Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first. —Charles de Gaulle
The photos I’ve chosen for this topic are intentionally cheesy. I didn’t have any pictures of a bikini-clad model waving a flag or any similar nonsense, but I do have pictures of fireworks and models in bikinis so I put them together with sufficient results. I could easily slap a red, white, and blue “USA” over the top and pass them off as something patriotic, but to do so would be wrong and devalues the concept of patriotism. Instead, this cheese plays more to the concept of nationalism and an attitude that, long term, is rather problematic.
My stomach turned a little yesterday when I saw that the leading “domestic” beer brand, Budweiser (which isn’t American owned, by the way), had changed its name to America through the presidential elections this fall. You can now drink America, become inebriated on America, piss America, puke America, and be arrested for driving under the influence of America. That creates a lovely mental picture, doesn’t it? While Budweiser execs claim that they’re being patriotic, what they’re doing is pandering to a level of nationalism, the same nationalistic ideals that have a leading presidential candidate claiming he can bring America back to greatness. I have some bad news for you: both are full of male bovine excrement.
Many people hold the mistaken belief that nationalism and patriotism are the same, but that would be far from the truth. Nationalistic fervor is rooted in power and exclusion. Patriotism is rooted in emotion and responsibility. While the two can look similar, they are, at their core, quite different. Furthermore, Americans are among the few who don’t already have a good grasp on the concepts. European and Asian countries see nationalism as a power play, often a political stance appealing to pride in national domination. Patriotism, on the other hand, is seen as an act of service, a responsibility one has for living in the country.
One of the best distinctions between nationalism and patriotism comes from the pen of George Orwell some 70-plus years ago. What he said then still holds just as true today, so let’s look at what he had to say:
Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.
Interestingly enough, nationalism wasn’t even much of an issue until the rise of the Romantic period in the early 19th century. Prior to that point, patriotism ruled even in power struggles; people took the dominant perspective that it was their responsibility to defend their country against external attack, but were polite and accommodating toward others. With the Romantic period, though, nationalism, that concept that one country was great to the exclusion of all others, became dominant. We not only see in it the political struggles of the time, but literature, art, and music. Once it took hold, nationalism never left. Unchecked and taken to its extreme, nationalism was a primary factor in the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
Seeing the United States being pushed toward, and embracing a nationalism bordering on extremism is frightening. Actions are being taken in the name of patriotism that are not patriotic at all. Those who support such nationalistic ideals are using that sentiment to establish a dominating power that, left unchecked, cannot help but lead to horrible crimes against humanity. We need to understand the difference between nationalism and patriotism and realize how dangerous the wrong attitude can be. Consider:
- Patriotism celebrates diversity; nationalism finds strength in a single race and single religious belief, to the forced exclusion of all others.
- Patriotism honors those who help others; nationalism preserves all resources for their own use.
- Patriotism recognizes the responsibility of serving; nationalism exploits the strengths of a strong military.
- Patriotism learns from criticism and looks for ways to improve; nationalism is insulted by criticism and attempts to dominate those who are critical of the nation’s behavior.
- Patriotism admits that we make mistakes and learns from them; nationalism attempts to justify one’s actions and admits no wrong.
- Patriotism values peace and is willing to compromise to avoid conflict; nationalism prefers military domination over everyone.
I love the United States as much as anyone, but as a patriot, I have to see our shortcomings, I have to recognize that we are not perfect, and I have to take responsibility for my participation in that imperfection. While I have no problem defending this country, I have no need or desire to see her dominate the world or outer space in order to be great. As a patriot, I see the greatness that has always existed in this country and I know that greatness comes in part from our diversity and our ability to, since the moment the Mayflower landed on these shores, accept those who are not wanted anywhere else.
There is always room for greater patriotism, but this current nationalistic bullshit needs to stop. And change the name of the fucking beer back to Budweiser. America is better than some two-bit, watered-down, weak-ass excuse for a lager. Please.