heavy immigration are multi-national.
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