Following Hannah Arendt's work on totalitarianism, the first part of the paper gives an account of the historical advances of the republican nation state that was born during the constitutional revolutions in France and America at the end of the eighteenth century. This state has organised an efficient solidarity among strangers by means of democratic legislation. The European nation state was particular and universal at once. As Arendt could demonstrate on the Dreyfus affair, republicanism of a specific people was based on the Jacobean patriotism of universal human rights. In the second part an explanation is laid out for the destruction of the European nation state during the first fifty years of the nineteenth century. Beginning with Arendt's thesis on the imperialist society that blurred the borders of state, this thesis is revised with reference to the sociological theory of modern society (Luhmann, Habermas). The last part then turns to the rebirth of the nation state after World War Two and the postimperialist development of globalisation at the same time. Again progress in globalising human rights and civil society is threatened by the uncontrolled expansion of capital and power. The lasting problem is to find any regional or global functional equivalent for the democratic rule of law that for so long only worked on the level of the nation state.