According to Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities, the "nation" has four essential characteristics:
It is " introduced [...] because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of the others [...], but the idea of their community exists in everyone's head." […] In fact, all communities that are larger than the village ones with their face-to-face contacts are imagined communities. "
It is “ limited [...] because even the largest of them [...] lives within precisely defined, albeit variable, limits beyond which other nations lie. […] Even the most ardent nationalists do not dream of the day when all members of the human race will belong to their nation ” - in contrast to religious communities with a conversion mission such as Christianity.
It is “ sovereign because its concept was born at a time when the Enlightenment and revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the hierarchical-dynastic [sic] empires thought of by God's grace. [...] The yardstick and symbol of this freedom is the sovereign state ”.
It is a " community [...] because, regardless of real inequality and exploitation, it is understood as a 'comradely' association of equals."