54. Is There A Difference Between Nationalism and Patriotism?

“Nationalism” and “Patriotism” often get mistaken for having the same meaning. While there are some small similarities, these words mean very different things, and as Brittany and Connor will discuss, one of these words has been very problematic throughout history.



Here is the transcript of our conversation: 


Connor: Hey, Brittany.

Brittany: Hey, Connor

As I’ve been reading the news lately, I’ve been thinking of it more about the term patriotism and kind of a related word that I think would be good for us to compare and contrast. So there’s patriotism and then there’s also nationalism. And I feel like a lot of people maybe confuse these words or think that they have the same meaning, but to my understanding and with everything that I’ve read in the study in the past, there are actually some pretty strong differences between what is patriotism and what is nationalism. So I think both words to at least some extent, mean loving your country or loving your nation. But I think there’s something a bit deeper than that and there are clear differences to it. So what are your thoughts? Yeah,

Brittany: There’s actually a really good quote from Sydney Harris, I believe it was a journalist back in the day, but it kind of sums up, You were just talking about the debate between these two words. So he says The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does. I think that’s a pretty cool quote

Connor: Proud of your country for what it does. What does he mean there is the pride of your country for the good things, right? Yeah. Cuz governments can do a lot of bad things, which maybe gets to that national point no matter what it does, even when it does bad things. You are proud. And I’m reminded of George Washington and his farewell address, in fact. So he is the first president of the United States. A lot of people wanted George Washington to be the king. It’s kind of funny for

Brittany: Alexander Hamilton did

Connor: Actually exactly for all the Hamilton love going on. Hamilton was a nationalist and he wanted George Washington and his posterity to kind of be the new King of America. And a lot of people kind of wanted that. But George Washington, to his amazing credit, basically did not want power. He did not seek these types of opportunities. He was kind of a reluctant leader to step forward and do this cause he felt it was the right thing to do. And so he’s president of the United States, the fir brand new country, trying to lead it through its first few years. And when he is done being president, serving as president, he writes kind of a farewell address and shares a lot of his thoughts. And in that farewell address, he has a lot of thoughts about parties because the whole country had just come together to fight off the British empire, the strongest empire in the whole world.

And miraculously they won. And interestingly, clearly, they won with support from the French, but also German Hessians, which were basically hired guns, hired soldiers that they paid for to come to fight. So it wasn’t just Americans fighting the British. There were some other people who came to help, nonetheless, Americans across all spectrums, old, young, poor, and rich, banded together to fight for this cause. And there was kind of a unity. Not everyone agreed. In fact, what’s really interesting is to read the history of people who were loyalists, which means they lived in America but supported the British government. They didn’t agree with the revolution. And there were actually a lot of people like that. So it’s not like everyone living here wanted to get rid of the British government. That’s not true at all. But broadly speaking, there was a lot of excitement for what was called the cause of the Patriots.

And so here’s George Washington feeling like there’s been at least a lot of unity, especially after the revolution. People are like, Hey, we’re Americans now we’re our own country. And kind of a common identity. And so then he’s in his first few years as president and he’s already seeing things start to break down. He’s already seeing these different factions, these different groups splintering off for their own different interests. I mean, Alexander Hamilton’s a great example. There were people, Alexander and others in George Washington’s cabinet, which means his top leaders, his group of top leaders who totally disagreed with one another. And you had the formation of these brand new political parties within America, within the brand new government. So people were aligning themselves with different political parties. Obviously, we know that this is still with us today with Republicans and Democrats, and other minor political parties.

What George Washington wrote about in his farewell address was a warning about what he called the spirit of party. He was warning Americans saying, We’ve had this unity, but if we let the spirit of the party kind of come in and infect us, it’s gonna be bad news. I don’t have the words in front of me, but I would encourage you, in fact, Brittany, let’s go ahead and link on the show notes page today to that farewell address. It is very much worth reading. And what I found is that a lot of people have never encountered this going through social studies and school and so forth. So take a minute with your family, and read that farewell address. It’s not very long, but it’s very interesting and focuses on the words he talks about the party because it is a warning of the very things that we’re seeing. Why do I bring this up? I bring this up, Brittany, because as we talk about patriotism versus nationalism, you definitely see what I’m gonna call tribalism where people affiliate with or group with their tribe. It’s like, Hey, I’m Republican and everyone who’s not a Republican is awful or not as good as me. And you get a lot of pride coming in where it’s almost like sports teams in a way. That’s what

Brittany: That’s what I thinking of too.

Connor: Yeah, people. And if I’m being honest, as I’ve learned more about politics over the years, it actually turned me off to sports because I saw in sports and teams the same kind of tribal mentality that I’ve seen in politics. I love sports just like I love civics and economics and ideas. But when people kind of combat one another and think they elevate themselves over other people, I’m better than you just because of this team identity that started to turn me off. And so I used to be a, growing up, I was a big 49ers fan.

Brittany: You don’t strike me as a sports fan, Connor

Connor: Yeah, well you and a lot of other people. And so patriotism, if we’re talking about the love of country, love of ideas, love of freedom, love of the beauty around us and prosperity and free markets and justice, that’s amazing and that’s awesome, and that there’s a lot of reason to have pride. But Brittany, I feel like when we talk about nationalism, it’s a lot more of what George Washington was warning about. It’s very much this tribal mentality of us versus them. And our government is good no matter what it does that’s what starts to worry me.

Brittany: I would agree with that. And there was actually a really good, I can’t remember how she worded this, but one of my mentors, when I was a teacher and she was teaching me how to teach kids, she told me something and she said that patriotism is almost not connected with a place patriotism is, especially American patriotism. It was such an ideal. And we’ve seen this when we talk about Bastiat, right? Somebody all the way in France knew what people were doing in America because what the American revolutionaries were doing was so cool. It was so important that these ideals kind of spread because it wasn’t just, you had to be an American, right? Thomas Jefferson even said These are all you have to do is be born to have unable rights. So there’s this idea that patriotism, American patriotism is almost above a place. It doesn’t matter where an American lives, they can still be patriotic because of these ideals. Nationalism’s a little bit different. In fact, there’s a little bit of a scary term. Blood and soil people sometimes say that it is kind of like nationalism is a place, it’s that tribalism. Am I right? Because I live in this country and anybody who’s in a different country is wrong cause they don’t live in my country. It’s almost more territorial. I don’t know what you think about that, but I’ve always thought that was kind of an interesting way to view the two.

Connor: I agree with you. And as we’re talking here, I was just reminded of an article I wrote, Wow, 10 years ago. We’ll link to it on the show notes, page tuttletwins.com/podcast. This article I titled Why America Should Apologize gets to this idea of nationalism is kind of like a no apology, even when my government is wrong, we’re always right, we’re best, blah, blah, blah. Versus patriotism I think is very much praising the good things and praising the right things. But when bad things happen, a patriot will call that out. Hey, that’s wrong. That’s an injustice. And this article is from a decade ago, a decade old. And so some of the references are a bit older. For example, I catalog in this article a few examples of politicians saying that we should never apologize to America. So Jason Chaffetz, who at the time was a congressman and my state of Utah, your former state, was at a big conference full of Republicans and conservatives, and he said, We should never, ever, ever apologize for America. Former governor Sarah Palin, who was the vice presidential candidate with John McCain. She was trying to, with John McCain be president and vice president of the whole country. She said We should never apologize for our country. Former president George H.W Bush, so, not his son, George W. Bush, but the dad who was president in the 19,

Brittany: We Were kids.

Connor: Yeah. The Eighties, I think. Yeah. He said, And I quote, I’ll never apologize for the United States ever. I don’t care what the facts are. Which is, which is crazy, especially, I’ll share very briefly before we move on. That statement in particular is very worrisome. In 1988, there was a missile was launched by the Navy that destroyed an airplane in Iran, a civilian airplane. In other words, just average individuals are on there.

Brittany: Not Even a government, not a military plane,

Connor: Yeah. Correct. All 290 passengers were killed, including 66 children. And Bush at the time, was vice president and he was campaigning to become, he wanted to be the president. And in response to that event, he said, I will never apologize to the United States. I don’t care what the facts are. I’m not an apology for America kind of guy. And you just look at that and you’re like, What are you doing? Right. That’s just crazy. And yet, there are so many people, especially in the government like that, who are nationalists because they can’t admit fault. They can’t concede or agree that their team is wrong or imperfect or at fault sometimes. So there are several other examples that would go into willing to that on the show notes page. But I think an apology or admitting mistakes is part of being a patriot because you need to see that a government comprised of imperfect people is going to be imperfect.

Brittany: And also just standing up and saying, This is wrong. Even maybe before we have to apologize, it might be let’s not go to war. I know you and I was very both Iraq and Afghanistan as being vocal about that maybe before we even get there.

Connor: Absolutely. Yeah. I agree with you. I think a patriot is willing to call out the government when they’re wrong, whereas a nationalist is always willing. It’s kind of, in the Bible, there’s the example that Jesus shares of the moat and the beam, right? Why do you see the moat in someone else’s eye and not the beam in your own? In other words, you’re like, you’re seeing these little mistakes that other people are doing in their lives, but you don’t realize that you have these horrible problems yourselves. And I feel like that is a good description probably for all of us in many ways. But also in this context, the nationalist who is willing to see faults in other countries, other governments, they’re always sharing things on Facebook about, Oh, look at this horrible thing that’s happening. And I always will find examples. Oh look, they sent this guy to prison for this reporter.

They sent this reporter. They don’t support freedom of speech. And then I’ll find examples in America that are how we don’t either. Yeah. I’m like, Let me introduce you to Julian Assange. Right. and examples in America, or Edward Snowden, who we’ve talked about before. And just our government is not perfect. There are many things wrong with our own government. And a nationalist is very willing to overlook, I think, or ignore those bad things and only try and focus on and attack the bad things in other countries to make them look bad, in order to make us look good. And I don’t think that that is, I’ll call it intellectually honest. In other words, I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s correct. I don’t think it’s sincere. So something that is intellectually dishonest. You’re trying to be deceitful or lie or manipulate. So I don’t know. I don’t have a lot of love for nationalists. What about you?

Brittany: No, I’m in the same camp. I think it’s also, we saw this play out with the trade war, and a lot of people probably heard the term trade war play out. And what that essentially was is that any goods or services coming in from another country, we were putting really high taxes on called tariffs. And that was kind of another example of nationalism. Maybe it’s not as stark as going to war or something like that, but it’s basically saying that we want things made in America and how dare you make things out of America and it’s not as good as here, so we’re gonna charge you more. But what happened when all these trade wars happened? Americans suffered. We all suffered because taxes went up for us, or the prices went up for us because the company had to account for the tariffs. So nationalism is not only a little bit dangerous, it doesn’t help anyone. I don’t see it helping anyone. So I think it’s something we should probably try to avoid.

Connor: Well head to the show notes page, tuttletwins.com/podcast. As always, we’re very grateful that you to have subscribed to our podcast. We would appreciate you sharing with others so that we can help even more families learn the way the world works. Until next time, Brittany, and as always, thanks for chatting, and we’ll see you next Time

Brittany: Talk to you Next time

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