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What is Patriotism?

September 10, 2011

Patriotism is viewed from a social psychological perspective as an attachment of group members towards their group and the country in which they reside.  This attachment is reflected in beliefs and emotions that individuals hold.  In its fundamental form, patriotism has positive implications, being an essential condition for group existence.  It gives meaning to group membership and serves important functions of personal belonging and identification, as well as group functions of unity, cohesiveness and mobilization.  Without patriotism groups disintegrate and therefore every group tries to inculcate it in its members through cultural, social, and political mechanisms. But, although in its fundamental form patriotism is genuine, it may have negative consequences when beliefs of specific contents are added.” (abstract, p45)

In his introduction, Bar-Tal describes a little of the ‘how’ of patriotism:  

“Patriotism is one of the most important foundations in the life of a group or a nation.  Considering it as a desirable value, every group tries to inculcate it in its members through cultural, social, and political mechanisms.  The literature honours the deeds of patriots; sculptures and paintings eternalize them for subsequent generations; national holidays commemorate their birth, death, or achievements, while official societal institutions view patriots and patriotism together with the national anthem and the flag as the most important features of their own identity….  The educational system, too, explicitly attempts to impart patriotism as a value to the younger generation by formally glorifying the life of patriots and emphasizing the importance of ptriotism for the group’s survival.

From time to time there is a a call for patriotic sacrifice in every group or nation.  Group members may be asked to give up their personal convenience, wishes or even needs to help achieve group goals in the name of patriotism.” (p45)

He continues: “Generally, the most revered patriots are those who participated in wars or struggles for national independence.  Every nation has its own patriots who are considered national heroes. It is hard to find an Italian who has not heard about Giuseppe Garibaldi, and American who is ignorant of George Washington, a Pole who is unfamiliar with Tadeusz Kosciuszko, and an Israeli who has not heard about Joseph Trumpeldor.  Patriots have always served as examples and symbols for their group members.” (pp45-46)  

I wonder how many Kiwis have heard of Willie Apiata these days… I wonder which patriots we could all name.  It might be interesting to do a poll!!!

And which All Blacks… what of Kate Sheppard… Ernest Rutherford… Sir Edmund Hillary… what do these people represent in the public consciousness? Who are they to us? What do they represent in us?  What of the figures on our dollar notes and coins…?  How do these figures enter our knowledge fund? Become social capital?

“According to the present conception,” Bar-Tal states, “patriotism is not only a political, historical, and sociological phenomenon, but should also be discussed from a psychological perspective.  According to this view, patriotism is a cognitive-motivational response reflected in beliefs and emotions.  Since individuals are not born with patriotism, but learn it in their groups or nations, it is always acquired, at first, as a set of beliefs which are stored as a schema of patriotism in the cognitive system.  From the core beliefs emanate a semantic network of associated meanings and implications, as well as emotions, which have motivating characteristics and they influence individuals’ judgements, evaluations and behaviours…. Thus, the present approach places special attention on the cognitive aspect of patriotism – the beliefs.

This paper’s focus on beliefs is based on the premise that the study of individuals’ beliefs enables understanding their behaviour, since it is assumed that individuals’ beliefs to a large extent determine their behaviour.  That is, individuals behave in accordance with their beliefs.” (p46)

Ref: Daniel Bar-Tal (1993) Patriotism as fundamental beliefs of group members.  Politics and the Individual. 3(2), pp45-62  (all emphases mine)

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