Questions on Nationalism vs. Patriotism


Last night’s discussion about America’s July 4th celebrations did not seem on target, for me, for some reason. I have not been able to figure out what was bothering me until just now. I am going to try to articulate what I mean, accurately:

While the class was analyzing a typical July 4th parade, it seemed to me that we were describing patriotism, not nationalism. Some patriotic Americans celebrate the 4th of July because they love their country, and they want to commemorate the event. However, I don’t think that is the same thing as nationalism. In fact, I’m not sure that Americans have experienced nationalism in a very, very long time (at least since the Revolutionary War, perhaps the Civil War).

Also, our discussion of the memorials that sprung up after 9-11 at all of the locations where we were attacked sounded much like patriotism, as well. We, as Americans, united after the attacks, we put up our flags and exhibited our patriotism, but I’m not sure that what was exhibited was nationalism. So, what’s the distinction?

My understanding of nationalism is that it has something to do with a movement to strengthen (or expand) borders, or to propagate (or, better, sustain) a national ideal that may be crumbling or weakened. I feel like nationalism is somehow related to rousing the masses to political action in the face of impending military action (again, to expand borders or regain lost territory, perhaps). I’m thinking here of Hitler when he roused the German masses to garner support for his military action to regain the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia; it was nationalism, the proud feeling of being more German than Czech, that helped that movement succeed.

I don’t think that Americans have been in this situation in the recent history of America. All of the examples of nationalism that we discussed in class, I think are really patriotism. I guess I can’t get my mind around this idea because American national borders are not threatened, (at least not by any country’s military) and there aren’t any Americans abroad fighting to regain American territory that was lost to another country (as in the case of Poland in the 17th century).

One Response to “Questions on Nationalism vs. Patriotism”

  1. Misha Griffith says:

    Be careful with confusing nationalism, patriotism, and (to use that great old fashioned word) Jingoism. Brubaker’s idea was that nationalism is a process of analysis. Patriotism and jingoism are methods of expressing one’s feelings, beliefs, and commitment to one’s nation. And yes, we have experienced a lot of that since September 11, 2001. But that isn’t our only connection to our nation. What about education? We all had to take classes in high school on American History, citizenship, and government. Isn’t that a method of molding children into good citizens and constructive members of our nation? We as Americans display our ready-made symbol-our flag, with great frequency and with special pomp. In other countries flag displays are not as common, and are usually reserved for government buildings, military uniforms, etc.
    The events we have covered in class are examples of contrived situations. That’s not to be-little them. It just means the historians are choosing to cover certain periods for which they can find evidence. And yes, those events usually come with patriotic accoutrement. We can find evidence for how those events were performed, but unless we have extra-ordinary reporting from the man on the street, we cannot very well comment on how the audience received the information. So we can easily see patriotism, but it is much harder to find out how nationalism is instilled. We are just scratching the surface when we speak of monuments, statues, and parades. What, besides visual displays and education, works to inculcate the attitudes necessary for a cohesive nation?