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Nationalism and Patriotism

A repost from July 6, 2006:

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 The Urban Scientist
    September 18, 2008

    I’m not sure if I’m either, but that doesn’t make me any less “American”. What does it mean when someone accuses you of being un-American? Dor other Nations levy similar charges – un-French, un-Norwegian, un-Angolan, un-British

    if it ends in an or ish it sounds better, un-French, just doesn’t sound right , how about un-Franco-vian.

    yeah, still sounds ridiculous.