Leaders clash over nationalism v patriotism

Face-off: Trump and Macron also clashed over defence spending earlier last week.

Is nationalism always bad? Emmanuel Macron has launched a very thinly-veiled attack on self-proclaimed nationalist Donald Trump, describing the ideology as a “betrayal of patriotism”.

As world leaders gathered under a grey, drizzling Paris sky to commemorate Armistice Day, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that the “old demons” of nationalism that drove the war are resurfacing.

“Patriotism is exactly the opposite of nationalism,” Macron declared before the Arc de Triomphe. “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying, ‘our interests first, who cares about the others’, we erase what a nation holds dearest: […] its moral values.”

His target, US President Donald Trump, looked on. Just weeks ago Trump told crowds at a rally, “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist.”

While Macron has positioned himself as the centrist champion of globalism, Trump has pursued an “America First” foreign policy.

But is Macron right to say that nationalism is “the exact opposite of patriotism”? Google’s dictionary defines nationalism as “patriotic feeling, principles or efforts.” Indeed, patriotism is often listed as a synonym for nationalism.

The words were interchangeable until the mid-1800s, both referring to a general love of one’s country. Now, however, according to Merriam Webster, the definition also includes “exalting one nation above all others”.

George Orwell made a similar distinction in his essay, Notes on Nationalism. A patriot is devoted to a particular way of life but “has no wish to force [it] on other people”, while nationalism is characterised as domineering.

Orwell shared Macron’s anxiety that nationalism can compromise morals by placing a nation state “beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests”.

This vision of amoral, oppressive nationalism reached its awful nadir in Nazism.

After the world wars, more democratic governments emerged and global free markets connected the world, blurring national lines.

But now nationalism is surging, everywhere from Italy to Brazil. Commentators say many people feel left behind by globalisation and long for a grounding sense of communal pride.

Is nationalism always bad?

For Queen and country

It’s a destructive force, say some. It is impossible to ignore the strong and recurring links between nationalism and bigotry, both historically in the Nazi’s ultra-nationalism and in today’s white nationalist movements. Nationalism threatens moral values by blinding a person to their country’s faults, and it encourages xenophobia. Macron is right.

It’s natural to want to be proud of your community, reply others. These feelings can be channelled into a positive nationalism that celebrates a country’s achievements without attacking others. As the recent rise of the far-right shows, ignoring nationalism is dangerous as it allows extreme voices to exploit and misdirect the public’s wish to feel pride in their identity.

You Decide

  1. Are nationalism and patriotism opposites?
  2. Can nationalism be a good thing?


  1. Research the origins of the words “nationalism” and “patriotism”. Write a paragraph explaining the history of each word and whether their meanings have changed over time.
  2. Class debate time! “This house believes that nationalism is the opposite of patriotism.” Use the links in Become An Expert to help with your arguments.

Some People Say...

“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”

Albert Einstein

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
During Sunday’s commemoration services in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron launched an attack on nationalism, which he described as a “betrayal of patriotism”. His comments have been widely seen as a direct rebuttal to US President Donald Trump, who recently described himself as a nationalist.
What do we not know?
Whether nationalism and patriotism can accurately be described as opposites. It is clear that the words have interlinking origins, and British political commentator Steve Hilton argues that the dictionary regards them as synonyms, but other dictionaries point out that nationalism has additional connotations of trying to impose the view that your country is the best in the world.

Word Watch

Armistice Day
Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
Arc de Triomphe
A famous monument in Paris. It was built in 1806 to commemorate those who died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
“America First”
Trump has restricted free trade with other countries and distanced the US from international organisations like the United Nations.
Two words with the same meaning.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary.
George Orwell
An English novelist and critic who most famously wrote 1984, in which a future all-powerful state oppresses and spies on its citizens.
The lowest point of something, with negative connotations.
Italy to Brazil
Italy is one of many European countries to see a nationalist resurgence. It is currently governed by a coalition of the nationalist League party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement. Brazil recently elected Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right nationalist.


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