Patriotism and Nationalism

Veteran’s Day is one of our national holidays that tends to go without fanfare. We don’t see streets covered in Veteran’s Day decorations. Stores that bring out costumes, turkeys and snowmen months before they are needed, don’t go out of their way to stock more American flags or clothes promoting military branches. It's a day to thank those who serve the United States; the anniversary of the armistice of World War I. It's a day that reminds us that American ideals aren't protected for free. 

When I think about holidays like Veteran’s Day, I think about patriotism. There tends to be confusion about the word patriotism and how it differs from nationalism. "Merriam-Webster Dictionary" defines patriotism as "the love for or devotion to one's country."  The same dictionary defines nationalism as "a feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their country often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries."

Generally speaking, there's a nasty taste in people’s mouths, when they talk about nationalism. I wrote a paper once that focused on the roots of nationalism and patriotism and whether or not either concept could be said to be “bad”. I surveyed various people to gauge how patriotic and nationalistic they were.

Here are some of the results:

  • Citizenship: 96.3%  of the respondents have United States citizenship, of that percent seven hold dual citizenship.

  • Age: Most respondents were born between 1994 - 1998. The youngest respondent was born in 2002 and the eldest in 1968.

  • Voter Registration: Of those eligible, 85.2% are registered to vote.

  • Knowledge of the Pledge of Allegiance: most people know (90.7%) or at least kind of know it (7.4%). No respondents reported not knowing the Pledge at all.

  • The National Anthem: 50% said they like it, 40.7% said ‘it is ok’, and 9.3% said they do not like it at all.

  • Satisfaction with the U.S: 29.6% are satisfied, 37% are satisfied compared to other countries, 29.6% admitted to thinking the country ‘needs work’, and only  3.7% said they are not satisfied.

  • U.S. manufactured products or foreign manufactured products:  59.3% would buy a U.S. made product over a comparable foreign one and only 3.7% prefer buying foreign products. The remaining 37% are indifferent as  to where the product comes from as long as they can get it on Amazon.

Respondents were also asked how important they believed the concepts things listed in the table below, are to the United States population today (1 being ‘not important’ and 5 being ‘extremely important’). The data below shows the number of people out of 54 who rated each thing a 5.   

     Respect for the Armed Forces: 29

     Respect for Federal Law: 20

     Respect for Cultural Tradition: 26

     Immigrant Policy: 25

     Social Justice: 27

     National Pride: 21                                                             

Why does any of this matter? The way decision makers assess situations and the way choices are perceived by the public are affected by nationalism and patriotism. The way events in history are viewed changes based on the political and social context. Fighting terrorism, economic strategy, Peacekeeping Missions and airline flights are all products of national interest and country-to-country relationships. Nationalism plays a role in the leaders elected, the laws passed and the protests ignited. It's important to remember how crucial a definition of a concept can be and how subject connotations are to change.

Nationalism, like patriotism, isn't a concept that we should shy away from or a characteristic we should be ashamed of in and of itself. The point at which the principles of American democracy are reduced to mere boasting and bullying, justified by a cynical ‘realism’, is the point at which the practice of American democracy, at home as well as abroad, is in mortal danger. It's also the point at which the best of the exceptionalism in the American tradition has been corrupted into the worst (Godfrey Hodgson).

“People aren't really afraid of my views. They are just afraid of the word 'nationalism.” - Alexei Navalny