Nationalism vs. Patriotism: Differences between Patriotism vs. Nationalism

Last Updated on December 8, 2023

When someone loves his country, is he a patriot or a nationalist? In fact, there is no definite answer to this question. Nationalism vs. patriotism are two words that have very similar meanings but also very different connotations, with one being positive and the other being negative. So, it is wrong to call a patriot a nationalist and vice versa: if you call someone a nationalist, they can take it as an insult. Read on to figure out the difference between these two words.

Nationalism vs. Patriotism: the Distinction

Key Takeaways

  • Nationalism and patriotism are both forms of love for one’s country, but carry different implications.
  • Patriotism focuses on love and positive contributions to a nation, while nationalism often implies a sense of superiority.

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Nationalism and Patriotism: the Definitions

Defining Patriotism

When we talk about patriotism, we’re describing a positive bond with one’s country. This attachment involves a deep affection and commitment to the well-being and values of our nation, reflected in various commendable sentiments and actions. It’s this love for our country that motivates us to participate and serve for the greater good of all its inhabitants.

Defining Nationalism

On the flip side, nationalism is a term that carries a different shade of meaning. Although it includes love for one’s country, it pushes beyond to an assertive preference for one nation over others. Nationalism can be characterized by a more intense and sometimes exclusionary dedication to one’s nation-state, often at the expense of international cooperation. A nationalist’s primary allegiance is to their own country first, sometimes leading to a disregard for the interests of other nations.

Nationalism and Patriotism: Historical Context 


From the late 18th century, we see the emergence of nationalism as a significant force. The American and French Revolutions were influential, sparking a global reevaluation of national identity and sovereignty. During this period, the term “nationalism” often overlapped with “patriotism,” with both expressions signifying a general love for one’s country.

The 19th century was marked by the rise of national movements, particularly in Europe, where numerous states sought unification or independence. Key examples include German unification under Bismarck and the Italian unification led by figures like Garibaldi. Here, nationalism was propelled by the desire to consolidate people with shared language, culture, and history into singular nation-states.


As we explore the historical context of patriotism, it’s essential to understand that this concept has its roots in ancient times. The idea of patriotism, loving and being loyal to one’s homeland, has been a uniting force throughout history.

  • Ancient World: Patriotism was evident in the city-states of ancient Greece, where citizens took pride in their polis.
  • Roman Era: The Romans too had a strong sense of patriotism, which they called ‘patria pietas’, the devotion to the Roman Republic, and later the Empire.

During the Middle Ages, patriotism was often tied to allegiance to a monarch or feudal lord. However, our concept of modern patriotism began to take a clearer shape with the rise of nation-states in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Nationalism vs. Patriotism: the Differences

PATRIOTISM is the love someone feels for their country that is based on the idea that this country itself is good and that good people live there. Though NATIONALISM also is the love and affection for one’s country, it’s based on the idea that this particular country is better than all the rest.

In other words, patriotism is about loving your country for its positive qualities without lowering other countries in any other way. A patriot understands that other people can feel the same way about different countries, and he doesn’t think that his own country is the best in the world. He accepts all of the flaws of his motherland but loves it anyway, and he is open to other patriots who love their home countries.

On the other hand, a nationalist loves his country because he strongly believes that all the other countries are worse. He doesn’t accept that anyone can feel differently and he supports that his country because it’s the best in the world, should dominate all the rest. In this sense, you could say that nationalism is the opposite of globalism.

In history, patriotism brought people together to fight difficulties. For instance, patriotism was one of the reasons why so many people fought in World War II, protecting their homeland and their fellow citizens. The biggest example of nationalism, however, also comes from the same war: it was nationalism that led to the Nazi party rising in Germany. There was a belief that Germany was superior to other countries, and that the Aryan race is superior to other races. Thus began the Holocaust, where millions of people were tortured and killed only because they weren’t from the “best” country in the world and didn’t have the “best” qualities that they were supposed to have to survive.

Nationalism vs. Patriotism Examples

Nationalism Examples

  • The politician’s speech was filled with sentiments of nationalism and pride for the country.
  • The rise of nationalism in the region has led to increased tensions between neighboring countries.
  • Nationalism was a driving force behind the country’s push for independence.
  • The history teacher explained how nationalism contributed to the outbreak of World War I.
  • The sports event became an unexpected display of nationalism, with flags waving and national anthems playing.
  • The leader’s nationalism was evident in his commitment to domestic manufacturing and job creation.
  • Critics argue that nationalism can sometimes foster exclusion and intolerance towards other nations and cultures.

Patriotism Examples

  • On Independence Day, the streets were filled with displays of patriotism and national pride.
  • The soldiers were commended for their patriotism and dedication to serving their country.
  • Wearing a flag pin on his lapel was a subtle sign of his deep patriotism.
  • The Olympic athletes showed their patriotism by singing their national anthem loudly and proudly.
  • The memorial was a place for citizens to express their patriotism and respect for those who had served.
  • The school encouraged patriotism by teaching students about national heroes and historical events.
  • Acts of patriotism can range from voting in elections to serving in the armed forces.

Frequently Asked Questions

What distinguishes the concept of patriotism from that of nationalism?

Patriotism is our love and support for our country, while nationalism is the belief in our country’s superiority and often a desire for its dominance. We see patriotism as a positive feeling of pride and nationalism sometimes as an aggressive ideology.

Can nationalism have both positive and negative impacts on a country?

Yes, nationalism can unify a nation by fostering a collective identity, but it can also lead to exclusion of those seen as outsiders. The balance between pride and aggression is delicate and can sway both ways.

How does patriotism manifest in everyday actions and behaviors?

Patriotism shows in our respect for national symbols, engagement in civic duties, and support of our compatriots. It’s the everyday pride we take in our country’s values and achievements without devaluing other nations.

What historical examples demonstrate the principles of nationalism?

The unification of Germany in the 19th century showcases nationalism’s ability to merge separate states under a single national identity. However, the extreme nationalism of the early 20th century led to devastating world conflicts.

In what ways can nationalism and patriotism lead to different political outcomes?

Nationalism can result in aggressive foreign policy and isolationism, whereas patriotism might inspire collaboration and international cooperation. The difference in these outcomes reflects the underlying ethos of each ideology.

2 thoughts on “Nationalism vs. Patriotism: Differences between Patriotism vs. Nationalism”

  1. This article makes the critical difference between patriotism and nationalism clear. Patriotism derives from inspirational values and aspirational commitments. Nationalism arises due to belief in mythical superiority and excuses aggressive actions to enforce this false belief.


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