The term ‘state’ derives from ‘status’ and originally meant a recognised function in the overall scheme of things. The contemporary idea of the state means a geographical area with its own government which forms the basic legal unit of the constitution. From the point of view of international law, each state is a sovereign independent entity. The term ‘nation state’ is often used, but there is no necessary connection between the idea of a nation and that of a state, although sometimes the two terms are used interchangeably, for example the National Health Service. A nation is a cultural, political and historical idea but is not a legal concept. It signifies a community marked out by shared cultural traditions, usually but by no means always coinciding with the legal entity of the state. Most legal systems derive their authority from the state although there are important exceptions such as Sharia, Islamic law, which is based upon adherence to Islam. Some states, for example Saudi Arabia, have specifically incorporated Sharia law into their constitutions. A nation may have a moral claim to be a state with its own laws and government (see Lord Hoffmann in A v Secretary of State for the Home Dept  2 AC 68) and the association of the ideas of nation and state can be used by those in power as a means of inspiring loyalty (e.g. the Constitution of Ireland, Article 9). As the history of Ireland, the Middle East, the Balkan states, Pakistan and many African states sadly reveals, the artificiality of state boundaries drawn by officials may generate violence and even genocide. The term ‘country’ has no legal significance and is used loosely to refer either to a nation or to a state.
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