chauvinism, word derived from the name of Nicolas Chauvin, a soldier of the First French Empire. Used first for a passionate admiration of Napoleon, it now expresses exaggerated and aggressive nationalism. As a social phenomenon, chauvinism is essentially modern, becoming marked in the era of acute national rivalries and imperialism beginning in the 19th cent. It has been encouraged by mass communication, originally by the cheap newspaper. Chauvinism exalts consciousness of nationality, spreads hatred of minorities and other nations, and is associated with militarism, imperialism, and racism. In the 1960s, the term "male chauvinist" appeared in the women's liberation movement; it is applied to males who refuse to regard females as equals.

Chauvinism is extreme and unreasoning partisanship on behalf of a group to which one belongs, especially when the partisanship includes malice and hatred towards a rival group. A frequent contemporary use of the term in English is male chauvinism, which refers to the belief that men are superior to women.


The term is derived from Nicolas Chauvin, a semi-mythical soldier under Napoleon Bonaparte who served in the French Revolution (1798–1800) and the Napoleonic Wars. Despite the unpopularity of Bonapartism in Restoration France, Chauvin was an ardent supporter and was often seen wearing a violet in his lapel, the symbol of his deposed Emperor. He remained fanatically loyal despite his poverty, disability, and the abuse he suffered.

Many writers and historians falsely attribute to Chauvin the exploits of other Bonapartists. It is claimed that he served in the Old Guard at Waterloo, which is unlikely considering his age and the severity of his disabilities. When the Old Guard was surrounded and made its last stand at La Belle Alliance, he supposedly shouted in defiance to a call for their honorable surrender: "The Old Guard dies but does not surrender!", implying blind and unquestioned zealous devotion to one's country [or other group of reference]. This apocryphal phrase is actually attributed to the Old Guard's commander, who was also supposed to have answered "Merde!" ("Shit!"). Recent historical research has revealed that the Old Guard were never asked by the British and Allied forces whether they wanted to surrender and never asked for quarter; therefore both quotes are believed false.

The origin and early usage indicate that chauvinisme was coined to describe excessive nationalism, which the original French term continues to do. The term entered public use due to a satirical treatment of Chauvin in the French play La Cocarde Tricolore (The Tricolore Cockade).

Chauvinism as nationalism

In "Imperialism, Nationalism, Chauvinism", in The Review of Politics 7.4, (October 1945), p. 457, Hannah Arendt describes the concept:

The word does not require a judgment that the chauvinist is right or wrong in his or her opinion, only that he or she is blind and unreasoning in coming to it, ignoring any facts which might temper his or her fervor. In modern use, however, it is often used pejoratively to imply that the chauvinist is both unreasoning and wrong.

Chauvinism as sexism

Male chauvinism is a term used to describe the attitude that men are superior to women. The term was widely used by the feminist movement in the 1960s to describe men who believe or display an attitude that women are inferior to men, speak to women as inferiors, or treat women negatively based solely upon their gender. Female chauvinism is a less common term used to describe the symmetrical attitude that women are superior to men.

The term "female chauvinism" has been adopted by some critics of some types of feminism. These critics claim, for example, that in some gender feminist views, all men are considered irreconcilable rapists, wife-beating brutes, and useless as partners to women or as fathers to children. Ariel Levy used the term in different sense in her book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, in which she claims that many young women in the United States are replicating male chauvinism and sexist stereotypes.

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