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”.
I am assuming that this confusion arises from the fact that nationalists tend to refer to themselves as patriots, at least in modern history, as the term “nationalist” has a negative connotation. Their opponents rarely contest such self-definition. The confusion is evident also in this harmless online Quiz (on which I got rated as only 41% American patriot!) which, I believe (or hope), is intentionally satirizing the difference between patriotism and nationalism.
Michael Parenti is quite smart, actually, in his attempt to avoid knee-jerk rejection of his thesis by completely ignoring the term “nationalism” and using Superpatriotism instead. His book is thin, cheap, and well-worth your time and effort. His language is forceful, often funny, clear and to-the-point. Read his book. Yet, the term superpatriotism, no matter how vividly Parenti describes the stark differences from patriotism, suggests the quantitative difference (super + patriotism). Thus, if you have not read the book, you may misunderstand what Parenti’s book is about.
Here, I will go beyond Parenti, and try to explain the differences using Lakoff’s scheme, as well as the extensions of that scheme that I have developed here over the past year on this blog.
Please don’t make me write seven long paragraphs explaining who I am talking about. I am trying to keep it simple here. A third of the country is 100% conservative, i.e., Strict Parent. They have only a nationalist frame and are incapable of comprehending the patriotic frame (though they erroneously use the term to describe themselves). Those people unashamedly reveal their true proto-fascistic colors on Little Green Footballs and Free Republic.
Another third are 100% liberal, i.e., Nurturant Parent (NOT Permissive Parent or Neglectful Parent). They are patriots who are incapable of comprehending the nationalistic mindset – an inability for which there is a price to pay in politics – yet due to a habit of non-thinking about this sometimes exhibit nationalism themselves. You can find such Feng-Shui liberals over on Democratic Underground (DailyKos is much more of a mix/range of ideologies).
The rest of the country are a mix – people who posess both frames and are capable of not just comprehending both, but also switching between the two. It is the mastery of fear-mongering by the GOP last year that constantly invoked the nationalist frame, coupled to an unwillingness or inability of the Kerry team to invoke the patriotic frame, that led many of these “middle of the road” people to vote for Bush though they had no particular liking for him or want Social Security privatized or the country becoming a Christian theocracy.
So, I am talking about people who always, or sometimes, harbor either patriotic or nationalistic feelings – nothing more. I am not naming names, or attaching this to any particular Party (both harbor nationalists to some degree, though ultra-nationalists tend to converge in the GOP), or any particular event (e.g., 9/11 or Iraq). Both worldviews can result in isolationist foreign policies or interventionist foreign policies (a taxonomy of which I proposed here and still wish people would critique, modify or build on it in the comments).
Here, I am looking only at a psychological scaffolding of the two different understandings of what it means to “love one’s country”. While I may use some concrete examples of American nationalism/patriotism, the same scheme should apply to any country in the world. I have certainly met many a Serbian nationalist when I was younger and still living there. Actually, if the psychological analysis is NOT universal and is applicable only to the American case, this would automatically invalidate the thesis.
The Strict Father worldview is based on Moral Order. Moral Order is an essential element of the hierarchical view of the world. A part of that order is a sense of superiority of one’s country in comparison with all other countries.
Both patriots and nationalists want to be proud of their country and want for their country to be “good”. What does it mean “good”? In a hirarchical mindset, the only way to be good is to be “the best”, and the only way to be the best is to be better than other countries.
A nationalist starts with an a priori assumption that his country is the best. A patriot starts with an assumption that his country is good but it can be made better. In order to make it better, the patriot will take a good hard look at his country in order to find deficiences that can be fixed. Also, a patriot does not see the need for his country to be better than others in order to be good, or even the best it can be. It is perfectly OK for other countries to be as good or better – it is not a zero-sum game.
The conservative worldview is competitive. The liberal worldview is cooperative. A nationalist sees all other countries as competitors and potential enemies. A patriot sees all other countries as potential collaborators and friends.
A nationalist believes that the world is a dangerous place that will always remain dangerous. Thus, he is always suspicious of foreigners. A patriot believes that the world is a beautiful place with some problems and dangerous spots, and that hard work by diplomats and good will can make the world a better and safer place.
A nationalist has as his goal a global order in which his country is on top and dominates all other countries. Attempts by other countries to develop their economies, military capabilities, or even sports teams is seen as a threat and as something that has to be squashed immediately, including by force.
A patriot sees his country as one of the leaders in a global order in which all countries and peoples are equal and each try to help each other improve. The goal is the greatest prosperity for the greatest number of people worldwide, and the “goodness” of one’s country is measured in the way it contributes to the improvement of the world and it actively helps others develop. An interactionist mind-set is at work, i.e., the state of the world is not determined by one commanding state, but is a result of interactions between all states.
The role of the UN is to set and enforce the rules of interactions between states, not a competitor for the title of “world controller” – something that a hirerachical mind-set, brought about developmentally through Dobsonian strictfathering, cannot comprehend. This is also why the notion of the “world government” is abhorrent to conservatives – it not just displaces the US from the top of the hierarchy, it also abolishes hirerachy, an ambiguous notion that nationalists have trouble with.
A nation is a social group. A citizen is a member of the in-group. Both patriots and nationalists are angered when the non-members (foreigners) insult the in-group. This is the same as the way only Black people are allowed to use the N-word and only Jews can tell Jewish jokes.
But, while a patriot will listen carefully to the well-meant criticisms from the others, the nationalists equate criticism with insult. Everyone who points at a weekness of one’s country is insulting it and has to be punished for it. While patriots will carefully look at criticisms, no matter where they come from, as tools for improving their homeland, the nationalists instinctively recoil or lash out. They, thus, miss the opportunity to actually do something to make their country better. A corollary of this knee-jerk response is that even members of the in-group, if they voice a critique, are labelled as traitors and advised to leave the group (i.e., emigrate, e.g., “go to France!”).
Nationalists tend not to travel abroad as much. What’s the purpose? Home is the best place on Earth anyway. But when nationalists do travel abroad, they tend to take guided tours, stay at Hilton Hotels, have coffee at Starbucks and food at McDonalds. In other words, they are not allowing themselves to get immersed in a foreign culture – they are afraid of it. They travel within a sealed American capsule with windows through which they can observe the natives the same way they observe animals in a zoo. They have a disdain for the natives and it shows. Those are the kind of people who give “American tourists” such a bad name everywhere – the spoiled, self-important jerks with superiority complexes.
The two groups also have a very different definition of the world “globalization”. The patriots think of globalization as a process of intensification of interactions between states that leads to development of all players and the world as a whole. The process would lead to the leveling the playing field and closing the gap between the world’s richest and poorest countries.
The nationalists think of globalization as “Americanization”, i.e., the forceful opening of borders of other countries so US megabusiness can enter, steal the natural resources, rape the environment, and enslave the people while indoctrinating them with American mythology and culture. The result is a rigid hierarchical structure in which the USA gets richer and the poorest countries get poorer and ever more dependent on the USA for help, thus more pliant and obedient.
In Europe, nationalists of various ethnic stripes tend to play the game of “who was there first”, implying that the total duration of a culture equals quality of that culture. It got so ridiculous in the Balkans in the 1990s that a new terms was coined – Serbamoebas – to mock this race to the origins in the more and more distant past. Serbs are the best because they have been there since the Primordial Soup! You get the joke….
The US is often viewed from Europe in this light – a new kid on the block, thus not someone to be taken seriously. “Immature”, “cowboys”, “3-year old with an atomic bomb” are some of the ways I have heard Americans described by the Europeans. The best way to counter this is with freshness which comes with youth, liberal mindset, openess to new ideas, disrespect for irrational traditions (including religion), thumbing one’s nose at the stodginess of European aristocratic mindset.
But do the American nationalists do that? Hell, no. Instead, they idolize the Founding Fathers, think of the period immediatelly after The Revolutionary War as the Golden Age, treat the Constitution as if it was a sacred text that is to be interpreted strictly the way its authors have meant, ignoring the centuries of history and progress that happened in the meantime (don’t you dare suggest that it should be revised every ten years or so the way all the other countries in the world do). But that is to be expected – the conservative mind thinks of history in terms of decline, thus the earliest period in one’s history was the best and yearning to turn back the clock comes naturally.
Since the Founding Fathers lived hunreds, even thousands of years AFTER the founders of most other countries in the world, the “duration of culture” argument works against the US supreme moral position in the world. What can nationalists invoke instead? The only remaining things are “we are the richest country in the world” as if wealth has anything to do with moral authority (of course it does in Strict Father mindset) and “we have the most powerful military in the world and will kick your asses” (the might makes right argument) – an American myth that is being shattered in Iraq and Afghanistan (as well as in recruting offices of the Army) right now.
Yes, the US military force is stronger than any other single country’s force, but it is not stronger than a combined force of two or more countries, not to mention the whole world (which is disturbed by our behavior and is thinking about Plan B: the Russians and the Chinese have already discussed mutual defense against guess-who). It is also a professional military which means that soldiers want to come back home “after work” – they are fighting for abstract ideals or political goals thousands of miles away from home while their spouses are watching “Desparate Housewives” in full safety of their homes. The motivation is low. Those people who are actually fighting to defend their own homes and families have nothing to lose – they are willing to die to defend it, and no amount of glitzy technology can overpower the willingness of a soldier to die.
There is also a sexual component of nationalism which Stephen Ducat explores in depth in his “The Wimp Factor” in which it is essential for an anxious male never to be perceived as a “bottom” and much of war rhetoric has (homo)sexual connotations, i.e., turning the foreigner into a “bottom”.
Taken in light of Lakoff’s scheme, there certainly appears to be a qualitative, not quantitative difference between nationalism and patriotism. Any thoughts?
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