This article was one of the very first articles that I had written on Politicoid. It was, and still is quite short, but I’ve found that for some reason, it is a popular landing page. I feel that I should try to add more detail to this page in order to make it more useful to those who find it. The old version can be found here. I will continue to add more to it over time.
There is no single definition of nationalism or patriotism, and some dictionaries will list the two as synonyms. But I feel that there are certain ideological differences that can be established between the two.
Borders over People
This is probably one of the biggest differences between a nationalist and a patriot. A nationalist cares about borders first and foremost. It is the most extreme form of government related collectivism, and we see it all the time, especially in places like immigration debates. While it may not be possible to help everyone, and we recognize that it is easier to help those closer to home, a patriot does not ignore the plight of people in other nations, and certainly does not try to take advantage of it. A patriot therefore is someone who, at most, identifies with the people who happen to live within a given fictitious boundary, and will try to support those people, and yet they are not beholden to the entity that establishes and enforces those borders.
An continuation of this line of thought is the demand that if one does not like this country or the way that it is headed he can/should leave: something that has been said even more frequently now that the results of election 2016 are in. This demand is absurd on two levels. First, just because there are issues with the way this country is headed or the things that its government is doing, does not mean that a person should leave. Second, it means prioritizing nation over job, friends, family, and your entire life. Such a demand is not being patriotic. It is being nationalistic.
Government Defined Worth of a Person
Related to borders over people is the notion that a citizen of your own country is somehow more important than that of another country. But what determines citizenship? Is it place of birth? Not necessarily. People can gain citizenship after birth, through lineage, etc. Is it current location? Not necessarily. A person may move from one country to another, but retain citizenship. One may denounce citizenship without leaving the country. Is it lineage? Again, not necessarily.
Citizenship is really determined by one thing and one thing only: the government. It is the government that determines whether or not you are a citizen. Indeed, even if you denounce your citizenship in America, if you do not pay the government’s fee, it will still consider you a citizen. If citizenship is a measure of worth of a person, and citizenship is determined by government, then government determines the worth of a person. I cannot accept this notion, but that is exactly what notions like “America first” implies. That’s what it means if you think that your “fellow citizen” automatically takes priority over others.
I talk about immigration in more detail in “Free Market Immigration,” but to summarize, the arbitrary concept of borders, and the idea that government somehow defines our value, is what allows people to think it is reasonable to impede someone’s right to move from one place to another. It is this view that makes them think it is reasonable to divide families, and refuse a family member to move from one country to live with family in another.
The Nationalist Who Thinks He is Patriotic
The problem is the nationalist does not generally realize that he or she is not a patriot. This is because nationalism masquerades as patriotism. The process of becoming a nationalist is the same as becoming a cult member. It’s a slow process where your sense of reality begins to change. The main indoctrination system used against the American people is the public education system. The system creates a power structure that you must follow, trains you to be obedient to the media, and pulls you away from your family–this destroyed the multi-generational household system for a long time.
“The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them”. – George Orwell
I think that both George Orwell got it right. It’s not wrong to speak out against actions taken by the nation or its leaders when you think that those actions are wrong and in fact not doing so seems to be the worst crime against a nation that a person can commit as a citizen.
This means that a patriot doesn’t blindly accept the idea of a massive military or forced military service. A patriot will decide whether or not what the government is doing overseas is really the right thing; he or she will ask whether or not giving up safety in return for suppression of freedom is worth it. A patriot also won’t simply accept being told that we have only two choices for President and that we must select the lesser evil rather than the best candidate, but most importantly of all, a patriot will simply ask questions rather than blindly follow.
I am not a nationalist. Given that I am an anarchist, I am barely a patriot. However, if I am connected to this country and its government in any way, it is that I have American citizenship and have residence in America, but I am not an American. I do not let this nation define me. Maybe that, more than anything else, is the difference between the two.