US Nationalism

As the 4th of July approaches, I thought it would be a fitting time to share something I’ve noticed in my statistics:  US nationalism frequently ranks among the top ten search engine terms that lead many people to my blog.  By entering this term in Google, Yahoo or wherever, they’re obviously interested in learning more about the topic.   They’re also on to  something.   

If you were to ask US Americans if they are nationalistic, most would give you a quizzical look, say “No” and perhaps add a reference about love of country.  The reality is quite different based on survey research, anecdotal evidence and government (e.g., foreign) policy.  If there were global rankings based on nationalism, the US would surely rank among the top five.

Since An International Educator in Vietnam focuses mainly on issues related to US-Vietnam educational exchange, it’s not exactly a treasure trove of information about US nationalism.  I do have a mid-March 2012 post entitled Talking Nationalism, Patriotism and Global Citizenship with US Students in Vietnam that scratches the surfaces.  In it I discuss the key differences between patriotism and nationalism, and the resulting implications for the development of global competence and citizenship. 

According to a standard dictionary definition, the distinction between patriotism and nationalism is clear. Patriotism is defined simply as “love for or devotion to one’s country.”  This is generally thought of as a benign, sentimental, and inward-looking form of national pride. As such, it does not exclude an openness to and even embrace of other cultures, their values, and the concerns and needs of their members.

In a 2003 essay titled A Kinder, Gentler Patriotism, the late U.S. historian Howard Zinn speaks of the need to redefine patriotism and notes that “if national boundaries should not be obstacles to trade—we call it globalization—should they also not be obstacles to compassion and generosity? Should we not begin to consider all children, everywhere, as our own? In that case, war, which in our time is always an assault on children, would be unacceptable as a solution to the problems of the world. Human ingenuity would have to search for other ways.” Patriotism, as defined above, does not preclude the globalization of compassion and generosity.

In contrast, nationalism is described as loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.  It is the second italicized part that distinguishes nationalism from its less strident and bellicose cousin, patriotism. Exaltation of one nation over another automatically assumes a degree of cultural superiority, a lack of openness and objectivity, and the assumption that “others” wish to be like us and, by extension, the desire to mold them in our image (i.e., missionary nationalism). 

By the way, if you’re interested in seeing what a political manifestation of US nationalism looks like in its purest form, check out the website of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a non-profit educational organization dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American leadership is good both for America and for the world…  (PNAC offers up a blueprint of the neoconversative vision of the world that resulted in the  US invasion and occupation of Iraq.) 

Send me an email, if you’re interested in having a dialogue about this important issue.  I’d also be happy to send you an English or Vietnamese PDF of a related book chapter I co-authored entitled “Developing Globally Competent Citizens: The Contrasting Cases of the United States and Vietnam” (with Duong Thi Hoanh Oanh), which appeared in The SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence (2009). 

Happy 236th Birthday, America, a mortal nation among nations (with thanks to Anatole Lieven)!


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