Wednesday, April 15, 2009


According to the Oxford English Dictionary -ism is defined as a suffix that forms nouns that

  • Denote an action or its result
  • Denote a system, principle, or ideological movement
  • Denote a basis for prejudice, discrimination, a peculiarity, or condition

For those who have been patient, I will now begin a discussion of the -isms.

I. Patriotism or Nationalism?

Patriotism is an act of being patriotic. Patriotic is an adjective, patriotism is a noun. According to Oxford, a patriot, a noun representing a person who shows patriotism, is "a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it." The word originates from the Latin patriota, meaning "countryman", and the Greek patris, meaning, "father."

Oxford defines Nationalism as "a patriotic feeling, often to an excessive degree." Further, it is "an advocacy of political independence for a particular country."

Patriotism and Nationalism are closely related and are often confused. From the definitions above, it is simple to see that all nationalists are patriots, but not all patriots are nationalists. The key above is in the definition of Nationalism, in particular the words an excessive degree.

What is "an excessive degree?" Since we're in the dictionary, let's check it. Excessive is an adjective that indicates what is more than is necessary, normal, or desirable.

What this indicates is that Nationalism is as the definitions indicate -- patriotism gone extreme.
Whether or not this evolution of patriotism into nationalism is good is a topic for debate. It, of course, depends on the behavior being scrutinized.

What are these behaviors?

Patriotism, as mentioned above, is vigorous support of one's country and a desire to defend it. How does one show vigorous support? What exactly does this mean?

Vigorous support of one's country is acceptance of the country's values and laws and the country's mission and place on the political world stage. Patriotic citizens will express this love of country using symbols and actions, for example, waving flags on independence days, volunteering for the army, and voting. In his book Laws and Social Norms, Eric Posner states that:

"Patriotic behavior can be a signal that one belongs to the good type. The reason is that typical patriotic behavior - volunteering for the army, joining rallies and parades, waving the flag, voting - does not satisfy preferences that most ordinary people have, as everyone recognizes. No one displays the American flag outside his or her house on July 4 for the sheer aesthetic joy of it. If one really thought that the flag was uniquely beautiful and enhanced the appearance of one's house, one would display the flag every day, not just on July 4. This is not to say that patriotic behavior is always a clear signal. In the past the army attracted adventurers and today it supplies valuable training. But when people join the army in a time of war, most expose themselves to costs that exceed whatever gains might be expected. Similarly, joining a parade might be fun independently of its patriotic meanings; but to join a parade during, say, the Vietnam War, or during Veteran's Day in the pouring rain, is not intrinsically enjoyable for most people. In this way, patriotic behavior is like gift-giving, where there is always some ambiguity whether the donor acts from altruism ( in which case the signal is costless and therefore meaningless) or from a desire to reveal type." [Eric Posner, Law and Social Norms, p. 113]
What this means is that patriotism is a range of behavior from something non-threatening (e.g. flag waving on a holiday) to something terminal (e.g. volunteering to die for your country). What truly defines the patriotic act is what these expressed actions are celebrating. For example, I think everyone in the United States of America would say that, as an ideal, the United States recognizes freedom for all of its citizens, a place where all world cultures can come together and make something greater (i.e. the synergy of the "great melting pot"), and is the representative leader on the world stage for freedom and peace.

This is what is working behind the scenes in the mind when one stands and recites the Pledge of Allegiance, places one's hand over one's heart and sings the National Anthem, launches fireworks on Independence Day, or places flowers on a loved-one's grave on Memorial Day. It is a love and acceptance of the nation's mission and world role (e.g. the last bastion of individual freedom), a desire to protect it for posterity, and respect for those who have sacrificed for the bounty of freedom which one has. This is patriotism.

For example, I can stand up and firmly say that I love the United States of America because I believe in the Bill of Rights. I believe for all to be truly free, they need a Bill of Rights. I am not a warmonger, and I hope to go my entire life without causing harm to another, but, in the face of invasion, I would kill for and am prepared to die for these Rights. This is patriotism.

Loving your country, supporting its secular values (helping and educating others need not be a spiritual value), and defending these values is patriotism.

Nationalist behavior, on the other hand, can be quite different. In the book Introduction To Political Psychology by Cottam, Dietz-Uhler, Mastors, and Preston, Chapter 8 discusses Nationalistic behavior and the causes of Nationalism.

In this chapter the authors discuss that social identity theory is an explanation for nationalism. In social identity theory, people have a desire to belong to groups for security and identity, and thus form outside groups, which in turn solidify the membership to the group to which they belong.

What this means is that people define themselves by a common trait or sets of common traits, and individuals who do not exhibit these traits are outsiders.

The authors in chapter 8 discuss of the behaviors of nationalists:

  • They are highly competitive with people and nations as a group, to the point of feeling superior.
  • They are committed to their nation as a group
  • They perceive themselves as better than their comparison groups
  • They are highly sensitive and will sacrifice themselves for their nation as a whole
  • They have very strong positive emotions for their nation and very strong negative emotions for out-groups
  • They, when times are good, associate their positive existence to their nation's ability, cause, or right
  • They, when times are bad, associate their negative existence with scapegoats, out-groups in their nation-state, blaming them for the miserable turn
  • They express a high desire for loyalty and obedience in the group, with tremendous pressure to conform

Further, the authors explain that "nationalistic behavior resembles crowd behavior, in that there is a low tolerance for differing views; oversimplification; diminished personal responsibility; a reluctance to consider alternate views, a readiness to act out; a sense of being endowed with unrivaled power, which makes people less critically minded; intensified emotional reactions; and feelings of persecution."

The dangers of nationalism are clear.

Nationalism, when contrary to the mission of the nation, is detrimental to the nation, and in insult to the patriotic system in which it is rooted.

So go out and wave the flag. Voice that you love the United States of America. Help the underprivileged. Fight for one's right to say something you disagree with. Hug a veteran. This is patriotism in the United States.

Forcing conformity by declaring someone not patriotic, stifling freedoms (speech, religion, or otherwise), blaming others for the nation's mistakes as a whole, and bringing outside groups or nations under the governance of your group or nation, for any reason other than helping that group or nation return to a former, steady state of its own, is nationalism. This is patriotism to the degree that it contradicts itself.

It is up to you to determine whether you think nationalism is a good thing. However, I think when nationalism progresses to the point of destroying its own patriotic foundation, it has gone too far. Case in point -- The USA Patriot Act.

Our nation is at its core the Bill of Rights. The constitution exists as a declaration of how our nation is to be governed, but our nation as a whole is defined by the Bill of Rights.

  1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
  2. A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
  3. No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
  4. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
  5. No person shall be held to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
  6. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
  7. In suits of common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
  8. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
  9. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
  10. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

There are a few other amendments to the U.S. Constitution that I feel should be added to the conceptual "Bill of Rights."

  • 13th Amendment: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
  • 14th Amendment: All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law, which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
  • 15th Amendment: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
  • 19th Amendment: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
  • 24th Amendment: The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.
  • 26th Amendment: The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

I love these rights given me. I love my country. I am patriotic.

Following the tragic events of September 11th, 2001, patriotism became nationalism.

The USA Patriot Act was passed on October 26, 2001. This Act expands the ability of law enforcement to conduct secret searches, surveillance, access to medical, financial, mental, and student records, without warrants and with little oversight. American citizens may be investigated without warrants for "intelligence purposes." Non-citizens (not illegals) may be jailed on suspicion, and can be denied readmission to the United States for exercising their right to free speech. Suspects convicted of no crime may be detained indefinitely in six-month increments.

The sections of the Act in discussion are Sections 201 through 225.

The rights trashed by the patriot act? The first, fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth, and fourteenth.

There was a followup to the USA Patriot Act, called the USA Patriot Act 2, Son of Patriot, or the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003. This act was denied until it was leaked, at which time Attorney General Ashcroft denied it was "in the works," yet stated it was desirable.

As far as I know. This act went nowhere. Fortunately. What scares me the most, however, is that it is what the government wanted, and lost, because they had their hand "caught in the cookie jar." The USA Patriot Act 2 was a frightening proposition. You can research it on the Internet or at your library and see for yourself.

Both of these acts are contradictory to the Bill of Rights. Is this patriotism? It was certainly advertised to the public as such. Truthfully, it wasn't. How could it have been? It was destroying the very foundation of United States society. Yet it was patriotic? Not in my opinion. It was an attempt to gain control by exploiting fear and a nationalistic sense of urgency.

  • You cannot love and respect your country's freedom of speech by practicing censorship.
  • You cannot love and respect your country's freedom of religion by declaring a religious state.
  • You cannot love and respect your country's social integration by regulation of a national language and national values.
  • You cannot be patriotic to your nation by destroying your nation's founding principles.

PATRIOTISM AND NATIONALISM. Can you tell the difference? Which do you see when you turn on the TV or radio, or read the newspaper or Internet? To which do you agree? Why?

Benjamin Franklin once said that those who give up essential liberty to gain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. Later interpretation states it clearly:

Any society that would relinquish liberty in the pursuit of security will gain neither and lose both.

This is my point. Nationalism, while patriotism to an excessive degree, is harmful, and should be avoided.


Cottam, Dietz-Uhler, Mastors, and Preston. Introduction to Political Psychology,. Lawrence Elrbaum Associates, Inc., 2004. ISBN 0-8058-3770-1.

Posner, Eric A. Law and Social Norms. President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2000. ISBN 0-674-00156-7.

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