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Law and Politics

Patriotism or Nationalism?

When does it cross the line?

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Love for or devotion to one's country. [Merriam-Webster

Patriotism can provide a sense of alliance with other citizens who share the same values. 

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Love for or devotion to one's country, while also exalting it above all others and promoting its culture and interests above others. [Merriam-Webster

Nationalism is rooted in patriotism but can take it to a dangerous or heightened level. [Harvard Political Review]

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“The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does.”

-Sydney J. Harris, an American journalist from the 20th century [The Herald-Dispatch]





CIVICS: Around the world, nationalism is gaining in popularity. In the U.S., President Trump's "America First" policies have been called nationalistic. [Vox] In the United Kingdom, Brexit's promise to "take back" the country from the E.U. was called nationalistic. [The Guardian] There have been additional examples of political leaders running on nationalistic platforms in France, Brazil, Turkey, Germany, and India. 


SOCIAL: Some are worried about the rise of nationalism around the world. Some of history's nationalistic leaders have demonstrated the power to produce xenophobic policies and actual evil like holocausts. [The Washington Post




Patriotism as an idea is over 2000 years old. Greek and Roman society originated the idea of political patriotism. [Encyclopedia Britannica

Political patriotism is the idea of being involved in the political system for the common good of your fellow man. [Encyclopedia Britannica


Anyone of any race, ethnicity, or gender can be patriotic. [The Washington Post]



  • Signs of love for your country, like proudly hanging the flag, [The Washington Post]

  • A willingness to defend fellow citizens through military service, [The Washington Post]

  • Patriotism is having a love for your neighbor or your fellow citizen before the love of your country [Real Clear Politics]

Good to know

Patriotism can flourish with social conditioning. [The Washington Post




Nationalism came about in the 19th century and is the cousin of patriotism. [Encyclopedia Britannica

The beginnings of nationalism came when German philosopher Johann Gottfried von Herder defined patriotism as a spiritual attachment to your country, not a political one. [Encyclopedia Britannica


Nationalism can be closely tied to racism. [The Guardian]



Good to know

The most infamous rise of nationalism was the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, led by Adolf Hitler. [HISTORY]


  • Oct. 2018: President Trump identified himself as a nationalist. [Politico]
  • Oct. 2018: Brazil elected Jair Bolsonaro who campaigned as an authoritarian nationalist. [BBC]
  • Nov. 2018: During a remembrance service of WWI ending, the President of France, Emmanuel Macron condemned the rise of nationalism saying, "nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism." [The Washington Post]
  • Aug. 2020: In hopes of securing a trade partnership, the Chinese government has toned-down its nationalistic message against the U.S. [The New York Times]

Pandemic 2020

Many are worried about "vaccine nationalism," the jockeying of governments to secure doses of promising candidates for their citizens. At stake is an economic boom and vaccination for the country that develops the vaccine. Potential costs are nationalistic citizens that refuse vaccines from countries other than their own. [Bloomberg]


  • Knowing what is at the root of each word (patriot v. national) can help to understand the difference. Learn more about each root word from Merriam-Webster. 
  • Read more about an opinion on why "patriotism is complicated."
  • In Europe, nationalism is more common on the right-wing. [BBC] Does this pattern exist in the United States?
  • Some believe nationalism can be a positive force if policy-driven. Read more from The Guardian.

Key Vocabulary