Patriotism Not Nationalism

 

National Review has sparked an important debate about nationalism. As someone who has been accused throughout her life of excessive love of country (can’t count the number of times I’ve been reproached for arguing that despite slavery, Jim Crow, and the internment of Japanese Americans, our country is eminently lovable), I feel a bit awkward rebutting anything that travels under the name “Love of Country.” Nevertheless, I must join Jonah Goldberg, Yuval Levin, Ben Shapiro, and others in demurring from Rich Lowry’s and Ramesh Ponnuru’s defense of nationalism.

Lowry and Ponnuru are two of the writers I most admire (at a time when that group is shrinking fast). If they make an argument with which I disagree, I’m inclined to question my own judgment. So I remain open to the possibility that they are right. But it seems to me that their willingness to believe that nationalism, as opposed to patriotism, can be benign is not convincing.

Everything they assert about the naturalness of nationalism — it arises out of the same soil as love of family, community, church, etc. – is true of patriotism. It’s true, as Lowry and Ponnuru note, that the left has discredited itself over the years by its hostility to sincere patriotism.

Patriotism is enough – it needs no improving or expanding.

Nationalism is something else. It’s hard to think of a nationalist who does not pervert patriotism into something aggressive – either against foreign adversaries or against domestic minorities, or both. When Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas nationalized the oil industry in 1938 (expropriating the property of hated foreigners), he was favored with a chanting crowd of 100,000 supporters in Mexico City. Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalism also found expression in nationalization (of the Suez canal in that case) and also in aggressive war against Israel and Yemen. Putin’s nationalism has been characterized by demonization of the United States in domestic propaganda and invasion of neighboring countries. Mussolini believed in reclaiming Italy’s lost glory and invaded Abyssinia (Ethiopia) to fulfill his vision.

Our own history is not pristine. We’ve had our moments of belligerent nationalism. The Mexican/American War, for example, was a pure land grab. Lowry and Ponnuru cite Lincoln as an example of a benign nationalist, but he recognized corrupt nationalism in his own time. As a member of Congress, he deplored the Mexican/American war in the strongest terms, accusing President Polk of misleading the public about whose territory hostilities began on, and thundering that “The blood of this war, like the blood of Abel, is crying out to Heaven.” I’m not proposing that we return California to the Mexicans (though considering their voting patterns, it’s tempting), but the war that brought California (and other states) into our union was not our finest hour. It was, arguably, the hour of maximal American nationalism.

I believe that nationalism is a demagogue’s patriotism. Demagogues of the right and left both play upon natural and even benevolent instincts for their own purposes. The left’s demagogues distort love of justice and equality into a leveling desire to scapegoat others. Bernie Sanders doesn’t just appeal to people’s desire for fairness, he encourages them to believe that they are the victims of the “one percent,” who are siphoning all of the nation’s wealth for themselves. If you are poor, Sanders claims, it is because someone who is rich has taken your share.

Demagogues of the right – or nationalists – argue that our troubles are the result of immigrants taking our jobs or foreigners stealing our factories. This is not natural love of home and hearth or reverence for America’s founding ideals, it is scapegoating.

Which brings us to the proximate cause of this debate – President Trump. Far from deepening our appreciation of our history or institutions, he embodies the reasons to be wary of demagoguery in the name of country. In him we see strutting nationalism (“America first”!) but little true patriotism. He claims to pursue America’s interests, yet has shockingly little respect for the nation he heads. He doesn’t love the country enough to have familiarized himself with the basics of our system. In one debate, he said judges “sign bills,” and in a Capitol Hill meeting with congressmen, he praised Article XII of the Constitution. What patriot can claim that we lack the moral authority to criticize Turkey’s crackdown on independent journalists, or impugn this country as no better than Russia when it comes to political assassination? As Trump demonstrates, nationalism is not patriotism in a hurry — it is resentment draped in the flag.

In his concurrence with Lowry/Ponnuru, John O’Sullivan indirectly makes a similar point, defending Trump’s disavowal of American exceptionalism. O’Sullivan offers that this is delicacy on Trump’s part. “He doesn’t want to humiliate the foreigners who will shortly be losing to America . . .. When you intend to shoot a man, it costs nothing to be polite.”

That’s not my idea of patriotism.

There are 35 comments.

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  1. KiminWI Inactive
    KiminWI
    @KiminWI

    I thought I had this worked out in my mind and I was coming down on the Lowry/ Ponnuru side, but then… nationalism, as defined here and elsewhere, is of course ugliness to be discouraged.

    Yet, patriotism isn’t quite enough. Patriotism doesn’t quite carry the weight of words like sovereignty. It doesn’t quite defend the integrity of a nations borders and identity against those who would tear it down from outside or from within.   Nation, like family, is a construct that is given by God for our good, to bless the other nations and other families. We don’t have family-ism, so perhaps not nationalism. But maybe we need something like that, if only the word would present itself, and would then not be corrupted by the left.

    • #1
  2. Sweezle Member
    Sweezle
    @Sweezle

    I love your post. You are giving me a lot to think about.  I used to think patriotism and pride in America were simple and deeply personal. But this sentence was jarring for me personally  “I believe that nationalism is a demagogue’s patriotism.”

    • #2
  3. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    The think tank patriots are part of the social scientists that have brought our country to the brink of destruction.  What patriot does that?

    • #3
  4. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    Patriotism is not enough.  It means nothing if you don’t  have a “patria” ( if that’s the Latin I want, for “Fatherland”.)   Patriotism could be the exile’s nostalgia, the wistful balm of the vanquished–or, today, the fatalistic passive tendency “to love that well which thou must leave ere long.” As Shakespeare wrote.    We need the ooomph supplied by nationalism too–or we’re just locust eaters.

     

    Edit: LOTUS eaters, of course…d%*@n auto-correct…)

    • #4
  5. Frozen Chosen Inactive
    Frozen Chosen
    @FrozenChosen

    Nationalism connotes that something must be good for our country to be worthwhile, but I think in practice it means that something is good for those pushing nationalism, i.e. the leaders of the country.  Nationalism ends up benefiting a person or small group of people by bestowing upon them money or power and often does little for the common citizen.

    Mona’s right – patriotism is enough.

    • #5
  6. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    There is no Patriotism without at least a good dose of nationalism thrown in. The two are sides of the same coin.

    • #6
  7. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    I found this entire debate in NR utterly pointless. If something objectively bad is espoused or done in the name of one’s country, it could presumably  be more easily subsumed into the broader category of “nationalism” than of “patriotism.”  That does not mean that all that comprises “nationalism” is objectively bad or that every instance of “patriotism” is beyond reproach. Squabbling over whether applicable definitions apply to competing lists is a waste of time.

    It is almost as big a waste of time as inductive reasoning adventures based on Trumpian sound bites and phrases.  Trumpisms are not encapsulations of deep general principles requiring exegesis so much as they are hints of courses of action driven by obvious and overt predispositions.  “Incredible” is not an epistemological comment.  “Winning” is the opposite of “losing”, not a glimpse of overarching Manichean moral struggles.  “Make American Great Again” does not imply an ideological revolution nor lebensraum or spazio vitale but very tangible economic and employment growth and the material outputs (and happiness) that would flow from such growth.

    Among the major adjustments needed for the Age of Trump is that pundits will need to look more at actions instead of over-interpreting a presidential verbal style that resists intellectualism.

    • #7
  8. MLH Inactive
    MLH
    @MLH

    We’ve had neither among our “betters” in a llllooooonnnnnngggggg time.

    • #8
  9. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    I found this entire debate in NR utterly pointless. If something objectively bad is espoused or done in the name of one’s country, it could presumably be more easily subsumed into the broader category of “nationalism” than of “patriotism.” That does not mean that all that comprises “nationalism” is objectively bad or that every instance of “patriotism” is beyond reproach. Squabbling over whether applicable definitions apply to competing lists is a waste of time.

    It is almost as big a waste of time as inductive reasoning adventures based on Trumpian sound bites and phrases. Trumpisms are not encapsulations of deep general principles requiring exegesis so much as they are hints of courses of action driven by obvious and overt predispositions. “Incredible” is not an epistemological comment. “Winning” is the opposite of “losing”, not a glimpse of overarching Manichean moral struggles. “Make American Great Again” does not imply an ideological revolution nor lebensraum or spazio vitale but very tangible economic and employment growth and the material outputs (and happiness) that would flow from such growth.

    Among the major adjustments needed for the Age of Trump is that pundits will need to look more at actions instead of over-interpreting a presidential verbal style that resists intellectualism.

    Can I get an Amen?! Amen!!

    • #9
  10. Trinity Waters Inactive
    Trinity Waters
    @TrinityWaters

    Mona Charen: He claims to pursue America’s interests, yet has shockingly little respect for the nation he heads.

    Again, a euphemistic sentence that actually reads: I don’t like Trump; he doesn’t love America in as pure and brilliantly educated fashion as I and my admiring friends think he should.

    Dissension within the ranks of the NT/NR coalition?  Heaven forfend!

    Nationalism vs. Patriotism is a nebulous argument, made to advance the rhetorical  and party-invitation hegemony of this crew.  It’s not quite fake news, but is a story designed to take the spotlight off the steady stream of good news for the citizenry that is emanating from the new administration.  For example, Bibi is in town smiling so hugely, and forming a firm basis with Trump for our alliance again, after eight disastrous years of hate and anti-Israel actions by the Muslim in chief.  No ink on this? Not one question in today’s press conference?

    BTW, Trump’s press conference today was in part a mini-gun wearing a smile aimed at the lying and obfuscating pressers who deserve it.

    HDAHA, in spite of mighty efforts to the contrary by the losers.

    • #10
  11. Trinity Waters Inactive
    Trinity Waters
    @TrinityWaters

    Sweezle (View Comment):
    I love your post. You are giving me a lot to think about. I used to think patriotism and pride in America were simple and deeply personal. But this sentence was jarring for me personally “I believe that nationalism is a demagogue’s patriotism.”

    Sweezle, don’t let these folks have you question your pride in our country.  This is a post about semantics, and is a not-too-clever ploy to damage the idea that Trump loves our country, too.  I suspect that one of the more powerful ideas that brought Trump to electoral success was that a huge number of our citizens, me included, believed that he does love the USA and will follow through on actions to help the USA.

    • #11
  12. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    Trinity Waters (View Comment):

    Sweezle (View Comment):
    I love your post. You are giving me a lot to think about. I used to think patriotism and pride in America were simple and deeply personal. But this sentence was jarring for me personally “I believe that nationalism is a demagogue’s patriotism.”

    Sweezle, don’t let these folks have you question your pride in our country. This is a post about semantics, and is a not-too-clever ploy to damage the idea that Trump loves our country, too. I suspect that one of the more powerful ideas that brought Trump to electoral success was that a huge number of our citizens, me included, believed that he does love the USA and will follow through on actions to help the USA.

    You are exactly right!! Love this and your previous comment.

    Trump= Captain America!!

    • #12
  13. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Mona Charen: In him we see strutting nationalism (“America first”!) but little true patriotism.

    Hi Mona, this is what a lack of Patriotism looks like. (Senator Obama doesn’t put his hand over his heart during the National Anthem)

    This is what Patriotism looks like:

    Candidate Trump during the National Anthem.

    I believe you may have fallen afoul of the “No True Scotsman Fallacy”

    • #13
  14. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Mona Charen: In him we see strutting nationalism (“America first”!) but little true patriotism.

    Hi Mona, this is what a lack of Patriotism looks like. (Senator Obama doesn’t put his hand over his heart during the National Anthem)

    This is what Patriotism looks like:

    Candidate Trump during the National Anthem.

    I believe you may have fallen afoul of the “No True Scotsman

     

    B. Hasbeen  Omega hated  our country.  Despised it.

    • #14
  15. Sweezle Member
    Sweezle
    @Sweezle

    Trinity Waters (View Comment):

    Sweezle (View Comment):
    I love your post. You are giving me a lot to think about. I used to think patriotism and pride in America were simple and deeply personal. But this sentence was jarring for me personally “I believe that nationalism is a demagogue’s patriotism.”

    Sweezle, don’t let these folks have you question your pride in our country. This is a post about semantics, and is a not-too-clever ploy to damage the idea that Trump loves our country, too. I suspect that one of the more powerful ideas that brought Trump to electoral success was that a huge number of our citizens, me included, believed that he does love the USA and will follow through on actions to help the USA.

    TY for clarifying the semantics. Trump does love America & his desire to put America first (trade, illegal immigration, national security, jobs, etc.) is a large part of why he won the election. I’m sticking with him as he enacts his campaign promises.

    • #15
  16. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    KiminWI (View Comment):
    I thought I had this worked out in my mind and I was coming down on the Lowry/ Ponnuru side, but then… nationalism, as defined here and elsewhere, is of course ugliness to be discouraged.

    Yet, patriotism isn’t quite enough. Patriotism doesn’t quite carry the weight of words like sovereignty. It doesn’t quite defend the integrity of a nations borders and identity against those who would tear it down from outside or from within. Nation, like family, is a construct that is given by God for our good, to bless the other nations and other families. We don’t have family-ism, so perhaps not nationalism. But maybe we need something like that, if only the word would present itself, and would then not be corrupted by the left.

    You equate Nation to family. Often it is done this way because most nations are based in ethnicity, which is an off shoot of familial relation expanded over generations. Thus throughout the world Nationalism is tied to ideas of “blood and soil”. The Germans are a nation because they are related, the Jews are a nation because they are related, etc. But the founding of America was a pure intellectual act. Designed and influenced by humanist and enlightenment ideals not to be bound to heredity. Patriotism I think is the only proper description for love of America, because we are a State not a Nation.

     

    • #16
  17. Trinity Waters Inactive
    Trinity Waters
    @TrinityWaters

    Sweezle (View Comment):

    Trinity Waters (View Comment):

    Sweezle (View Comment):
    I love your post. You are giving me a lot to think about. I used to think patriotism and pride in America were simple and deeply personal. But this sentence was jarring for me personally “I believe that nationalism is a demagogue’s patriotism.”

    Sweezle, don’t let these folks have you question your pride in our country. This is a post about semantics, and is a not-too-clever ploy to damage the idea that Trump loves our country, too. I suspect that one of the more powerful ideas that brought Trump to electoral success was that a huge number of our citizens, me included, believed that he does love the USA and will follow through on actions to help the USA.

    TY for clarifying the semantics. Trump does love America & his desire to put America first (trade, illegal immigration, national security, jobs, etc.) is a large part of why he won the election. I’m sticking with him as he enacts his campaign promises.

    You’re welcome, Sweezle.  It’s so bothersome having to put up with all the extraneous noise, but I’m sticking, too.

    • #17
  18. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    I’m not sure the photo of Obama not putting his hand over his heart is all that telling. There are a lot of photos of him doing it properly, and a few of others (GWB) forgetting. That’s pretty much what it is: it is easy to forget what you’re doing, especially if you’re about to speak or are otherwise distracted.

     

    • #18
  19. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Kate Braestrup (View Comment):
    I’m not sure the photo of Obama not putting his hand over his heart is all that telling. There are a lot of photos of him doing it properly, and a few of others (GWB) forgetting. That’s pretty much what it is: it is easy to forget what you’re doing, especially if you’re about to speak or are otherwise distracted.

    Hi Kate,

    To my knowledge, all the photos of him doing it correctly postdate this picture. The Left Leaning Snopes has the details. I was going to post a picture of the “Latte Salute”, but my point is simple. I predict that President Trump would never let the words, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism” pass his lips.

    Mona’s attempt to define the difference between Patriotism and Nationalism is mere sophistry. Rather than define the ‘good’ virtue of Patriotism as some mean between Oikophobia and Xenophobia her example of demagogues instead tells us she dislikes people that can communicate effectively.

    • #19
  20. Petty Boozswha Inactive
    Petty Boozswha
    @PettyBoozswha

    Mona, were you a history major? You’re description of the Mexican War is kinda oversimplified when you describe it as a “pure land grab.” After Texas won it’s independence the placement of the border was a constant jump ball, with Mexico constantly reneging on what they had agreed to when their armies surrendered. Finally the Mexican legislature was willing to concede the issue without a war, but demanded massive bribes be paid under the table so that the requisite number of legislators could be conveniently absent when the treaty was accepted. That’s when the US went into stiff-necked prim superiority mode. We would pay compensation above the table but not bribes. The last negotiation left the Mexican negotiator in tears – you’re going to force us to fight an unnecessary war just to show Protestant WASP morality is superior the Mexican way of getting things done. With negotiations stalled the Americans sent a patrol of soldiers across disputed land, and Mexican honor required them to attack them. That gave President Polk the talking points he needed – Mexican troops had killed American troops on American soil, and the war was on.

    When later commentators like US Grant condemned the war and said the Civil War was our punishment for it he was arguing that we could have achieved our aims without fighting, not that we didn’t deserve the land in the first place.

    • #20
  21. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):
    You’re description of the Mexican War is kinda oversimplified when you describe it as a “pure land grab.”

    Contributors often underestimate the caliber of commenter we have here on Ricochet.

    Well Said PB.

    • #21
  22. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    I think there’s a lot of misapprehension about “nationalism” because so many bad actors have claimed it. But, it does not directly follow that American nationalism will lead to genocide of Jews or a gulag archipelago.

    I see nationalism as believing in what is good (objectively) about America — primarily our founding principles — and wanting what is best for our people. That is, doing what is in our national self-interest (which must be consistent in both means and ends). This does not preclude other nations from benefiting. In fact, it can be mutually beneficial like any transaction between individuals in a free market.

    All “isms” can be good or bad, depending on the underlying  principles. Ours are the most humane and widely favorable to human flourishing ever devised. Part of that is we don’t force ourselves on others, but lead by example.

    I suppose that makes me a “nationalist” in addition to a “chauvinist.”

    • #22
  23. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    The overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy was definitely a land grab by American businessmen, with some good old fashioned New England style religious missionary fervor thrown in for good measure. Whether one wishes to call that patriotic or nationalism, disgraceful and theft would be the better words.

    • #23
  24. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):
    Finally With negotiations stalled the Americans sent a patrol of soldiers across disputed land, and Mexican honor required them to attack them. That gave President Polk the talking points he needed – Mexican troops had killed American troops on American soil, and the war was on.

    I hate to quibble here but the sending of a patrol across disputed land would indicate that the two claims had not been resolved. My question would be how does that make it American soil? Obviously the matter was not settled to the satisfaction of the Mexican or US government, hence negotiations.

     

    • #24
  25. Petty Boozswha Inactive
    Petty Boozswha
    @PettyBoozswha

    Americans never seem to get the end of wars right. Santa Anna was the 19th century’s Saddam Hussian, conveniently forgetting the agreements he made when Sam Houston had his foot on his throat once he got back to Mexico City. From the American perspective it wasn’t disputed, but, I guess, neither was it in Mexico.

    • #25
  26. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):
    Americans never seem to get the end of wars right. Santa Anna was the 19th century’s Saddam Hussian, conveniently forgetting the agreements he made when Sam Houston had his foot on his throat once he got back to Mexico City. From the American perspective it wasn’t disputed, but, I guess, neither was it in Mexico.

    You are right, but President Polk should bear part of the blame. To offer compensation legitimized the Mexican belief that it was Mexican territory, regardless of any agreement that Santa Anna reached with Sam Houston. President Polk should have seized it immediately if he believed that Santa Anna had surrendered it as part of a peace settlement.

     

    • #26
  27. Tyrion Lannister Member
    Tyrion Lannister
    @TyrionLannister

    I think it comes down to how you define nationalism.  I’ve always thought of nationalism as related to patriotism, but had ideas like sovereignty and national power attached to it- which appeals to me.

    A definition online:
    na·tion·al·ism

    ˈnaSH(ə)nəˌlizəm/

    noun

    1. patriotic feeling, principles, or efforts.

      synonyms: patriotism, patriotic sentiment, flag-waving, xenophobia, chauvinism, jingoism

      “their extreme nationalism was frightening”

      • an extreme form of this, especially marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries.

        plural noun: nationalisms

      • advocacy of political independence for a particular country.

    I personally find this definition appealing.  There are some negative connotations with some of the synonyms, but those are mostly buzzwords on the left, and so this definition is only elevated for me.

    I’m no Trump fan, and I do think he’s a demagogue, but I fear we’ve allowed yet another good word to be defined by the left as negative.  I recall something that radio personality Mike Rosen used to say: that the left were experts at semantic infiltration, they would twist word meanings over time for their own ends.

    Mona, for me nationalism means putting one’s own country and people first, and after President Obama and his America last policy, this is something I am fine with.

    My disagreements with President Trump have less to do with his motivation and more to do with his proposed remedies to fix our ills as a nation.

    • #27
  28. The Cloaked Gaijin Member
    The Cloaked Gaijin
    @TheCloakedGaijin

    DocJay (View Comment):
    The think tank patriots are part of the social scientists that have brought our country to the brink of destruction. What patriot does that?

    I might normally agree, but some think tanks do a better job at preaching against government spending and entrenched liberalism than our own members of Congress.

    • #28
  29. The Cloaked Gaijin Member
    The Cloaked Gaijin
    @TheCloakedGaijin

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):
    …the Mexican War is kinda oversimplified

    You mean the Mexican–American War is over?  (I learn something new every day.)

    Press #1 for English.

    Press #2 for the next Ricochet post…

    • #29
  30. Ford Penney Inactive
    Ford Penney
    @FordPenney

    This seems like trying to create more contention, to separate those who hate Trump, and ‘know better’ from those who don’t see this as black & white but should.

    My grandfather was drafted at 28 into the Marines of WW2. He fought in the Pacific and was interned by the Japanese, who did some rather horrific things to the POW’s.  He survived and thought he was both patriotic and that his nation was right and better than a lot of others, for which American’s died to save, though they didn’t start the fight.

    The Japanese are more nationalistic than patriotic and we don’t read of their castigation only the small minded Americans, sorry, not getting into philosophical semantics with everyone who wants to ‘prove’ they are the real Americans.

    And BTW- where has Mona been for the last 8 years when the self winding narcissist was on his global apology tour telling everyone how ‘un-special’ and unexceptional America really is? You can get rather tired of hearing how ugly your family is!

    • #30

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