Nationalism vs Patriotism – Differences and Similarities

nationalism vs patriotism

The key difference between nationalism and patriotism is that nationalism is the belief in an exclusionary and insular nation-state, while patriotism is the non-exclusionary love of your own nation.

Here is a breakdown of the differences:

  • Nationalism is a belief that your nation sits that the top of a hierarchy of nations. You believe your nation’s interests are is inherently more important than those of any other country in the world.
  • Patriotism, on the other hand, is simply the love of your country and culture. Patriots know that you can love your own nation without thinking it’s objectively better than anyone else’s.

While nationalism and patriotism both represent love of country, patriotism is seen as a positive form of self-expression whereas nationalism is seen as an exclusionary act and assertion of power.

Table of Differences: Nationalism vs Patriotism

Nationalists often believe in a hierarchy of nations, with the belief that their own nation should sit on top.Patriots’ love of their nation does not mean that they think it is objectively superior to any other nation.
Nationalism asserts the objective supremacy or infallibility of a particular nation-state.Patriotism is a subjective love of a country and the wish for it to do well.
Nationalism often leads to prejudice against non-native-born people who are a threat to the nation’s traditions.Patriots love their nation’s culture and identity but do not believe it’s better than the culture of immigrants or foreigners.
Nationalism is intolerant of difference and insists on assimilation.Patriotism generally embraces tolerance and the co-mingling of cultures within a nation-state.
Nationalists in government are reluctant to engage in global cooperation because they see geopolitics as a zero-sum battle of nations.Patriots will engage in global cooperation because they believe cooperation, trade treaties, and the global spread of ideas can benefit everyone.
Nationalists often embrace an aggressive military posture with the idea that this will deter competitor nations and can help to claim territory if another nation-state is seen as weak.Patriots believe in a strong defensive military force but do not engage in wars of aggression.

What is Nationalism?

canadian flag

Nationalism is an ideological and political movement that promotes the idea of a particular nation as an inherently superior or infallible entity.

The concept of nationalism has also been used to promote the idea of a unified people or culture, and it has sometimes been used to promote xenophobic or imperialist attitudes.

There are at least 14 types of nationalism that sit along a spectrum.

On the softer end of the spectrum, versions of nationalism such as civic nationalism overlap significantly with patriotism. For example, civic and liberal nationalists believe in the rule of law, multiculturalism, and democracy (and see these values as central reasons why their country is ‘great’).

On the other end of the spectrum, ethnonationalism and expansionist nationalism can lead to ethnic cleansing and world wars.

What is Patriotism?

portugal flag

Patriotism is feeling proud of and loyal to one’s country. It can stem from having a soft spot for your culture and neighbors or appreciation of everything the country gave you as you were growing up.

Patriotism can manifest in many ways, including:

  • Standing for election to represent your nation
  • Supporting your country’s football team
  • Playing in your country’s football team
  • Celebrating national holidays
  • Showing pride in your national identity
  • Fighting for your country in the military
  • Working to make your country a better place

While the above actions can also be the actions of nationalists, patriots do these things only because they love their country and want the best for it and not because they see their country as being in a contest with other countries to be the objectively “best” group of people in the world.

What are some Arguments for Nationalism?

palestine flag

Many oppressed ethnic groups who live in ethnic territories within a nation embrace nationalism as their ideology. For these ethnic groups, nationalism is used to justify the formation of a new nation-state.

In these instances, they embrace a nationalist identity because they believe that the creation of a recognized nation-state will help to protect them from oppression. Their belief is that the creation of an ethno-nationalist nation-state is the only way to protect them and their interests.

1. Kurdish Nationalism

Kurdish nationalism refers to the belief that Kurds in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey deserve their own nation-state due to their oppression in each respective state.

The ethnic Kurds were separated by the superimposed boundaries built by more powerful groups surrounding them (and, in large part, the support of European colonialists). For them, nationalism is about asserting their right to a nation-state that was taken from them by colonialism.

2. Pan-Arabism

Pan-Arabism promotes the unification of the Arab people into one nation-state. It is based on the belief that the Arab people share a common culture and identity that should be strengthened and celebrated.

This type of nationalism imagines a new nation that de-colonizes the various Arabian nations in Western Asia and Northern Africa and re-constructs them as a single nation.

Pan-Arabism emphasizes an end to the divisions between Arab states, the political unity of Arab people, and the protection of Arab interests.

3. Cuban Nationalism

Cuban nationalism is a type of left-wing nationalism that advocates against colonialism and imperialism imposed by the United States. This nationalism was embraced by Fidel Castro and the 26th of July Movement.

Advocates of Cuban nationalism argue that it protects the Cuban people from American oppression and the buying-out of Cuban land by foreigners. As a result, it protects the interests of the Cuban people and their culture.

Advocates against it, however, argue that it suppresses the Cuban people’s right to choose their own cultural values for themselves. Cuba’s communist regime, in an attempt to protect Cuban culture, denies Cubans the benefits of globalization and the freedom to choose their own destinies.

What are some Arguments for Patriotism?

Patriotism is an emotional attachment to one’s homeland. This attachment can be manifest in many ways, such as support for one’s national team or pride in one’s country’s history and culture.

Patriotism can promote unity and pride within a nation, and it can also inspire people to work together for the common good.

Additionally, patriotic feelings can motivate people to defend their country against foreign threats, embrace taxation and wealth redistribution, and embark on political campaigns to try to improve their country.

1. Ukrainian Self-Defense

A recent example of patriotism was the Ukrainian people’s valiant defense of their nation against the overwhelming force of the Russian military.

When Russia invaded in 2022, the people of Ukraine rallied together to fight the invader.

Russia and the world expected Ukrainians to surrender. However, due to Ukrainians’ love of their country and unique culture, they stood up against the aggressor and outperformed most people’s expectations.


Patriotism and nationalism are two sides of the same coin. While both involve love of your country, patriots see their love of their country as a subjective feeling while nationalists think that their country is objectively the greatest nation on earth.

While patriotism is generally seen as a positive trait representing pride in your heritage, nationalism tends to be seen as more extreme. Nationalism has led to significant harm, discrimination, prejudice, and war.

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