Nationalism vs. Patriotism; the Basics

This article is an effort to educate the ‘educated’ in the basics of the difference between a nationalist and a patriot. Nationalism and patriotism both show the relationship of an individual towards his or her nation. The two are often deliberately confused and are frequently being used to mean the same thing. However, there is a vast difference between nationalism and patriotism. As George Orwell put it nationalism is ‘‘the worst enemy of peace.’’

Nationalism means to give more importance to unity by way of a cultural background, including language and heritage. Patriotism pertains to the love for a nation, with more emphasis on values and beliefs. Accordingly, nationalism is a feeling that one’s country is superior to another in all respects, while patriotism is merely a feeling of admiration for a way of life. These concepts show that patriotism is passive by nature and nationalism can be a little aggressive.

The United States of America and its foreign and security policy is a prime example of country that is deeply nationalistic in thought and action. The American way of life is the best way of life. Those who do not subscribe to Uncle Sam’s way of life will be considered their mortal enemy e.g. Russia and China.

Patriotism is based on affection and nationalism is rooted in rivalry and resentment. One can say that nationalism is militant by nature and patriotism is based on peace.

Most nationalists assume that their country is better than any other, whereas patriots believe that their country is one of the best and can be improved in many ways. Patriots tend to believe in friendly relations with other countries while some nationalists don’t. In patriotism, people all over the world are considered equal but nationalism implies that only the people belonging to one’s own country should be considered one’s equal.

A patriotic person tends to tolerate criticism and tries to learn something new from it, but a nationalist cannot tolerate any criticism and considers it an insult. Although in the Pakistani ‘educated ‘ class some of those who criticize  nationalism ironically tend to be the most like militant nationalist in their viewpoints.

Nationalism makes one to think only of one’s country’s virtues and not its deficiencies. Nationalism can also make one contemptuous of the virtues of other nations. Patriotism, on the other hand, pertains to value responsibilities rather than just valuing loyalty towards one’s own country.

Nationalism makes one try to find justification for mistakes made in the past, while patriotism enables people to understand both the shortcomings and improvements made.


Patriot: Expresses the emotion of love towards his country in a passive and constructive way.

Nationalist: Strives for independence and the interests and domination of a nation and expresses his love or concern for the country in an active political way.

I hope this proves to be a clarification and education for those that deliberately confuse the two terms and claim that there is no difference between the two.



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