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Nationalism and Patriotism

OK, today I’d like you to superimpose a couple of very different articles that all look at the difference between patriotism and nationalism, but each from a different angle and see if, and how, they inform each other. First, I’d like you to read one of my old posts (which I may decide to re-post here one day, but for now, check it out on my old blog) – Nationalism is not Patriotism. That would be a bare-bone introduction to political psychology of patriotism and nationalism:

Why is there a widespread belief that the difference between patriotism and nationalism is one of degree: loving one’s country versus loving it even more? I think that the difference is not quantitative but qualitative – the phrase “love for one’s country” used by the two kinds of people (patriots and nationalists) is based on very different meanings of the words “love”, “for”, “one” and “country”.

Now, let’s move from bare bones to the results of some real research on the topic, ably dissected and distilled by Chris in Two Types of Patriotism:

To these people, the political landscape in the U.S. is composed of two villages, one populated by patriots, and the other by America haters. There doesn’t seem to be any room in between, and a patriot seems to be defined as adopting a less than critical attitude towards one’s country. For me, this raises interesting questions about what patriotism is, and as a psychologist, questions about the psychological makeup of a patriot. Since today’s the 4th of July, it seems like a good time to talk about a little of what I’ve learned.

Small Grey Matters responds to Chris’ post with one of his own – What are authoritarians like?:

One of the many interesting findings to come out of the behavioral genetics literature is that the heredity of political orientation (defined in terms of variables such as conservatism vs. liberalism, right-wing authoritarianism, etc.) is about as high as that of general intelligence and most major personality dimensions-typically around 50-65%. That’s to say, over half of the variance in questionnaires including items such as “Our country needs a powerful leader to overthrow the radical and immoral values that are present in today’s society” is attributable to genetic influences (most of the remainder is due to unique, or non-shared, environmental influences).

I think that the idea that psychological traits related to political orientation are heritable is true, but NOT VIA GENES! It is inherited via a developmental process. Conservatives raise their children in such a way that their emotional development results in them becoming conservatives when they grow up, thus perpetuating the trait across generations – that is the definition of inheritance. And it is not teaching conservatism directly – it is providing an environment in which a child will develop conservative traits.

Furthermore, ideologically like-minded people tend to live in the same place – thus the broader community (village, church, school, local media, etc.), not just parents, adds to the developmentally important aspects of the social environment. In a sense, it is niche-construction – a trait results in the modification of the environment in a way that favors the perpetuation of that same trait. Move to a different environment (e.g., college town, Europe), and different traits develop which build a different environment which favors that new (liberal) trait. No DNA is involved here at all. I have touched on this many times before on my blog (see, for instance this post).

Finally, once you have absorbed lessons from Chris’ post, apply his analysis to the symbolism in some ‘patriotic’ songs, provided to you by Josh in What isn’t clear about ‘This Land is Your Land’?:

My (least) favorite line: “I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.” “At least”? Really? We could basically boil the song down to “America: sufficiently better than Russia.” This isn’t patriotism, it’s blind nationalism. And the difference is instructive. Why exactly Lee Greenwood wants God to bless America is really left to the imagination of the reader, and it’s not clear that Greenwood has a good idea beyond that it’s where he happens to live.

Now you have academic and instinctual all tied together and you really grok the difference between nationalism and patriotism, don’t you?


  1. #1 John McKay
    July 6, 2006

    The classic joke on the difference is “WE have patriotism but THEY have nationalism.” The first half of the equation is said with a swelling of manly pride and the second half with a sneer.

    My own take is that patriotism is a affection for and a pride in the country and its institutions while nationalism is the same feelings for the national ethnic group. The whole issue is confused by the unfortunate American tendency to use the word “nationality” to mean both citizenship and ethnicity. In my model, both patriotism and nationalism come in forms of harmless affection and dangerous chauvinism.

    However you model it, people do mean two very real and different concepts by those two words, but those concepts are hoplessly muddied by a lack of agreement or exactness in American English. This lack of agreement or exactness is visible in almost all of the terms relating to this subject. Look at the tendency of even academic writers to use “nation-state” as a synonym for all modern, sovereign Westphalian states when, in fact, most countries are not based on a nation, they are based on territory.

    It’s a shame too, these are very important concepts and very relevant concepts in the twenty-first century, so far.

  2. #2 small and gray
    July 6, 2006

    I think that the idea that psychological traits related to political orientation are heritable is true, but NOT VIA GENES! It is inherited via a developmental process. Conservatives raise their children in such a way that their emotional development results in them becoming conservatives when they grow up, thus perpetuating the trait across generations – that is the definition of inheritance. And it is not teaching conservatism directly – it is providing an environment in which a child will develop conservative traits.

    This is a widespread intuition, but it’s incorrect. Heritability is typically defined as the additive effect of genes alone, independently of environmental factors (including the shared environmental factors you point to) and gene-environment interactions. The experimental designs used in behavioral genetics (most commonly various twin designs) allow for separate estimates of genetic, shared environmental (e.g., familial) and non-shared environmental effects. In the vast majority of studies, the bulk of the variance in cognitive abilities and personality is due to either genetic or unique environmental influences. Shared environment plays little or no role for most variables (including political orientation).

    Put differently, that heritability coefficient of .5 – .65 is basically saying that if two identical twins were adopted by completely different families with very different values, the two children would still (on average) be more like each other in terms of political orientation than each kid would be to any non-biological siblings he or she was raised with.

    The failure to control for genetic similarity is probably the biggest problem (and it’s really a critical flaw) in education/developmental literature that focuses on parental influence on children. While it’s sometimes possible to detect some contribution of shared environmnent to phenotypical variation, it’s almost always a distant third factor. As counterintuitive as it may seem, when you see a correlation between parents’ political attitudes and their childrens’, the majority of that is due to the fact that they share genes and has little or nothing to do with how the children were raised.

  3. #3 Marc Connor
    July 6, 2006

    I think it was Dr. Johnson who said “Patriotism is loving your country, nationalism is hating everyone else’s”

  4. #4 coturnix
    July 6, 2006

    Not ‘heritability’ – inheritance, a broader concept. And inheritance calculations are based on Hardy-Weinberg (ultimately) which is one of the most unrealistic models in science (though better than some economics models which is why people always ask if economics should be considered science at all).

    There is no evidence that there is genetic component to political orientation and large evidence that parenting methods and environment (including peers) shapes the political ideology of the individual. Intergenerational change from one ideology to another is usually a two-generaiton process, e.g., the born-and-raised conservative “learnes” to become a liberal and tries to provide a nurturing liberal environment for the children who then grow up to be “natural” liberals (e.g., with the ‘internal focus of moral authority’, non-hirerachical view of the world, and other stuff that goes with it).

  5. #5 small and gray
    July 6, 2006

    Well, look, it’s immaterial what you want to call it. The fact of the matter is that a huge amount of evidence reliably shows that the majority of the variance in the vast majority of personality traits and cognitive abilities is due to additive genetic effects. That’s an operational definition that’s hard to quibble with, and it doesn’t get any simpler than that. The fact of the matter is that, on average, identical twins raised apart are much more similar than non-biologically related children raised together (who tend to have almost entirely uncorrelated personalities). This basic finding has been replicated so frequently there’s no longer a serious debate about it (there are plenty of debates as to why it is, on the other hand).

    For a nice review of the literature, see Boomsma et al. (2002, Nature Reviews Genetics). For evidence that political attitudes are heritable, see the Bouchard paper I linked to in my post, or Olson et al. (2001, JPSP). There are plenty of others demonstrating much the same point. Conversely, I don’t know of any behavioral genetics studies that have failed to find a substantial genetic component. But I’d be happy to read any you direct me to. I’m curious as to what body of research you’re referring to when you say there’s “large evidence that parenting methods and evidence shape the political ideology of the individual”. Without controlling for the influence of genes (using behavioral genetic methods), you can’t infer anything from the fact that parents and children tend to have similar political views, because genetic and environmental influences are completely confounded.

    As to the point that changes in ideology take two generations (or more)–that’s perfectly consistent with a genetic explanation, since the genetic overlap with your relatives approximately halves with each generation.

  6. #6 coturnix
    July 6, 2006

    There are several pages of references to the relevant literature in Lakoff’s “Moral POlitics” and Ducat’s “The Wimp Factor”. Chris of Mixing Memory has reviewed a couple of more recent papers as well.

    “Additive genetic effects” is the geneticists-speak for “we don’t know but it is complicated”, i.e., development. Without controlling for the influences of development (and environment) you cannot infer anything about the role of genes.

  7. #7 coturnix
    July 6, 2006

    …and pop-gen math is woefully inadequate to deal with development. Its math a priori assumes that “inheritance” is genetic even if the researchers, when pressed, deny it (knowing better).

  8. #8 Julie Stahlhut
    July 7, 2006

    Wasn’t there a study some years back that showed a large heritable component to “religiosity”? (Religiosity isn’t the same as religion; rather, it has to do with the fervor with which one holds opinions. Two Christians, one fundamentalist and one only barely observant, do not have the same level of religiosity, but an inflexible, preachy fundamentalist and an equally vocal atheist would have similar ranks on the scale.) Of course, “religiosity” can be a moving target, and could be confounded even in well-designed twin studies if children are reared in separate homes with similar cultural backgrounds.

    Just like religion, patriotism can range in intensity from the laid-back (“This country is my home and I’m pretty happy to be living here”) to the virulent (“If you say one word against our government you should be shot or locked up!”), so whether or not there’s an obvious genotype-environment interaction, there’s at least one more axis on the scale to consider.