Nationalism vs. Patriotism

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Nationalism vs. Patriotism

And now you know why this blog is so obscure—who thinks about this stuff, anyway?!

Well, I do.

And some other smart people, like the folks at National Review.  These guys are a lot smarter than I will ever be, and have delved into this stuff a lot deeper than I have/will/can.  Let me just put it out there right now:  I’m a Christian, so the Bible is my standard for all things faith.  Likewise, I’m a die-hard conservative (ideologically, as well as theologically), so National Review is my “bible,” if you will, for all things conservative.  With the difference being that very, very occasionally I will disagree with one or more of the writers at National Review.  I don’t do that with the Bible.

Right now you’re probably thinking “I’d really like a cinnamon muffin with my beer.”  No, wait, that’s what I’m thinking.  No, you are probably thinking, “So what?  Why am I wasting my time reading this crap when I could be posting argumentative comments about Lady Gaga’s political/a-political halftime performance with someone on Facebook?”  To which I would respond, “If you give a rats a—about Lady Gaga (in the abstract), why are you here?”  But I digress.  My point was really that the editors at National Review have been arguing back and forth about nationalism versus patriotism (see, i.e. here, here, here, here, and here), and it has given me heartburn pause to consider the two.

The problem is that the two terms are frequently used synonymously, and they are really, in fact, not synonymous, though they are very, very closely related.  With apologies to Noah Webster, I have tentatively concluded that nationalism is defined as love of country because it is your country.  A nationalist would love America because he is an American.  It is almost an accident of birth, though I would point out that he could as easily (after birth—which is not the same as afterbirth) choose to live in Venezuela because he loves Venezuela more than America, and Venezuela would be the object of his nationalism.  It’s a function of geography and “chance,” if you will—I’m an American so I love America.  The consequence to that is that American nationalism will love everything American, more or less unmoored to any greater principle or belief system.  America is the belief system.  I should add, too, that nationalism is a relative term—it has no meaning, apart from comparison with some other nation.  In other words, if we had One World Order, nationalism would cease to have any meaning, because there would be nothing to love the OWO more than, and nothing to consider inferior to the OWO.  Nationalism is only relevant if there’s at least one other nation to deem inferior.  America can’t just be great—it has to be greater.

Contrast that with patriotism, which I have likewise tentatively defined as love of country because of what it stands for.  So, a patriot would love America because America stands for self-determination, and liberty, and capitalism (for now), and religious freedom, and equal rights for women and minorities, and so forth.  Think about our national anthem, which speaks of freedom and bravery, and our Pledge of Allegiance which speaks of faith (“under God”), unity (“indivisible”), liberty, and justice for all.  Patriotism is nationalism grounded in an ideology.  So, an Iranian could—could, I say—be nationalistic, in that he or she loves the Persian people, culture, heritage, history, etc.  But that same person could at the same time fail to be patriotic because Iran, right now, stands for religious and social repression, regional dominance, inherent and systemic dishonesty, socialism, and so much other abhorrent detrius.  I strongly suspect that many, many Iranians are in exactly that position.  However, I should point out that there are likely some Iranians—particularly those who serve in government or Islamic church positions—that may actually value theocratic socialism and all it represents and holds dear.  That person would be considered patriotic.  Patriotism is not relative—because it is grounded in principle, and not in comparison, someone could be patriotic in our hypothetical OWO, without being nationalistic.

This, of course, would have been an entirely academic discussion prior to the election of Donald J. Trump.  However, since he arguably assumed the presidency on the back of nationalism, it becomes a very real and important discussion, because it goes to the heart of why Trump was elected, and what the people who put him in office are going to let him do while he’s there.  If they are nationalistic, they will let him do anything that he says “makes America great again”(™).  However, if they are patriotic, they will watch carefully to determine if his actions are truly making America great because of what has historically made America great—its values—or simply makes us feel good about “winning.”  There’s a huge difference.  Russia “won” Crimea.  I’m sure they feel pretty good about that.  China is “winning” the war for the South China Sea.  North Vietnam “won” the entire country.  Plenty of nationalism there.  American nationalism is not bad, but unbridled by patriotism, it could result in a fundamental change in our country.

Wait—that’s what the last guy campaigned on!


Scott Gosnell founded Pros and Cons in 2003. He also has a day job as a practicing attorney in Birmingham, Alabama, which explains his complete irresponsibility with regards to his blogging schedule. In a former life he worked in several churches as a youth minister, where he was forced to do unspeakable things like chew ABC gum (Already Been Chewed), bob for liver (uncooked), and participate in condiment wrestling. Hey, would you look at that – I guess they are speakable. In addition to the practice of law, Scott is a certified law enforcement officer with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and the Alabama Historical Ironworks Commission, and a tactical firearms instructor. Scott and his wife, Donna, have three children, Caleb, Hannah Beth, and Austin. He also has a dog named Sierra and a cell phone named Curtis.

1 Comment

  1. Kristina says:

    Saved as a favorite, I like your blog!

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