Two Types of Patriotism

It's not uncommon these days to hear someone on the right side of the political spectrum refer to people on the left side as "America haters." It's a nice way to dismiss any criticism of the United States' policies or behaviors, and current administration in particular, because instead of addressing the criticism, one simply has to say, "They're just saying that because the hate America." Still, I think some people have come to genuinely believe that people on the left hate America, and aren't using the label as a rhetorical device designed to disarm one's opponent. 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 litlte of what I've learned.

The first place I thought to look was the literature on motivated reasoning. There's been a lot of research lately, most of it not very good, attempting to connect political psychology to affect-driven reasoning. Despite the low quality of the research, it's pretty clear that, as in pretty much every other area of our lives, motivated reasoning affects our political views, along with the way we perceive the political views of others. One could probably come up with an explanation of patriotism, at least as it is defined in many circles on the right (as being in opposition to the America hating of the left), as a form of motivated cognition. But that wouldn't tell you much, other than that patriots are human. So I had to look elsewhere.

It turns out that the psychological literature on patriotism specifically is pretty small. There's some work inspired by Adorno, Brunswick, and Levinson's The Authoritarian Personality, but that work sees patriotism as largely associated with authoritarian personality types. Patriotism becomes a unidimensional and, quite frankly, irrational trait. This is the patriotism to which Samuel Johnson refers. After reading some of that literature, I wasn't convinced that it was the only type of patriotism. That would imply that the only form of national attachment is an irrational, authoritarian one, and while I generally don't consider myself a patriot, I know plenty of people who do for reasons that don't seem to be associated with authoritarian impulses. So I kept searching, and came across a paper by Sullivan et al. on the role of patriotism in the 1988 presidential election that presented research supporting my suspicion1. Here's a bit from the abstract:

[P]eople who understand patriotism symbolically, emotionally, or instinctively were susceptible to George Bush's rhetorical appeals to patriotism and the flag. Indeed, these appeals had a strong influence on their vote choice, in favor of Bush. Voters who understood patriotism in alternative ways, however, were not induced by the Bush campaign's rhetorical strategy into voting for Bush for president.

Here we have different concepts of patriotism: symbolic/emotional and other (the other types are not as well defined in the paper). Expanding on this distinction, Herbert Kelman2 has proposed two basic types of patriotism, sentimental and instrumental, along with three subtypes within the two basic types. This table presents his division of the types of patriotism (p. 174)


I know that's hard to see (cursed ScienceBlogs template and its size restrictions!), but for our purposes it will do to simply describe the two basic types of patriotism. Kelman defines sentimental patriotism as "perception of the group as representative of personal identity," and instrumental patriotism as "perception of the group as meeting personal needs an interests." While this division(and the subdivisions) doesn't seem wholly satisfactory, it does line up at least partially with the political landscape described above. People who perceive the nation as representative of their personal identity will be hostile to criticisms of the nation (particularly those that line up with the particular way in which they identify with the nation, as defined by the three subtypes), because they are by extension criticisms of those who identify with the nation, while individuals who perceive thenation as "meeting personal needs and interests" will be quick to criticize the nation when it fails to do so. It's not surprising, then, that some sentimental patriots perceive instrumental patriots as "America haters."

LIke I said, though, this division didn't feel wholly satisfactory to me, so I kept looking, and finally came across a paper by Schatz, Staub, and Lavine titled "On the Varieties of National Attachment: Blind Versus Constructive Patriotism"3. In the rest of this post, I'm going to describe the research presented therein.

Schatz et al. also divide patriotism into two main types: blind and constructive patriotism, and these two types seem to line up almost perfectly with the situation described in the opening paragraph. In this paragraph, they describe the two types:

[B]lind patriotism [is] a rigid and inflexible attachment to country, characterized by unquestioning postitive evaluation, staunch allegiance, and intolerance of criticsm. These factors comprise core elements lf Kelman's "sentimental attachment" to country. In contrast, constructive patriotism refers to an annatchment to country characterized by "critical loyalty, questioning and criticism of current group practices that are driven by a desire for positive change. Both orientations are "patriotic" in the core sense of positive identficiation with feelings of affective attachment to country. However, the blind patriot views national criticism and dissent as inherently disloyal, whereas the constructive patriot does not. Instead, the constructive patriot may criticize and even actively oppose the nation's actions because he or she believes they violate fundamental percepts or are contrary to long-term national interests. (p. 153)

In order to explore the differences between these two types of patriotism, they present a study in which 291 undergrads answered items designed to measure several different attitudes:

  • Blind patriosm (12 items): "It is un-American to criticize this country." "I would support my country right or wrong."
  • Contructive patriotism (7 items): "I express my love for America by supporting efforts at positive change." "I oppose some U.S. policies becaues I care about my country and want to improve it."
  • National attachment (17 items): "I feel a sense of identification and attachment to the people of the United States."
  • Nationalism (6 items): "In view of America's moral and material superiority, it is only right that we should have the biggest say in deciding United Nations policy." "It is important that the U.S. win international sporting competitions like the Olympics."
  • Cultural contamination (3 items): "Widespread adoption in the U.S. of cultural practices from foreign countries would trouble me because it might change or water down American culture too much."
  • Political efficacy (3 items): "I could change things in this country if I really tried."
  • National vulnerability (10 items): "The United States would probably be attacked if it weakened its defenses."
  • Political knowledge (6 items): A quiz of basic knowledge of U.S. politics (e.g., the term length of U.S. senators).
  • Political information gathering: The number of hours per week spent gathering political information during the past month.
  • Political activism: "The number of self-defined 'political activist' behaviors performed during the prior 6 months."
  • Political identity and affiliation: Liberal orconservative and political party affiliation (Republican, Democrat, Independent).

The first thing to look at is whether the two types of patriotism correlated with national attachment. Since patriotism is national attachment, if they're both forms of patriotism, then they should both show large positive correlations. And they both did, though blind patriotism showed a significantly higher correlation with national attachment than constructive patriotism. So, they can both be considered patriotism. Furthermore, the two constructs are orthogonal (only 2% of their variance is shared). Blind patriotism was positively correlated (;;;;; = statistically significant) with nationalism&#134, national vulnerability;;;;;, and cultural contamination&#134, and negatively correlated with political efficacy, political knowledge, political information gathering;;;;;, and political activism&#134. Constructive patriotism, on the other hand, was positively correlated with political efficacy;;;;;, political knowledge, political information gathering&#134, and political activism;;;;;, and negatively correlated with nationalism, national vulnerability, and cultural contamination&#134. Furthermore, blind patriotism was positively correlated with conservativism and self-identification as Republican, while constructive patriotism was not correlated with either political identity or political affiliation.

A second study confirmed these relationships, and also showed that blind patriotism was positively associated with a preference for symbolic (e.g., "Children should learn to say the Pledge of Allegiance in school," or "Renovation of a national monumen") over instrumental (e.g., ""Children should learn about our system of government in school," or "Renovation of a national highway") expressions of patriotism;;;;;, while constructive patriotism was associated with a preference for instrumetnal over symbolic expressions. Furthermore, blind patriotism was associated with selectively exposing oneself to positive information about the United States&#134, while constructive patriots exposed themselves to both positive and negative information.

These two studies provide initial evidence that the two constructs, blind and constructive patriotism, capture two distinct types of patriotism. The associations of the two types of patriotism also help to explain why the "America hater" label has become so popular among some groups on the right. Blind patriotism, which is positively associated with conservativism and Republican political identification, is opposed to criticism of the country. It is also not surprising that blind patriotism has become more visible after the attacks of September 11, 2001 (note that the study was published in 1999), in that blind patriots perceive a higher level of national vulnerability, which could only have been exacerbated by the attacks on New York and Washington D.C., along with the political rhetoric of the "war on terror." The distinction between the two types of patriotism also helps to explain different attitudes towards immigration, as blind patriots are more worried about "cultural contimination" form foriegners, which is reflected in much of the conservative rhetoric on the recently revived issue of undocumented immigrants. Finally, the distinction also helps to explain differing attitudes towards symbolic issues like flag burning. Since blind patriots are more focused on symbolic behaviors than constructive patriots, it's not surprising that many see flag burning as an important political issue. It seems, then, that Schatz et al. have the makings of an empirically valid distinction between two types of patriotism.

1Sullivan, J.L., Fried, A., & Dietz, M.G. (1992). Patriotism, politics, and the presidential election of 1988. American Journal of Political Science, 36(1), 200-234.
2Kelman, H.C. (1997). Nationalism, patriotism, and national identity: Social-psychological dimensions. In D. Bar-Tal & E. Staub (Eds.), Patriotism In the Life of Individuals and Nations, pp. 165-189. Chicago: Nelson-Hall.
3Schatz, R.T., Staub, E., & Lavine, H. (1999). On the varieties of national attachment: Blind versus constructive patriotism. Political Psychology, 20(1), 151-174.


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Chris, have you read Howard Zinn's, "A People's History of the United States"? This issue has come up in almost every American conflict that has seemed unjust, i.e., when people who truly love this country have their patriotism questioned when they raise legitimate objections and formulate constructive debate about our military and political policies.

Yours is a lovely analysis of symbolic vs. constructive patriotism - there should be room in a democracy for both, but consistency with the basic tenets of freedom and democracy are crucial to a unifying dialogue.

It is interesting that constructive patriotism would not be well correllated to one political identification whereas blind patriotism would. I feel like a lot of the popular press on political psychology has slanted it towards this idea of patriotism being directly related to right-left axis, so it is interesting to see it broken down into subgroups.

I read a good book on a related subject called Expert Political Judgement by Robert Tetlock. His thesis is to show that the ability of pundits to be correct or not in their judgements is determined not by right-left affiliation but rather psychological strategy, which he breaks down into the archetypes of the fox and the hedgehog.

The book got me thinking that if we are going to talk about political psychology, we need to be clear about direct effects of affiliation and secondary effects due psychological strategies associated with that affiliation.

I found that fact interesting as well, particularly since so much of the rhetoric of the Republican party is aimed at "blind patriots" (honestly, I don't like that label -- it seems a bit too ideologically loaded; I like "symbolic" or "sentimental" patriot better). It's also clear that, in election years, that rhetoric is very successful. I can't imagine that blind patriots alone could elect Republicans consistently. So apparently constructive patriots on the right/Republican side of the divide aren't as disturbed by blind patriotic rhetoric as those of us on the left, because they keep voting for the people who use it.

The impression I get is that this study may be saying more about current cultural divisions within America than about patriotism per se. The questions may be framed in a way that "liberals" fall by default on one side and "conservatives" on the other. It would be interesting to do a similar study in a more "normal" country which is not a superpower, does not frequently egage in wars, is not targeted by terrorists, does not have a large inmigration problem... etc., and see if the two kinds of patriotism are still discernible.

Alejandro, that explanation would work if it weren't for the fact that constructive patriotism is not correlated with political orientation or party affiliation. It doesn't seem to be a party or orientation-based distinction. It's probably a personality-based distinction.

It might be interesting to carry out such a survey in an area where there are groups based along strongly cultural lines as well as national lines; for example Catalonia in Spain or West and North Wales in the UK. What's interesting in the latter case is that the expected relationship between right and left wing politics is slightly peculiar; the elected representatives and policies of the Welsh Nationalist party are predominantly socialist and liberal in policy, whereas many supporters are probably quite socially conservative. I think that may actually support the hypothesys you're outlining, but I may be wrong.

By Iorwerth Thomas (not verified) on 05 Jul 2006 #permalink

That should be '...quite socially and in some senses politically conservative.' (Memo to self -- preview is my friend.)

By Iorwerth Thomas (not verified) on 05 Jul 2006 #permalink

It's not entirely analogous, but the blind/constructive patriotism distinction reminds me of Carol Dweck's work on people's implicit theories of intelligence. Some people have an "entity view" of intelligence, where intelligence is a fixed internal characteristic, and others have an "incremental view," where intelligence is more malleable. People with an entity view tend to be more threatened by failure, and to avoid evidence that would imply that they are not intelligent, while people with an incremental view are more likely to seek challenges and work to overcome failures.

One of the disanalogies between this and the Schatz et al. theory of patriotism is that (I believe) the two views of intelligence are supposed to be opposite ends of the same scale, rather than two separate constructs.

What a great article, thanks! Chris is right about 'blind' being too loaded of a word, even if it seems appropriate to constructive patriots.
The best part is that this article completely describes the mix of my emotions about patriotism in my own posting.

add nio nman pow aq...hehehe

By grazielle (not verified) on 18 Jun 2007 #permalink

<< For me, this raises interesting questions about what patriotism is, and as a psychologist, questions about the psychological makeup of a patriot. >>

If I were a psychologist, wouldn't it be equally valid to also study the psycological makeup of so called 'America Haters'.
Isn't hate an irrational emotional response in psychology?
Hey, I'm just saying...

Chris, I am a student and writing a paper on Patriotism. English is not my native language, so I wonder if you would recommend one of your listed sources above, that you believe would be easy to comprehend and use for the essay? I would appreciate it a lot!
Thank you in advance!

I disagree with the characterization of symbolic/emotional. I get pissed thinking about someone tearing up the Constitution, or calling it just a piece of paper.

I technically agree that it's a piece of paper, but when someone uses that phrase as an excuse to declare the laws therein worthless, that rouses my emotion.

and I'm not even touched by Bush's rhetoric. Forgot to finish that thought, sorry.