[pey-tree-uh-tiz-uhm or, especially Brit., pa-]

Patriotism is commonly defined as love of and/or devotion to one's country. The word comes from the Latin patria, and Greek patris, πατρίς. However, "patriotism," or the love of one's country, has come to have different meanings over time. Thus, the meaning of patriotism can be highly dependent upon context, geography and philosophy.

Although patriotism is presently used in certain vernaculars as a synonym for nationalism, nationalism is not considered an inherent part of patriotism. Among the ancient Greeks, patriotism is comprised of notions concerning language, religious traditions, ethics, law and devotion to the common good, rather than pure identification with a nation-state. Scholar J. Peter Euben writes that for the Greek philosopher Socrates, "patriotism does not require one to agree with everything that his country does and would actually promote analytical questioning in a quest to make the country the best it possibly can be.

During the 18th century Age of Enlightenment, the notion of patriotism continues to be separate from the notion of nationalism. Instead, patriotism is defined as devotion to humanity and beneficence. For example, providing charity, criticizing slavery, and denouncing excessive penal laws is considered patriotic. In both ancient and modern visions of patriotism, individual responsibility to fellow citizens is an inherent component of patriotism.

Many contemporary notions of patriotism are influenced by 19th century ideas about nationalism. During the 19th century, "being patriotic" becomes increasingly conflated with nationalism, and even jingoism. However, some notions of contemporary patriotism reject nationalism in favor of a more classic version of the idea of patriotism which includes social responsibility.

Contemporary notions of patriotism

Contemporary scholar of ethics, Paul Gomberg, has compared patriotism to racism. He argues that the primary implication of patriotism in ethical theory is that a person has more moral duties to fellow members of the national community, than to non-members. Patriotism is therefore selective in its altruism. Gomberg notes the view (in ethics) that moral duties apply equally to all humans is known as cosmopolitanism.

Patriotism implies a value preference for a specific civic or political community. Universalist beliefs reject such specific preferences, in favor of an alternative, wider, community. In the European Union, thinkers such as Habermas, however, have advocated a European-wide patriotism, but patriotism in Europe is usually directed at the nation-state and often coincides with Euroscepticism.

Some religious believers place their religion above their 'fatherland', often resulting in suspicion and hostility from patriots. Two examples of groups that have experienced this suspicion in the United States are Roman Catholics and Muslims. In the United States and the United Kingdom, Roman Catholics were seen as owing loyalty to the Pope rather than the nation. As a result, the Knights of Columbus (referred to as "the strong right arm of the church" by several Popes) established the virtue of patriotism as one of their four principle virtues. Muslims are sometimes seen as owing loyalty to the Islamic community (ummah) rather than to the nation. Other groups find a conflict between certain patriotic acts and religious beliefs. Jehovah's Witnesses and Mennonites may choose to refuse to engage in certain patriotic acts or to display certain symbols.

Supporters of patriotism in ethics regard it as a virtue. In his influential article "Is patriotism a virtue?" (1984), the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre notes that most contemporary conceptions of morality insist on a blindness to accidental traits like local origin and therefore reject patriotic selectivity. MacIntyre constructs an alternative conception of morality, that he claims would be compatible with patriotism. Charles Blattberg, in his book From Pluralist to Patriotic Politics (2000), has developed a similar conception of patriotism.

A problem with treating patriotism as an objective virtue is that patriotisms often conflict. Soldiers of both sides in a war may feel equally patriotic, creating an ethical paradox. (If patriotism is a virtue, then the enemy is virtuous, so why try to kill them?)

Within nations, politicians may appeal to patriotic emotions in attacking their opponents, implicitly or explicitly accusing them of betraying the country. Minorities may reject a patriotic loyalty and pride, which the majority finds unproblematic. They may feel excluded from the political community, and see no reason to be proud of it. The Australian political conflict about the Black armband view of history is an example. Conservative Prime Minister John Howard, who would undoubtedly describe himself as an Australian patriot, said of it in 1996:

The 'black armband' view of our history reflects a belief that most Australian history since 1788 has been little more than a disgraceful story of imperialism, exploitation, racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination.

In the United States, patriotic history has been criticised for de-emphasising the post-Colombian depopulation, the Atlantic slave trade, the population expulsions and the wars of conquest against Native Americans.

Patriotism is often portrayed as a more positive alternative to nationalism, which sometimes carries negative connotations. Some authors such as Morris Janowitz, Daniel Bar-Tal, or L. Snyder argue that patriotism is distinguished from nationalism by its lack of aggression or hatred for others, its defensiveness, and positive community building. Others, such as Michael Billig or Jean Bethke Elshtain argue that the difference is difficult to discern, and relies largely on the attitude of the labeller.

Patriotism for other countries

There are historical examples of individuals who fought for other countries, sometimes for their independence - for example the Marquis de Lafayette, Tadeusz Kościuszko and Kazimierz Pułaski in the American Revolutionary War, and the "Philhellenes," western Europeans who fought in the Greek War of Independence, notably Lord Byron. Was Lafayette an American patriot, or the Philhellenes Greek patriots? Alasdair MacIntyre would claim that they were not; that these and similar cases are instances of idealism, but not of patriotism. Under this view, Lafayette was only devoted to the ideals of political liberty that underlay the American Revolution, but was not specifically patriotic for America. For MacIntyre, patriotism by definition can only be a preference for one's own country, not a preference for the ideals that a country is believed to stand for. Charles Blattberg's conception of patriotism, however, is more nuanced: to him, a patriot can be critical of his or her country for failing to live up to its ideals.

Patriotism by country

Several surveys have tried to measure patriotism for various reasons. The Correlates of War project found some correlation between War propensity and patriotism.

The results from different studies are time dependent. Patriotism in Germany before WWI ranks at or near the top, whereas today it ranks at or near the bottom of surveys.

The Patriotism Score table below is from the World Values Survey and refers to the average answer for high income residents of a country to the question: "Are you proud to be [insert nationality]?" It ranges from 1 (not proud) to 4 (very proud).

First Survey: 1990-1992

Country Score
Ireland 3.74
USA 3.73
India 3.67
South Africa 3.55
Canada 3.53
Slovenia 3.46
Spain 3.28
Denmark 3.27
Italy 3.25
Sweden 3.22
France 3.18
Finland 3.17
Belgium 3.07
Netherlands 2.93
Germany 2.75
Average 3.26

Second Survey: 1995-1997

Country Score
Venezuela 3.92
South Africa 3.73
USA 3.72
India 3.70
Peru 3.68
Slovenia 3.64
Poland 3.55
Australia 3.54
Spain 3.40
Chile 3.38
Argentina 3.29
Sweden 3.13
Moldova 2.98
Japan 2.85
Russia 2.69
Switzerland 2.59
Lithuania 2.47
Latvia 2.10
Germany 1.37
Average 3.12

See also


Sources and further reading

  • Alasdair MacIntyre, 'Is Patriotism a Virtue?', in: R. Beiner (ed.), Theorizing Citizenship, 1995, State University of New York Press, pp. 209 - 228.
  • Joshua Cohen and Martha C. Nussbaum, For Love of Country: Debating the Limits of Patriotism, Beacon Press, 1996. ISBN 0-8070-4313-3.
  • Jürgen Habermas, “Appendix II: Citizenship and National Identity,” in Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, trans. William Rehg, MIT Press, 1996.
  • Maurizio Viroli, For Love of Country: An Essay on Patriotism and Nationalism, Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-19-829358-5.
  • Daniel Bar-Tal and Ervin Staub, Patriotism, Wadsworth Publishing, 1999. ISBN 0-8304-1410-X.
  • Charles Blattberg, From Pluralist to Patriotic Politics: Putting Practice First, Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-19-829688-6.
  • Igor Primoratz, ed., Patriotism, Humanity Books, 2002. ISBN 1-57392-955-7.
  • Paul Gomberg, “Patriotism is Like Racism,” in Igor Primoratz, ed., Patriotism, Humanity Books, 2002, pp. 105-112. ISBN 1-57392-955-7.
  • Craig Calhoun, Is it Time to Be Postnational?, in Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Minority Rights, (eds.) Stephen May, Tariq Modood and Judith Squires. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004. pp 231-256. Online at
  • George Orwell, “ Notes on Nationalism,” in England Your England and Other Essays, Secker and Warburg, 1953.

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