From Free net encyclopedia

Image:Statue X DSC08329.JPG

Patriotism denotes positive attitudes by individuals to their own civic or political community, and to actions towards other countries, or to non-civic groups, are not generally described as 'patriotic', and they may be referred to by a specific name, such as pro-Greek philhellenism.

To some, patriotism has connotations of self-sacrifice, implying that the individual should place the interests of the community above their personal interests, and in extreme cases their lives. In wartime, patriotism as so understood is assumed to be the main driving force for participation in military operations, certainly if it is voluntary. In this context patriotism is seen as an explanation for the apparent suspension of the instinct for self-preservation, which implies that all humans would avoid a battlefield.

Others, however, associate patriotism with the common good, with the aim of responding to conflicts in ways which ensure that everyone benefits. As such, patriotism has ethical connotations: it implies that the political community is in some way a moral standard or moral value in itself. The expression my country right or wrong - a misquotation of the American naval officer Stephen Decatur (but actually attributable to Carl Schurz, a nineteenth century German revolutionary who later immigrated to the United States)- is the extreme form of this belief. The primary implication of patriotism in ethics is that a person has more moral duties to fellow members of the political community, as distinct from non-members. There is no specific name for this doctrine, but there is for its opposite: ethical cosmopolitanism is the doctrine that no distinction should be made among humans, in the degree of moral obligation.

The term patriotism is generally used in the context of an already existing political community. It can be voluntary and emotional empathy, and it can be officially promoted by the government - usually both. National sentiments often dovetail with the patriotic, but they should not be confused, since national communities are unlike civic or political ones in that they are, for the most part, located within civil society rather than in and around the state. National movements are also concerned with the state, however, especially when it is felt that the national community has not been sufficiently recognized by the state, with the consequence that the nation cannot be considered wholly free. What often then arises are national liberation movements, such as Irish Republicanism, Basque and Québécois seperatism. In Northern Ireland two parallel national cultures co-exist, one Irish-Republican and one pro-British unionist. In Belgium, pro-Belgian patriotism is weak, while the nationalism of the country`s nations are strong.

The opposite of patriotism consists of the corruption often referred to by such classical republican thinkers as Aristotle and Machiavelli, in which citizens are more concerned with their personal and group interests than with the common good of the political community as a whole. In practice, many patriots would see treason as the 'opposite of patriotism'.


Types of patriotism

Three forms of patriotism can be distinguished. The first is personal patriotism, which is emotional and voluntary. The patriot in this sense adheres to certain patriotic values, such as respect for the flag. However, patriots often insist that the entire citizenry shares adherence to these values. It is structurally similar to other values ideologies and movements, such as the family values movement. The political expression, in both cases, consists of campaigns to legally enforce the values in question. Two proposed amendments to the United States Constitution illustrate the similarity: one enforces Christian values and would effectively prohibit same-sex marriage, one enforces patriotic values and would forbid flag-burning.

In any case, governments always promote an official patriotism which has a high symbolic and ceremonial content. It is a logical consequence of the state itself, which derives legitimacy from being the expression of the common good of the political community. National monuments, and veterans days and commemoration ceremonies are typical examples. For various reasons, the government may also launch a ‘patriotism campaign’, to promote identification with the state and its symbols.

Image:PatriotismUSAMagnet.png Patriotism relies heavily on symbolic acts, such as displaying the flag, singing the national anthem, participating in a mass rally, placing a patriotic bumper sticker on one's vehicle, or any other way of publicly proclaiming allegiance to the state. Symbolic patriotism in wartime is intended to raise morale, in turn contributing to the war effort. Peacetime patriotism can not be so easily linked to a measurable gain for the state, but the patriot does not see it as inferior. Saluting the flag is considered equally patriotic, if it is done every morning at a government office, or under enemy fire on the battlefield.

Levels of patriotism vary across time, and among political communities. Typically, patriotic intensity is higher when the state is under external threat. In the United States, personal patriotic expression is ubiquitous. Although many forms of symbolic patriotic expression originated in older western European nations, they are now less pervasive there. Patriotism in western Europe often has specific anti-immigration connotations, and the historical perspective on nationalism and war is shaped by the destruction in World War II. However, in the zone of the most recent wars, in the states of former Yugoslavia, patriotic emotions are still intense.

Death in battle for the homeland is the archetype of extreme patriotism. Less dramatic forms of patriotism include a wide range of attitudes, expressions, and acts. In wartime they can be directly correlated to military necessity: the home front supports the army, and individual effort contributes to military success.

The ethics of patriotism

Patriotism consists of a both rational and emotional support for the civic or political community. Others reject such communities, however, given their specificity. For example, like cosmopolitans, some Islamists despise patriotism as un-Islamic. The loyalty of the Muslim, they say, can only be to the Ummah, the community of all Muslims. In the European Union, patriotism usually coincides with Euroscepticism, and may therefore be rejected on pro-European grounds. Thinkers such as Habermas, however, have advocated a European-wide patriotism.

Patriots can certainly argue amongst themselves, proffering different interpretations of the common good. In some countries such disputes are driven by the fact that a minority feels excluded from the whole and so asserts that there is no reason to be proud of it. The Australian political conflict about the Black arm band theory of history is a classic example. It concentrates on the suffering of Indigenous Australians during the British colonisation of Australia. 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, explicitly patriotic history has been consistently criticised for its de-emphasising the post-Colombian depopulation, the Atlantic slave trade, the population expulsions and the wars of conquest against Native Americans. One of the challenges of treating patriotism as a virtue, is that specific patriotisms conflict. The near-hopeless defence of the Netherlands against the May 1940 invasion by Nazi Germany provided an example of military patriotism - Dutch soldiers giving their lives to defend their country. Yet many of the invading Nazi soldiers doubtless felt, too, that they were engaged in a patriotic act, in this case on behalf of a German Reich that has been conflated with the nation. Many of them had been indoctrinated in a form of unquestioning nationalism during their teenage years, while they were members of the Hitler Youth. It is now generally accepted (also in Germany) that the invasion had no justification, and to the extent that patriotism facilitated it, then in that case it should not be considered a virtue. Throughout history, governments have invoked patriotic as well as nationalism feelings to support military aggression, arbitrary imprisonment of foreigners, and even murder, acts considered evil by most individuals.

Even if battlefield self-sacrifice is considered virtuous, it can be difficult to determine whether a particular act is admirable for its ’’patriotism’’. Self-sacrifice is inevitable on the battlefield, the question is how much it is inspired by patriotic emotions. We can ask whether any particular self-sacrificing Dutch soldier acted out of devotion to the Dutch national state in 1940. Some certainly fought because they hated Fascism, and many soldiers fight because they do not want to appear to be cowards. In other words, there is a distinction between a non-egoistic act which benefits the community, and one that is specifically motivated by patriotic feelings. We can imagine two soldiers, equally brave and self-sacrificing. The first soldier is motivated by a patriotic preference for his country's independence. The second cares nothing for the Dutch country as such, but has carefully studied Fascism and has a deep commitment to save the world from its perceived evils. Some people, according to their prejudices, might well admire the second soldier more than the first, even though he could be considered the less patriotic of the two.

Patriotism vs. universal brotherhood

The wartime example of patriots fighting each other, illustrates the point that even self-sacrificing patriotism is selective in its altruism. Patriotism implies that citizens - members of the civic or political community - owe a greater allegiance to each other than to foreigners. This selectivity is the most ethically controversial aspect of patriotism. Many people have promoted the alternative concept of a universal human community, as expressed for instance in the idealistic phrase "Alle Menschen werden Brüder" ("all people become brothers") of the Ode to Joy, part of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The 'Ode to Joy' is the official anthem of the European Union and the phrase is regarded with deep distrust by many patriots in Europe.

All patriots favour their own citizens above those of other political communities. Immigration law is based on that principle: merely by accident of birth in a country, some people have an automatic entitlement to live in it, but foreigners do not. Patriotism seems to ethically condone these distinctions. For this reason it has often been compared to racism, most notably in a 2002 paper by Paul Gompert, Patriotism is like racism. Yet citizenry does not have to be indexed to race.

In his influential article "Is patriotism a virtue?" (1984), the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre notes that most contemporary conceptions of morality insist on a kind of impartial blindness to accidental traits like local origin in the just treatment of our fellow humans - and therefore, that patriotism is inevitably not moral under these conceptions. MacIntyre goes on, however, to construct a sophisticated alternative conception of morality that would be compatible with patriotism. Charles Blattberg, in his book From Pluralist to Patriotic Politics (2000), has developed a similar conception of patriotism into a full-blown political philosophy.

Patriotism for other countries?

History includes many cases of individuals who acted with impassioned selflessness on behalf of countries not their own. For example, the Marquis de Lafayette was a Frenchman who fought for the independence of the thirteen British colonies in America. The "Philhellenes," western Europeans who fought in the Greek War of Independence, are another example; as are the Americans who fought on the Allied side before the entry of their country into the First World War. Such cases call into question what we mean by "patriotism": for instance, 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.

Others conceive of those ideals in more abstract terms. For example, there exist Americans who profess to be patriots and yet claim that their patriotism is not an arbitrary preference for their paticular political community, but is rather is based on special virtues (for instance, "freedom"), that happen to be uniquely defended by that community. Presumably, for such individuals, it would be quite coherent to claim that Lafayette was an American patriot, since he fought on behalf of (what are held to be) American Liberties.

Patriotism and democracy

Politicians often appeal to patriotic emotions in attacking their opponents, implicitly or explicitly accusing them of betraying the country. In the view of many, the nature of these comments harm political discussion and provide less opportunity for deliberative democracy to flourish, because it appeals only to a visceral negative emotion (mistrust and angry patriotism), rather than to voters’ reasoned views on policy. In some democracies, the claimed treason of the political elite became a central issue, notably in Germany itself. Adolf Hitler condemned the democratic politicians who approved the November 1918 armistice (which ended the First World War) as the ‘November criminals’.

On the other hand, some people suggest that democratic government is a cause of patriotism. For instance, it could be imagined that the military forces of Ancient Greece succeeded in fending off much larger numbers of attacking Persians because ancient Persia was a despotism, whereas many of the Greeks lived in democracies, which gave them a sense of solidarity and hence of patriotism. Similarly, it is often thought that the French Revolution, by eliminating monarchy, set off a great surge of patriotism that led to the great success of the French armies in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Nevertheless, some states combined tyrannical systems of government with high levels of patriotism, including later Napoleonic France, after Napoleon had made himself emperor.

Patriotism can also be seen as one of the greatest psychological barriers to civil war because a feeling of duty common to all citizens can give democratic politics a legitimacy lacking in those states that contain a much more fragmented citizenry.

An evolutionary origin of patriotism?

Why do so many people experience intense patriotic feelings? An evolutionary biology explanation is that patriotism is a form of kin altruism, which is both posited and explained by the theory of kin selection. This explanation is speculative and disputed, and no explicit genetic basis for patriotism has been evidenced.

Kin altruism, in its simplest form, implies that one animal would sacrifice itself to ensure survival of more than one other genetically related individuals, for instance siblings. To explain patriotism, it would have to apply to a group. Our ancestors certainly lived in small groups of genetically related individuals. Since genes tended to be shared by the entire group, and cooperation likely was critical to group survival, a propensity to experience feelings of loyalty to the group was probably favoured by natural selection. This idea was expressed by Charles Darwin in 1871 as follows:

A tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection.

Loyalty to the group might have led individuals to take actions that were poorly justified on grounds of self-interest, but helped the group as a whole: this is the analogy with kin altruism. Since Darwin's time, evidence for kin selection has been observed among many species that live in small groups. Frequently, animals in such species have been observed taking actions that risk their own lives but benefit the safety of the group as a whole (an example is the issuance of a warning call against predators, an act which directs the predator's attention to the individual who gave it). Gene-centric theories imply that members of such groups have an evolutionary interest in the long-term success of each other's genetic endowment.

Today, of course, the feelings of intense patriotism that grip (for example) many Americans cannot possibly be supported in the evolutionary sense by kin selection, since Americans form a huge and genetically very diverse population. Yet the forces believed to have created human nature, and hence these feelings, were in effect over a period of many millennia, during which time all human societies were very small. Speculatively, there was nothing to stop the feeling of group loyalty from carrying over, without biological purpose, from small groups to large.

The political rhetoric associated with patriotism often compares the nation to a family, as in, for instance, the terms Fatherland and ‘Mother Russia’ or the Shakespearian expression ‘band of brothers’, from the play Henry V. In the kin-selection account of patriotism, this kind of metaphor might be viewed as seeking to focus the natural feelings people have towards kin, onto the political community as a whole.

Both kin selection theory and its use to explain patriotism are disputed. Some evolutionary biologists believe that the quantitative conditions needed to make kin selection effective in small human societies were simply not met. The controversy hinges on what numerical values are to be plugged into the (generally accepted) equations of W. D. Hamilton that govern kin selection.

Some people accept the theory of evolution in general but reject efforts to invoke it in the explanation of human behaviour. They would emphasise the great malleability of the human character, including the apparent possibility of creating patriotism through the instruction of youth, as in the Hitler Youth example above. Others would reject the kin selection theory of patriotism, simply because they reject the theory of evolution on religious grounds. For them, their religious beliefs explain why the human character is the way it is. Depending on whether they see patriotism as good or bad, they would attribute it to a free will choice for good or evil.

Patriotism and religion

Throughout history, patriotic feeling has often been linked to religion. At various points in history, particularly in time of war, various relations of religion and patriotism have prevailed.

In one variant, patriotic participants in a war acknowledge that the enemy worships the same god, but judge that this god is on their own side, thus providing the external justification for patriotism noted just above. This is perhaps a fair characterization of the attitude of many of the participants in the American Civil War or most of the fronts of the First World War. Another variant is for each side to worship different gods, acknowledge that the other side’s god exists, and believe that their own god is superior. This may have characterized the conflicts between the ancient Israelites and their Canaanite opponents, as narrated in the Old Testament. Yet another version of religious patriotism is the belief that a god or set of gods is on one’s side, and that the god or gods of the other side simply do not exist. This view often characterized the beliefs of the European powers during the colonialist period, when their armies often fought against pagan opponents.

Under any of these circumstances, religion can provide a satisfactory account to its believers for what otherwise would be a paradox, namely, that both sides in a conflict can feel patriotic at the same time. The idea would be that the other side is in fact fighting against God’s will, and thus can be considered to be engaged in a false kind of patriotism.

While patriotism often appeals to religion, not all religions countenance patriotism. For example, some Restorationist Christian denominations, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Mennonites, refuse to participate in patriotic acts and ceremonies and refuse to wear patriotic attire.

See also


Sources and further reading


  • Joshua Cohen and Martha C. Nussbaum, For Love of Country: Debating the Limits of Patriotism, Beacon Press, 1996. ISBN 0807043133.
  • 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 0198293585.
  • Daniel Bar-Tal and Ervin Staub, Patriotism, Wadsworth Publishing, 1999. ISBN 083041410X.
  • Charles Blattberg, From Pluralist to Patriotic Politics: Putting Practice First, Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0198296886.
  • Igor Primoratz, ed., Patriotism, Humanity Books, 2002. ISBN 1573929557.
  • Paul Gomberg, “Patriotism is Like Racism,” in Igor Primoratz, ed., Patriotism, Humanity Books, 2002, pp. 105-112. ISBN 1573929557.
  • Alasdair MacIntyre's essay on patriotism was published as a pamphlet by the Department of Philosophy of the University of Kansas and is available in many university libraries.
  • 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


  • The Second World War by John Keegan (various editions; e.g. Penguin USA 1990, ISBN 014011341X) addresses the intensification of patriotic feeling in Europe during the 19th century, and how it ultimately helped facilitate the First and the Second World Wars. Keegan also vividly describes how Adolf Hitler used accusations of treason to help attain power.


External links

de:Patriotismus es:Patriotismo eo:Patriotismo fr:Patriotisme nl:Vaderlandsliefde ja:愛国心 no:Patriotisme nn:Patriotisme pl:Patriotyzm pt:Patriotismo ru:Патриотизм sv:Patriotism tl:Pagkamakabayan zh:愛國主義