What's the difference between patriotism and nationalism?



What would be an example of an act that involves patriotism but not nationalism?

According to Wikipedia, the definition of patriotism is:

Patriotism is an emotional attachment to a nation which an individual recognizes as their homeland. This attachment, also known as national feeling or national pride, can be viewed in terms of different features relating to one's own nation, including ethnic, cultural, political or historical aspects.

Whereas nationalism is:

Nationalism is oriented towards the development and maintenance of a common communal identity based on shared characteristics typically including culture, language, religion, political goals and/or a belief in a common ancestry.

In some texts I've read, patriotism is regarded as something "good" (love for your nation), whereas nationalism can be seen as something "bad" (the nation I belong to is somehow better than the other ones). But for me, this difference is very subtle, because in both cases the main feature that pins the concept down is that you are "emotionally attached" to your nation (or better, to what you consider your nation) as well as to all the things that it stands for: culture, moral values, religion, language, etc.

I'll try to set an example. What if I live in a country in which some region decides unilaterally (for instance via a referendum just in that region), to split from the rest of the country? In this case, I could decide to take sides against the secessionists because I would consider such declaration as an agression to my homeland and nation (patriotism) but also against the common national identity (nationalism) of the "main" country. In this case, I would be imposing my own view of what I consider my "homeland" and associated cultural values (patriotism) to many people who don't necessarily share that opinion and also, I would be imposing my way of living and culture (nationalism) over the secessionists.

What I'm trying to say with this example is that in a lot of situations, both feelings are totally equivalent to me and I find it difficult to think about a situation of an act that is motivated just by patriotism and not by nationalism. Therefore, I always have the feeling that both terms are somehow interchangeable.

Jaime Caffarel

Posted 2016-12-08T15:40:42.843

Reputation: 163

1Patriotism is what someone may feel for their own country. Nationalism is the primacy of country borders in establishing identity. They're both 'about' the same things but have very different aspects. The desire to stand at a an anthem is a patriotic feeling; the desire to have restrictive immigration policies is a nationalistic one. – Mitch – 2016-12-08T16:33:42.900

@Mitch People talk about, for instance, Kurdish or Kashmiri or Basque or Quebecois nationalism, so there is something more to it than that. I think a nationality is something not necessarily related to a functioning government, with traditional roots. But it is hard to be patriotic toward something other than a government (the Irish tried, but it was under the implication that such a government should or does exist somewhere.) – None – 2016-12-08T23:09:19.933



I would argue that the two cannot be the same because they occasionally contradict one another. Love of a country involves discerning its best interests. Deciding that those best interests are always the interests of those most strongly motivated by the traditional or current national identity is a separate assumption that has clear exceptions.

There have clearly been times in US history, setting aside whether this is one, when mass immigration has been good for the country, at the cost of the country sacrificing part of its 'identity'. Nationalist sentiment at those times has resented the loss of clarity. Patriotic sentiment has praised the open system that allowed for those of other cultures to want to be here.

Brexit is another example. The EU is objectively good for Britain, but it changes the meaning of what it is to be British in a way that diminishes the relevance of national pride. So it is nationalist to vote to LEAVE, but it was probably patriotic to vote to stay.


Posted 2016-12-08T15:40:42.843


Thanks @jobermark, your example of supporting something (the Brexit) which could potentially go against the "national identity" of a country makes sense to me in order to differentiate both concepts. – Jaime Caffarel – 2016-12-09T15:05:40.630


Hellmuth Plessner did write about nationalism in his books

The Limits of Community. A. Critique of Social Radicalism, transl. and introd. by Andrew Wallace, Humanity Books, New York: Prometheus Books 1999.

and (only German): Die verspätete Nation (1959/1934)

There, the main difference between Germany and the European "nations" is that Germany lacked a common revolutionary history and therefore a legend or myth of its ascendence.

Nations would have their myth or legend (coming from shared historical events) and the society (as in difference to community) has its common ground there, supported by a shared religion (culture, ethos, etc.). Both constitute a specific ideological and cultural identification with their country and "people".

He argues that it is because Germany lacks this factually, that even if people are patriotic (i.e. emotionally involved about their country), there is no common ground as in nations. "The people" is divided by borders, there is not even remotely something like religious homogeneity, and no myth of creation (history is regionally fractured and growing together happened rather gradually than in times of great despair with a bang). All this makes a broad nationalistic identification (which is indeed ideological, as Joseph pointed out, but also cultural) impossible.

Interesting aside: Plessner foretold that because of this, Germany can only open itself to a European society, or try to fall back into forms of community, which are too limited for whole societies and therefore mean cultural and ideological hegemony. These forms, he wrote, are either communism or fascism, and both are agressive against anyone that does not share their ideology. And it was indeed fascism that created a myth of nationalism to make up for what Germany factually never had.

Disclaimer: I would cite if I could, but these are thoughts that evolve over several pages in two different books and are virtually impossible to nail down to specific text passages.

Philip Klöcking

Posted 2016-12-08T15:40:42.843

Reputation: 9 269

2I feel the same thing is happening in the U.S now: We have a definite "creation myth" but it is starting to fade and loose it's meaning - and has been deconstructed repeatedly by the left. There's no modern common American identity to replace it and so you end up with Trumpism and extreme identity politics. – Alexander S King – 2017-10-26T17:27:02.617

@AlexanderSKing: Which makes it all the more interesting that the two options are still true: Either you create an open society (something Popper wrote some 30 years later on) and grow together in a bigger, more inclusive frame, or you opt for austerity and cultural ideology/hegemony. It is the crossroads all OECD countries are facing right now. Interesting times indeed, although I fear that the longer ago WWII is becoming, the more immanent the threat of WWIII gets. – Philip Klöcking – 2017-10-28T11:09:50.220


Patriotism is "just" an emotional identification with a country, whereas nationalism is an entire ideology which advocates for specific policies.

Policies described as "nationalist" may vary somewhat but generally align around immigration restriction, economic protectionism/anti-globalism, or linguistic, religious and cultural assimilation.

(Note that broadly speaking there is often a visceral patriotic appeal to "our" traditions/values as an emotional component of a nationalist ideology.)

Joseph Weissman

Posted 2016-12-08T15:40:42.843

Reputation: 8 327

Thanks for pointing out the aspect of ideology vs emotional feeling, I didn't think about that difference. – Jaime Caffarel – 2016-12-09T15:07:17.147


Patriotism: love of one's own country.

Nationalism: love of one's own people.

The difference is between country and nation: a country is a political entity consists of a territory and some peoples, who may or may not belong to the same nation. A nation consists solely of peoples who share the same cultural habits.

Nationalism is often more inclusive than patriotism. German nationalism, for example, transcends German, Austria and Switzerland borders; Slavic nationalism transcends Russian, Polish, Ukraine borders; white nationalism transcends European, North American South American borders. From a white nationalist's point of view, WWI is a civil war and is not worth fighting. It is ironic that some white nationalists idolize Hitler, who killed millions of whites and was responsible for the decline of white civilization more than anyone else.

George Chen

Posted 2016-12-08T15:40:42.843

Reputation: 2 102

2As a matter of fact, it's rather the Third Reich loving fascists that "transcend borders". Modern day nationalists (in the political sense) do only care about "their" nation, and specifically, German nationalists don't consider Austrians the same people just as much as the other way round. Philosophically speaking, a nation is more than a country in the sense that people are patriotic and identify themselves with it, see e.g. Plessner, Hellmuth: The Limits of Community. A. Critique of Social Radicalism, transl. and introd. by Andrew Wallace, Humanity Books, New York: Prometheus Books 1999. – Philip Klöcking – 2017-10-26T09:45:26.313

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– Philip Klöcking – 2017-10-27T10:35:53.400