Nationalism vs Patriotism – Differences and Similarities

nationalism vs

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?

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?

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.

Nationalism vs Supranationalism

Supranationalism is a term related to nationalism, but it is actually anti-nationalistic. Supranationalism refers to the idea of multiple nations coming together to form a higher authority, such as a supranational organization or government. Nationalism, as we have seen, prioritizes the opposite: nationalism is against ceding sovereignty. While nationalists emphasize national culture, identity, and independence, spranationalists emphasize cooperation, interdependence, and a shared cross-border identity.


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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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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