Patriotism vs Nationalism

It’s funny: in many dictionaries, Patriotism and Nationalism are treated as synonyms. Yet for some reason, I keep seeing people arguing that they are different – opposites, even.

When did this distinction between Patriotism and Nationalism arise?

The twentieth century will have taught us that no doctrine in itself is necessarily a liberating force: all of them may be perverted or take a wrong turning; all have blood on their hands – communism, liberalism, nationalism, each of the great religions, and even secularism. Nobody has a monopoly on humane values.
― Amin Maalouf, In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong

Right now, the definition of nationalism is that it’s a bad thing, as opposed to patriotism, which is a Good Thing.

It is nationalism which engenders nations, and not the other way round.
– Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism

I am against any nationalism, even in the guise of mere patriotism. Privileges based on position and property have always seemed to me unjust and pernicious, as did any exaggerated personality cult.
Albert Einstein, My Credo (1932)

The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war.
– Sydney J. Harris, Strictly Personal (1953), “Purely Personal Prejudices”.

Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. “Patriotism” is its cult. It should hardly be necessary to say, that by “patriotism” I mean that attitude which puts the own nation above humanity, above the principles of truth and justice; not the loving interest in one’s own nation, which is the concern with the nation’s spiritual as much as with its material welfare—never with its power over other nations. Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one’s country which is not part of one’s love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship.
Erich Fromm, in The Sane Society (1955).

Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.
– Attributed to de Gaulle by Romain Gary, Life, May 9, 1969

Patriotism, not nationalism, should inspire the citizen. The ethnic nationalist who wants a linguistically and culturally uniform nation is akin to the racist who is intolerant toward those who look (and behave) differently. The patriot is a “diversitarian”; he is pleased, indeed proud of the variety within the borders of his country; he looks for loyalty from all citizens. And he looks up and down, not left and right.
Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Leftism Revisited (1990), p. 327

The most commonly cited example is, of course, Orwell:

Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.
– George Orwell

Yet there are other definitions of nationalism which do not adhere to the notion that Nationalism Is Bad and Patriotism Is Good:

Violent nationalism, otherwise known as imperialism, is the curse, non-violent nationalism is a necessary condition of corporate or civilized life.
Mahatma Gandhi, Young India, 27th November 1924

In Lenin’s view, such changes were positive: nations, as products of capitalist economic relations, fitted into classic Marxist stage theory of development. Even Stalin, who differed on the implications for Soviet policy, agreed that nations were an inescapable phase through which all humans communities must pass. Ultimately, they (like, capitalism) would be superseded, but for precapitalist societies national development and nationalist movements were treated as progressive. Lenin drew a further distinction between great-power nationalism, which oppressed others, and small-power nationalism, which formed in response to it. In places – such as Russia – that had been responsible for national and colonial oppression of others, nationalism was to be combated without mercy and torn out by the roots. Among groups that had been victims of national or colonial oppression, by contrast – such as in the tsarist imperial periphery, where Russian power had created deep economic, political, and social resentment – the Leninist approach was to build socialism while encouraging indigenous development and national differentiation.
– Douglas Northrop, Veiled Empire: Gender and Power in Stalinist Central Asia

Ethnic-based politics is being used to exhort people, to serve own ends – this is anathema to concept of nationalism.”
– Imran Khan

In modern times, nationalism is the most copious and durable source of mass enthusiasm, and that nationalist fervor must be tapped if the drastic changes projected and initiated by revolutionary enthusiasm are to be consummated.
– Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements

I call myself a nationalist, but my nationalism is as broad as the universe. It includes in its sweep all the nations of the earth. My nationalism includes the well-being of the whole world. I do not want my India to rise on the ashes of other nations. I do not want India to exploit a single human being. I want India to be strong in order that she can infect the other nations also with her strength. Not so with a single nation in Europe today; they do not give strength to the others.
– Mahatma Gandhi, Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda

The nationalism of a great nation inevitably degenerates into chauvinism and imperialism. The nationalism of a small nation is aimed primarily at the survival of the nation among others.
Vasil Bykau, Правілы жыцця Васіля Быкава

This is complicated further by the revelation that, back when the words were created, being a Nationalist was considered Good and being a Patriot considered Bad:

nationalist (n.)

“one devoted to his nation,” 1715, from national in a now obsolete sense of “patriotic” (1711) + -ist. In 19c. Britain often particularly “one who advocates independence for a nation” (especially Ireland). Related: Nationalistic; nationalistically.

Online Etymology Dictionary

patriot (n.)

1590s, “compatriot,” from Middle French patriote (15c.) and directly from Late Latin patriota “fellow-countryman” (6c.), from Greek patriotes “fellow countryman,” from patrios “of one’s fathers,” patris “fatherland,” from pater (genitive patros) “father” (see father (n.)); with -otes, suffix expressing state or condition. Liddell & Scott write that patriotes was “applied to barbarians who had only a common [patris], [politai] being used of Greeks who had a common [polis] (or free-state).”

Meaning “loyal and disinterested supporter of one’s country” is attested from c. 1600, but became an ironic term of ridicule or abuse from mid-18c. in England, so that Johnson, who at first defined it as “one whose ruling passion is the love of his country,” in his fourth edition added, “It is sometimes used for a factious disturber of the government.”

The name of patriot had become [c. 1744] a by-word of derision. Horace Walpole scarcely exaggerated when he said that … the most popular declaration which a candidate could make on the hustings was that he had never been and never would be a patriot. [Macaulay, “Horace Walpole,” 1833]

Somewhat revived in reference to resistance movements in overrun countries in World War II, it has usually had a positive sense in American English, where the phony and rascally variety has been consigned to the word patrioteer (1928). Oriana Fallaci [“The Rage and the Pride,” 2002] marvels that Americans, so fond of patriotic, patriot, and patriotism, lack the root noun and are content to express the idea of patria by cumbersome compounds such as homeland. (Joyce, Shaw, and H.G. Wells all used patria as an English word early 20c., but it failed to stick.) Patriots’ Day (April 19, anniversary of the 1775 skirmishes at Lexington and Concord Bridge) was observed as a legal holiday in Maine and Massachusetts from 1894.

Online Etymology Dictionary

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
– Samuel Johnson

Indeed, when you get right down to it, both Patriotism and Nationalism originate from very similar origins. Patriotism ultimately derives from the Greek patrios, “of one’s fathers,” patrisfatherland,” from pater (genitive patros) “father”; while Nationalism derives from Latin nationem (nominative natio) “birth, origin; breed, stock, kind, species; race of people, tribe,” literally “that which has been born,” from natus, past participle of nasci “be born.” Both words are intrinsically tied to those who came before – one could argue the only significant difference in etymologies is that Patriotism is masculine (through patrios) while Nationalism is feminine (through natus). Fatherland and Motherland, respectively. I’m sure you could infer something about the idea feminine Nationalism is denounced while masculine Patriotism is exalted, if you liked.

Given the fluidity of definitions over time, frankly, I cannot see how any definition of Patriotism or Nationalism can be mutually exclusive. The dichotomy of Patriotism vs Nationalism is an artifice born of the privilege of nationalisms. Independent nations are allowed to denounce Nationalism when their nations are independent, and so free to express themselves however they wish.

The best definition of the “difference” between Patriotism and Nationalism in the Macron/Miller sense is this:

“Patriotism is Nationalism I approve of. Nationalism is Patriotism I disapprove of.”

At least then it’s honest.

I have a deep love and a great respect for the British race as human beings. It has produced great-hearted men, thinkers of great thoughts, doers of great deeds. It has given rise to a[Pg 17] great literature. I know that these people love justice and freedom, and hate lies. They are clean in their minds, frank in their manners, true in their friendships; in their behaviour they are honest and reliable. The personal experience which I have had of their literary men has roused my admiration not merely for their power of thought or expression but for their chivalrous humanity. We have felt the greatness of this people as we feel the sun; but as for the Nation, it is for us a thick mist of a stifling nature covering the sun itself.

This government by the Nation is neither British nor anything else; it is an applied science and therefore more or less similar in its principles wherever it is used. It is like a hydraulic press, whose pressure is impersonal, and on that account completely effective. The amount of its power may vary in different engines. Some may even be driven by hand, thus leaving a margin of comfortable looseness in their tension, but in spirit and in method their differences are small. Our government might have been Dutch, or French, or Portuguese, and its essential features would have remained much the same as they are now. Only perhaps, in some cases, the organization might not have[Pg 18] been so densely perfect, and, therefore, some shreds of the human might still have been clinging to the wreck, allowing us to deal with something which resembles our own throbbing heart.

Before the Nation came to rule over us we had other governments which were foreign, and these, like all governments, had some element of the machine in them. But the difference between them and the government by the Nation is like the difference between the hand-loom and the power-loom. In the products of the hand-loom the magic of man’s living fingers finds its expression, and its hum harmonizes with the music of life. But the power-loom is relentlessly lifeless and accurate and monotonous in its production.
Sir Rabindranath Tagore, Nationalism in the West, 1918


2 thoughts on “Patriotism vs Nationalism

  1. Geraldine Harron says:

    As a member of the Scottish National Party, I am a patriotic Scottish Nationalist that is outward looking internationally as well as a Global Citizen. The words that are being described, like Nationalist and Patriot are being said to divide, they have very different meaning here in Scotland where we are striving to be welcoming to people who live, work, study, play, pray and visit. If your here, you’re ours and if you are staying, you’re saying “if your here, you’re ours”, this is being patriotic here. We have a lot to offer and you can even keep your identity as having proudly and patriotically come from elsewhere, and be a New Scot, placing whichever word describes your origins the best, if you wish, like English Scots. A typical Scottish person could look like you, as there’s no typical Scottish looks.

  2. Some good quotes here, but Macron’s comments are confusing. If a patriot gives his life for his country, as many soldiers do, they are putting the interests of their country first at the expense of the interests of other countries. That’s kind of how it works.

    Wars are often very complicated affairs with causes rarely broken down in black and white. There is rarely a conflict as cut and dried as World War II in terms of good versus bad. Intervention in the Rwandan Civil War of the 1990s would have seemed like a no-brainer, but when do peacekeepers pull out? Few outside the country understood the complexities that brought about the genocide. Pretty soon there are accusations of imperialist ambitions.

    Gandhi’s thoughts on being a world nationalist would likely be mocked if they were spoken by a world leader today, but ultimately isn’t that what one of the United Nations’ original goals was, to step in to stop conflict, either before it got started or later, after it had begun.

    And the French are lucky the there were other countries to help out in World War I. It wasn’t exactly going swimmingly for them.

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