Theory of One State, One Nation and the Right of Self- Determination

The Theory of Self-determination or one nation and one state, the people who constitute a nationality reserve the Right of Self-determination, the right to decide for themselves with whom they shall be politically associated.

The eminent French Jurist Esmein defines the State as “the juridical personification of a nation”.” While Dr. Garner observes that “a nation is not necessarily a people organised as a State nor a State is necessarily a Nation.

The limits of the State may extend beyond the boundaries of the Nation, considered as an ethnic and linguistic group and conversely the boundaries of the Nation may be wider than those of the State.

In fact, they rarely coincide. “He further adds. The modem tendency has been in the direction of identification, that is the organization of States with boundaries coterminous with those of nations, but the transformation is far from complete”.

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We are not fully satisfied with the contention of Dr. Garner because in Modern Europe people belonging to the same race and sharing the common language are not regarded as one nation, if they live in different states. For example, the French living in Italy and France are separate nations and separate states. Similarly, the Germans also live in Austria and Czechoslovakia but they are not regarded as one nation. They are separate Nations and separate States.

(a) The right of self-determination:


John Stuart Mill believes that “Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made of different nationalities. Among a people without fellow-feeling, especially if they read and speak different languages, the united public opinion, necessary to the working of representative government cannot exist. Whenever the sentiments of nationality exist in force, there is a prima facie case, for uniting all the members of the nationality under the same government and a government to themselves apart. This is merely saying that the question of government ought to be decided by the governed”.

Thus, we find that John Stuart Mill is of the opinion that every nationality has a Right of Self-determination. Before the First World War (1914-18) Wilson, the then President of the U.S.A., supported in the Paris Conference the demand of various nationalities for the right of Self-determination.

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He was of the opinion that the European diplomats could afford to ignore the demand only at the risk of threat of peace. On February 11, 1918, in his address to Congress he pointed out that it was quite unjust to transfer the sovereignty of people belonging to a nation.

Every contract should be entered into while keeping in view the interests of people of that nation. An attempt should be made to give expression to the feelings of the inhabitants. Thus, it is quite clear that every nation should be a state.


Nation-State theory of John Stuart Mill lays emphasis on the face that the people who constitute a nationality undoubtedly reserve the Right of Self- determination and the right to decide for themselves with whom they shall be politically associated. In short, we can say that a nation, according to John Stuart Mill, should have a state of its own.

(b) Criticism of the Theory of Self-determination, one Nation and one State:

John Stuart Mill is the ardent advocate of the Theory of Self-determination or one nation and one state. According to him, the people who constitute a nationality reserve the Right of Self-determination, the right to decide for themselves with whom they shall be politically associated. But this has been criticized by a number of persons.

Lord Acton and Gumplowiz are the main figures among those who attacked the theory of mono-national state, the State, the political boundaries of which conicide with those of a single nationality. Lord Acton has gone to the extent of calling is “more absurd and more criminal than the theory of socialism”.

“There is”, he said, “no principle of change, no phase of political speculation conceivable, more comprehensive, more subversive or more arbitrary than this. It is a computation of democracy because it sets limits to the exercise of the popular will and substitutes for it a higher principle”.

While analysing the statement of Lord Acton, Dr. Garner said in regard to the value of the latter type of state (poly-national), both as an influence upon the character of the people and as an instrument of civilization, generally it is without exaggeration.

Professor R.N. Gilchrist has gone to the extent of saying that “no nationality has a right to dismember the state of which it is a part, unless that the continued existence of the nationality and its traditions are threatened in such a way as to impair the moral lives of its members”.

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All national claims are conditioned by the paramount claims of the state of which the nationality is a part but the claims of the state may be of such a nature as to make the continued existence of the nationality impossible. In such a case the ultimate issue may be force.

The criticism of Sir John Stuart Mill’s Theory of Self-determination seems to carry weight. If his theory of Self-determination is taken for granted, it will lead to bifurcation and trifurcation of many states. Adopting the Theory of Self- determination, Scotland and Welsh had to be separated from Great Britain and South Africa and French Canada from the old British Empire. Belgium will be bifurcated and Switzerland will be trifurcated.

And if this Theory of Self- determination is adopted by entire Europe, Europe will be divided into various small nations. This may prove a threat to peace in the whole world. Keeping in view this fact, Lord Curzon called it a double-edged weapon which can be accepted with a few reservations.

In 1918 and 1919 Finland faced Plebiscite over a vital issue. It was to be decided whether Aland Islands were entitled to separate themselves from Finland and merge with Sweden. People unanimously voted in favour of Sweden.

After that 1920 League of Nations appointed a Committee of Jurists to look into the matter and find out whether Aland Islands were entitled and empowered to separate themselves from Finland and merge with Sweden. After having looked into the matter, this committee of Jurists opined that it was beyond the reach of the international law to empower a part of a state to separate itself from the whole state and become an independent state. And if a part of a state was empowered to do so, it will give a heavy blow to the sovereignty of the state.

In modern age there exist a number of states where various nationalities are claiming the status of separate statehood and if they are not permitted to organise their independent states, there will remain a permanent threat to peace.

Therefore, it is better and advisable to empower such nationalities as are in majority to organise their independent states. This will bring the end of many mutual disputes. But at the same time this should also be kept in mind that the trick of empowering each and every nationality will lead to the bifurcation and trifurcation of many states. Therefore, every precaution should be taken before doing so. Only those nationalities which are in majority and which have their own language and culture should be empowered to organise their independent state.

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