From Wikipedia:

There are various definitions for what constitutes a nation, however, which leads to several different strands of nationalism. It can be a belief that citizenship in a state should be limited to one ethnic, cultural, religious, or identity group, or that multinationality in a single state should necessarily comprise the right to express and exercise national identity even by minorities.

I have read in other questions, answers and comments the default assumption that everyone knows that nationalism is evil, racist and sometimes a synonym for Nazism. Similar to Jingoism, it appears that Nationalism is equated with the worst of American Culture.

I am a non-white naturalized citizen of the US, I have served in the Marine Corps and I have nothing but praise for the country that has enabled me to live a comfortable and important life. As a result I agree with the President's "America First" message, since I know that the other countries also believe that. I have no issue with the Wikipedia definition personally, but the label nationalism has been tainted.

What makes Nationalism (as in "my nation is the best") bad?

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    Are you talking about Nationalism or White Nationalism? I've seen a few people comment on White Nationalism, but not on Nationalism (those terms are not the same!)
    – user11249
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 19:51
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    I'm not sure it is, broadly speaking. On the other hand, white nationalism certainly is...mainly because it's a "wink wink" way of saying "white supremacist"...of which the US has a long history with.
    – user1530
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 20:15
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    @Carpetsmoker Why do you automatically assume that OP is talking about White Nationalism? Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 20:17
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    @DylanCzenski I didn't assume anything ("automatically" or otherwise), but I have not seen any discussions where people called "nationalism" racist or equal to Nazi-ism, but have seen it for White Nationalism. So just making sure it's clear what the question is about.
    – user11249
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 20:47
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    " since I know that the other countries also believe that.". Countries do not believe anything. people do. And I for one do not think my country is superior to any other or needs to come first. People - all people - have to come first, always, no matter who they are or where they were born (which is only incidental anyways). So the premise of your question seems to stem from a misunderstanding about what "countries" actually do believe, and yeah, nationalism is a tainted word almost everywhere on the world. Furthermore, what you are describing is patriotism (proudness of own country).
    – Polygnome
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 22:52

19 Answers 19


There are various forms of "Nationalism", but one prevalent belief is that "My Nation is better than others". Racism can be broadly understood to be the belief that "My race is better than others". Given how close these ideas are, it isn't surprising that there are many nationalists who are also racist.

This is particularly the case for the so-called "white nationalists" who believe that "white people" form a nation. Their nationalist beliefs are explicitly racist.

This doesn't mean that all forms of Nationalism are necessarily racist. Some forms of Nationalism don't believe that "My nation is better" but instead "My nation should have its own government". Thus Nicola Sturgeon is a nationalist, but not a racist. On the other hand, the BNP in the UK is both Nationalist and Racist (According to BNP founder John Tyndall, "The BNP is a racial nationalist party which believes in Britain for the British, that is to say racial separatism.")

The notion of "nation" as it applies to America is tricky. Nationalists in Europe are often opposed to immigration, but the majority of Americans are descended from immigrants. Nationalists, therefore, seek another way to distinguish "Us" from "them", and use race and language as a proxy for nation. And so especially in America are nationalists equated to racists, simply because many nationalists in America are racist.

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    I changed the question so that everyone knows that the form of nationalism I want to know about is: My Nation is the best Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 20:19
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – James K
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 22:04
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Oct 14, 2017 at 2:55
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    To extend a little on your first paragraph: the gist of it is that it's a very short step from "my nation is better than others" to "people from my nation are better than others". In the context of the question, that means a shift from "America First" to "Americans First". In general, people seem to use "patriotism" to mean the "my nation" version, and "nationalism" to mean the kind where there are aspects of "people from my nation" mixed in. Whether that's accurate or fair is another debate; that's just how people tend to use the terms. Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 15:08
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    prevalent is a useful word.
    – James K
    Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 19:59

As a result I agree with the President's "America First" message, since I know that the other countries also believe that. I have no issue with the Wikipedia definition personally, but the label nationalism has been tainted.

You may be right. The term has definitely been tainted. Context is always important. The president that said "America First" has:

  • come from a family accused of racial discrimination
  • made remarks towards several different cultures that many would consider are racist (or at the very least, contain racist undertones)
  • claimed there are 'good people' on both sides of the 'Nazi' debate
  • had a campaign manager and team tightly working with known entities courting white nationalists (Breitbart, to be specific)
  • been accused of saying overtly racist things on camera.
  • given a quick pardon to a sheriff convicted of racial profiling
  • enacted (or attempted to enact) policies that individually could be argued aside but as a collective clearly paint a particular picture (transgender ban in the military, DACA repeal, Muslim-centric country travel ban, a wall to keep Mexicans out, etc.)

So, in the context of this particular presidency it's not a huge leap for people to hear "white nationalism" when Trump says something like "America First".

As a phrase, "America First" is relatively harmless nationalism. Yes, of course, let's focus on our own country. But in the context of the dog whistle politics of the past year, it's easy to see why many have a very different interpretation of what is actually being said.

There's also the historical context where "White Nationalism" tended to be the particular type of nationalism at the forefront.

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    I would argue that the term "nationalism has not "been tainted" (at least not recently), that's simply what it means. The "better" version of it has a different name: "patriotism". smbc-comics.com/comic/an-important-distinction merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/patriotism-vs-nationalism
    – Federico
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 11:31
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    "been accused of saying overtly racist things on camera" Could you clarify this? Accusing right wing people of saying racist things has become a meme (at least for the political right itself) at this point.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 21:14
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    @jpmc26: It's quite absurd to list "accused of" as evidence of anything, that's punishing someone for other peoples' words. I mean, I could flag blip's answer just because he's been accused of missing the point. I suppose it does form part of the "context", but not in any useful way.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 0:24
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    The pattern I see is a pattern of bullet points that don't stand up under scrutiny... but such is the way of most political mud-slinging on all sides ;) All of them, including "reporters", are exaggerating the bad aspects of the ones the disagree with to rile up their supporters.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 2:05
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    @blip: Perhaps there's a pattern when compared to statesmen from other periods of history (or perhaps we simply didn't live when they were slinging mud), but there certainly isn't any difference vs other politicians of today. For example, using Hillary Clinton I could match your sequence of bullet point-for-point with items at least as bad, and not based on "undertones" either. The reality is that the mainstream media painted Clinton as if she were pure as the driven snow and Trump says the most outrageous things, but actually all politicians today are saying outrageous things.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 14:36

What makes Nationalism (as in "my nation is the best") bad?

Because it can be meant in two ways, both pretty frequent, and one of them is bad for one's own nation. And people frequently unconsciously mix the two.

The first means, approximately: "I like my country and my nation very much".

The second means what it literally says: "I think my nation is superior to any other nation".

There are at least two problems with the second way of thinking.

First, it is essentially nationally-based racism, if you will. There are no objectively better or worse nations, not to speak of best or worst. You do know why adverts frequently say their product is "the best"? Because it is unactionable. You can't prove them wrong, which you could, if they said something meaningful.

Second, this slogan frequently forces people into overly defensive position when faced with criticism of their nation. Which is bad for the nation.

For example, there are a number of scores -- some of them reasonably important -- in which the US is far from the first place in the world, such as certain things in education, violent crime rate and some others.

However, if faced with such data, a person who feels they have to defend the saying that their nation is the best, may feel tempted to brush these things aside as not conforming to his worldview -- declaring them invalid or pointing to other things at which his nation has better scores. Rather than saying, eg. 'Hey, why the heck are we not doing better than the tiny Finland on primary education? We should look at it and improve our things!'


Equating nationalism to racism is not particular to the United States.

For example, writing from a Quebec point of view, the book In Italics: In Defense of Ethnicity (1996) says:

Quebec is not the only place on earth with this attitude problem. Nationalist Italy is racist. Nationalist France is racist. Nationalist Great Britain is racist. Nationalist Germany is racist. Any person who adheres to nationalism is racist. Racism as a form of group hysteria grows right out of this blind faith in territory. It manifests itself when you hear some exclaim: 'This country belongs to me. Any person who comes to this country must become like me.'

Territory + nationality + identity = racism. Such is the fatal formula.

So there is a point of view, not particular to the United States, that nationalism is closely related to racism.

If anything, countries other than the United States, whose populations have more-homogenous ethnicities, have a closer correspondence between nationalism and racism.

Furthermore, looking at the origin of the word "racist":

We find the adjective racist penned by Gaston Mery in the November 18, 1897 issue of La Libre Parole "It is time, in popular meetings, that truly French - truly racist- voices oppose their eloquence to the rhetoric of internationalist boastings"

the meaning is equivalent to nationalist from the beginning.

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    Where does race even become part of the equation in "Territory + nationality + identity"? This is so typical of today's pseudo-intellectuals. They make baseless claims and just expect others to accept those claims. You quoted one of those morons so their assumption is true. They don't need facts, reasoning or logic. They simply need gullible fools to spread their lies as though there's merit to them.
    – Dunk
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 23:14
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    @Dunk If you look at the US Supreme Court decision Saint Francis College v. Al-Khazraji law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/481/604 , you'll see that historically groups such as "Swedes, Norwegians, Germans, Greeks, Finns, Italians [etc.]" have been considered separate races. So for most nations there is some validity to what the 1996 book was saying.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 13:00
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    I'm not able to post an answer, but this answer does the best job of addressing the historical connection between nationalism and racism. So I'd add that nationalism and racism are explicitly linked in colonialism, the idea that a culture's superiority entitles it, even obligates it, to subordinate other cultures. In the case of the US, consider Kipling's The White Man's Burden, explicitly congratulating the US for racist colonialist aggression.
    – bgvaughan
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 16:37
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    @Dunk "Territory + nationality + identity" is not an equation without the "= racism" portion you removed. The quoted author is asserting that those three elements inherently equate to racism. Whether or not that claim is baseless depends on what was written in the hundreds of additional pages of that book. The logic behind the assertion isn't particularly relevant to it being used here as an example of someone equating nationalism to racism in a country other than the U.S., which it clearly does.
    – AjimOthy
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 3:39

Other answers have addressed the issue of racism.

It's worth considering other aspects of this though. "My nation is the best" is a valid and praiseworthy opinion. However it can lead to some very invalid viewpoints such as:

  • My nation is the best, therefore we have the right to unilaterally impose sanctions or take first-strike military action against a nation which does not behave favourably towards us. (Too many US examples to quote, but Cuba, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Panama...)
  • My nation is the best, therefore everyone else in the rest of the world thinks it is the best too. Our foreign policies cannot cause resentment, because everyone loves us. (9/11)
  • My nation is the best, therefore we have no need of the outside world. No imports, and no-one new comes in. (Trump's wall)
  • My nation is the best, therefore our exporting businesses deserve protection, whilst other countries supporting their exporting businesses are "cheating". (Bombardier)
  • My nation is the best, therefore the actions of its government are not subject to criticism and scrutiny. ("Love it or leave it", Wikileaks)
  • My nation is the best, therefore political opposition is not valid. (Trump saying that the country was "let down" by opposition to repealing healthcare)
  • My nation is the best, therefore the actions of its public officials are not subject to criticism. (Taking a knee)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with considering your nation to be the best. However it is essential that you keep your eyes open about the ways in which your nation does not reach the standards it aspires to, and hold your nation accountable for those failures. It is only by exposing those problems, and refusing to elect people who refuse to fix those problems, that a nation can truly keep to those standards.

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    What are the good aspects of believing "My nation is the best"? I actually find that a flawed philosophy to begin with...namely because it leads to all of the 'therefore...' points you bring up.
    – user1530
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 14:50
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    @blip Some good aspects? Public service or military service because you truly believe your country is worth serving. Genuinely enjoying living in your country. Resilience in the face of hardship, because your country is stronger. Helping others in times of hardship (think of all those people heading to flooded areas to volunteer), because you see your fellow citizens as people you should care about. As a Brit myself, I need to be clear that however much I disagree with some US policies, there's also a lot which Americans should be bloody proud of about themselves.
    – Graham
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 16:41
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    Ah. Well, I agree with all of those sentiments but don't believe I need to think my country is best for any of them.
    – user1530
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 17:10
  • @blip You don't need to, but it isn't wrong in any sense if you do think that. I might suggest other countries which I think do it better, and that'd be a fun discussion over a beer with an American colleague, but I'd absolutely respect him for his choice. Sadly, conversations I've had with American colleages along these lines have tended to involve them saying "man, I wish I could talk to other Americans like this without starting a fight", for all the reasons I've quoted.
    – Graham
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 17:39
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    While people who believe your third bullet no doubt support Trump's wall, that's not actually the idea of the wall. Border security doesn't prevent all people from coming in, it prevents them from bypassing the approved entry process when coming in.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 4:25

The racial and ethnic composition of the group of people in US advocating nationalism politically is not the same as the racial and ethnic composition of the population of US. Consequently, selfish promotion of national interests is tantamount to selfish promotion of racial interests. Therefore, nationalism is racism.


A biased ethnic representation is a political problem, since other people can, and often do, claim the racially polarized group to promote self-interest.

In comparison to several other countries, the US is a relatively recent composition of racially diverse immigrants. Furthermore, the constitution and political culture recognizes the rights and freedoms of people regardless of racial origins. Consequently, the erosion of freedoms and rights of any person based on race, rather than merit, is considered contrary to American values and therefore 'bad'.

Nationalism is an ideology that considers the 'nation' to be fundamental, and it takes precedence over other social and political principles. The origin and/or adoption of nationalism across the world is synonymous with radical and often violent political change. Consequently, the history of nationalism is mired in controversy and there has never been a consensus on the ideology of nationalism as being virtuous. For example, the rise of nationalism in France was synonymous with the 'Reign of Terror'.

Although Nationalist movements was typically used to effect change from the existing status quo, the interpretation of the ideology of Nationalism is contextual. In some cases, Nationalism was used to bring a fractured or loosely associated group of states together, wherein the states had different racial and ethnic backgrounds. In other cases, Nationalism was used to secede from an empire on the basis of unique ethnic identity. So, exactly opposite!

Consider for example, the US and India. Both of these present day democratic countries are global melting pots, with a very diverse racial and ethnic composition. Both were under the British imperial yoke. Historically, both existed as fragments, rather than a well defined political entity. The independence movements here promoted unification and this required that all racially diverse fragments operate cohesively. In both these countries nationalism is the converse of racism.

An example of the other interpretation of nationalism is collapse of Soviet Union and some countries in Eastern Europe into smaller regions based on ethnic identity (this is a weak example with exceptions of course). Nationalism here is synonymous with polarized racial self-identification, since this was the route to freedom there.

So, nationalism should NOT be racism in US, which reflects its cherished values. The common denominator of nationalism has been the acquisition and preservation of freedom for the people of the nation. Therefore, it is entirely correct that any service person in the US, regardless of their race or ethnicity, who dedicates their life to the preservation of freedom and protection of national constitution, would find Nationalism to be a virtuous ideology.

Unfortunately, an emergent problem in US is that 'some' politically biased factions have apparently subverted nationalism as it is perceived in the US along racial lines. However, they have done so implicitly, rather than explicitly. This is perceived as nefarious subterfuge on the part of these politically motivated factions promoting self-interest above national interests and values. However, since there is sufficient precedence of their version of nationalism practised elsewhere, they do not find their racially motivated politics to be inappropriate for US.

What makes Nationalism (as in "my nation is the best") bad?

In a sentence, there is nothing bad about it (personal opinion). That said, Nationalism is an ideology that cherishes freedom of its people. It isn't a competition with a ranking system. The people who promote it have duplicitous political intent; best stated in the famous quote from Oscar Wilde "Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious".

The "America First" sounds like a translation of "Deutschland über alles", which has had some bad press in the past, which is probably why some people don't support it.

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    White Supremacist = New Black Panther Party, Black Lives Matter = Tea Party. There is a significant overlap between White Supremacism and Nationalism, because of some hold over White Nationalism, however, non-ethnocentric nationalism does exist. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 2:49
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    @DrunkCynic no. Those are equally silly comparisons. Stop. Black Lives Matter is not at all a nationalist group (pro or otherwise).
    – user1530
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 4:13
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    +1, some very nice points. My country was helped by nationalist feelings to succesfully and peacefully break off from the USSR, however, nowadays nationalism here is sometimes abhorrent, leading to certain amount of hate groups and ethnical-based racism. I have had the thought of nationalism being a good ideology for the oppressed, which turns harmful, once the opressed come into power.
    – Gnudiff
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 8:16
  • The last paragraph is great. Note that our current "Nationalhymne" contains a strophe which starts with "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles". But that strophe is always left out. Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 10:49
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    Note that "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles" was original meant as the motto for the union of hundreds of little states. If the states of the USA were close to independent, with bigger ones like Texas split into a dozen tiny counties each claiming its independent, then "America First" would be a good motto to try to unify them. (Of course, we know that 100 years later that title was badly abused).
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 22:24

It is "Us" vs "Them" which makes nationalism evil

What is the necessary condition if I want to hurt another human being? I need to lower my appreciation for this person. So I begin to compare him with things I find worthless and disgusting: animals, excrements etc. etc. This is a foolproof way in history to suppress remorse and stop thinking about what I am doing to another human.

Now we all know that there are differences in humans and associated groups. We all have a history, a specific environment, genetic differences, rules and cultures which not only make human unique, but bigger groups which share common traits. That alone is not a problem.

The problem begins when we start to give us ourselves a higher status for things which don't deserve merit. I am working harder, so I earn more money. I study hard and get good notes. I am doing many things for others, so others give me more responsibility (higher rank).

I am also born in Germany which makes me a superior person. Isn't it fantastic that I needed to do absolutely nothing to be better than other humans apart from other Germans? Birth, plop, and I rock. Uh, you are asking why do we Germans rock? Oh, it's easy, other Germans have done great things. Uh, not me...personally, but I and other Germans are part of Germany so we deserve a part of the merit.

What I describe above is nationalism.

It is a very thin difference between acknowledging and appreciating a culture and starting to feel ourselves special for being a part of the culture. Once we go that way we are doing what Dietrich Boenhoeffer called "cheap grace": Gaining merit without acknowledging responsibility or cause. Yesterday I injured someone badly with the car and drove away. But I go to the church, buy a candle and eat a wafer and I am absolved.

Nationalism fuels also emotions and make people reckless, careless and immunized against criticism. Someone is claiming country X is doing evil things? Then it must be "anti-X-ism". Someone who cannot stand that people in charge are doing things which are evil and harmful and speaks finally about it? Then it is a "traitor". People are also craving for recognition and if you give them some form of identification which makes them feel important, they are afraid that someone is taking it away from them. This makes it often impossible to discuss things out and is a cause of the backfire effect: Confronting someone with facts which may threaten a worldview often cause that the belief strengthens. It must be right because then I am not wrong.

Nationalism hides also responsibility. If you think over it: There is no such thing as the will of a motherland. Does the ground on which you are standing suddenly forms a mouths and says to you: "Hello, I am country X and my wish is that you defend me" ? No (at least I hope you do not experience it). So at the core what exactly do we mean if we say: "It is the wish of our nation..."? It is the wish of your leading figures, nothing more. But you can disagree with a leading figure because you know (s)he is a human and can make severe errors. The trick is if you use a "nation" you don't know how to articulate criticism and who should be addressed.

It should be said that there is in fact obligations between humans and groups and if you violate contracts, the results are every bit as real as physical items. The problem is that leaders hide the result of their actions under nationalism which is the reason why it is so damn hot for all dictatorships. What most people also don't realize that history does not support the idea that when conflicting viewpoints meet that the "better" one will win. It is absolutely possible that if the USA lost the war, George Washington would be known as despicable traitor of the British Crown and Benedict Arnold gets a 20 m marble statue after recognizing that he fought for the wrong side.

Ever wanted to know what people say if they are responsible for mass killings? "But I am a nice person". Nationalism is one possible step to divide people in lesser and higher beings which makes it easy to walk in the wrong direction. This can be generalized for nearly every form of -ism: Once a specific form of superiority apart from any personal merits is established, all their negative effects start to creep in. Double standard (My evil is necessary and comes from good will, yours is pure malice). Discrimination. Groupthinking. Immunization against criticism (Naturally I should not talk with you because you are X!).

And you can get even more bang for the buck if you are even more special. I am not only German, but white. Wait, you need to be white to be a genuine German! So once you have started with one -ism, it is like a supermarket. More self pimping without any repercussions. This is the reason racism is often associated with nationalism, you are starting to build specific images in your mind how the orderly world should look.

ADDITION: There is another reason nationalism goes very often with racism/culturalism. The problem is: Everyone is able to acquire a nationality because it is an abstract concept. The abstract concept nationality is often, but not always linked to a specific culture (African countries are a notable exception: Their borders were literally drawn by a ruler and their respective governments have also often zero direct influence to the tribes they are purportedly governing). Now every country is principally able to naturalize a new citizen at once (give a passport and updating documents) so native inhabitants often feel that a former alien is "cheating" by acquiring nationality without visible effort. While this position may have merit if the immigrant actively ignores or even rejects the culture (s)he is joining, it falls apart once the immigrant consciously decide to be a part of it by learning the language, culture and customs. Such people are now posing a problem. Either we must accept that having a specific nationality has no merit in itself (I am not talking about privileges of a nationality like social security, less limits to travel etc, I am talking about the privilege of being nationality X itself) and accept that those newcomers have every bit to call themselves to be a member of nation X or we deny them that right because those people are "devaluing" the "merit" of being a specific nationality and invent arbitrary divisions to associate a nationality with a culture/race suspiciously close to the own ideas and hold the exact borders as hazy as possible to include/exclude specific persons.

Some answers illustrate exactly the very specific dangers of nationalism.

Furthermore, the constitution and political culture recognizes the rights and freedoms of people regardless of racial origins. Consequently, the erosion of freedoms and rights of any person based on race, rather than merit, is considered contrary to American values and therefore 'bad'.

Nope. Bullshit. As every black US citizen can testify that the constitition was in effect since a very long time and did not prevent "Jim Crow laws". You know, the constituition was only for..."real" people. Not dumb..primitives or women who cannot think. And there was no change in German laws for murder during the Nazi era. It did not protect Jews because...Jews are inherently evil that they do not deserve protection. Slavs were also predestined to be subjugated, so if one dies, who cares?

Nationalism is so dangerous because the content is malleable and can be targeted against specific subgroups. As I said, once you accept different treatment for "good" and "bad" people, the result is not pretty. I really don't give a damn if anyone claims specific "values" if these "values" change with time, and surprise, changes in the direction of the leaders.

Well, the part with the Slavs during the Nazi era did not work out. What happens when the illusion disappears? One German soldier described in an article what happened. He was taught about the inferior Russian soldiers. After a fight which forced a retreat he hid in a cellar of an abandoned building. Suddenly a submachine gun appeared in the broken window and a voice in broken German said: "Get out, Fritz!". He got out with shaking knees and saw three Russians, none of them older than 20. And they got him. He was at their mercy. He recounted that he never felt such a strong shame and embarassment before in his whole life.
Other conversions occur once the person comes in contact with defamed X and starts to see that they are the very same stuff: No villains, but also no angels. Good and bad people, but mostly the average person: A bit nice, but also driving fast, smoking weed or evading tax.

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    Best part: "Nationalism hides also responsibility. If you think over it: There is no such thing as the will of a motherland. Does the ground on which you are standing suddenly forms a mouths and says to you: "Hello, I am country X and my wish is that you defend me" ? No (at least I hope you do not experience it). So at the core what exactly do we mean if we say: "It is the wish of our nation..."? It is the wish of your leading figures, nothing more. (...) The trick is if you use a "nation" you don't know how to articulate criticism and who should be addressed." -- I appreciate and upvote! Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 16:45
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    There is nothing inherently wrong with different groups organizing themselves according to their own preferences. Having many different nations that all share ingroup preferences is a natural human behavioral trait and does not automatically lead to conflict or violence. To the contrary, allowing different group of people to co-exists in their own distinct groups will cause less conflict than suppressing their natural group preferences.
    – Arne
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 9:15
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    @Arne I did not say anything contrary that "there is nothing inherently wrong with different groups organizing themselves according to their own preferences", so I don't understand your remark? The problem begins once different groups judge themselves as the inherently better people. Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 12:03

For the same reason that light gray is still a kind of gray.

The spectrum through patriotism to nationalism to xenophobia to fascism are all examples which include (to a greater or lesser degree) the idea of looking after one's own first, which obviously implies treating others in an inferior way. Many liberals oppose the whole spectrum on that principle i.e. contend that the equal value of human life supersedes arbitrary national boundaries.

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    Modern liberalism advocates looking after one's neighbors first too, the only difference is that neighbors are measured by political opinion rather than citizenship or geographic distance. But your error only makes sense from a liberal worldview where everyone receives a government handout, therefore not giving someone a handout is "treating them in an inferior way". But objectively, lack of doing a good can be distinguished from doing a harm.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 0:35
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    @BenVoigt I fail to see an error in Brad's answer. Your first two sentences which appear intended to point it out do not really contradict (as far as they are intelligible to me) anything Brad said, do they? Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 7:17
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    @PeterA.Schneider: The error in the answer is "obviously implies" which is a word choice when a logical principle is involves, the reality is "liberals consider", and do so based on a subjective criterion. Objectively, lack of doing a good can be distinguished from doing a harm. Subjectively, liberals choose to put those on the same level (concluding "I help those of my nation" is equivalent to "I harm those outside my nation"), but based on emotion, not logic, which is why the word "implies" is invalid.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 14:29
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    @BenVoigt Nice straw man. It is you and those like you with your preconceived biases that draw conclusions with imaginary lines. Where did Brad equate "treating others in an inferior way" with doing harm? He's quite right that treating people with a bias (of any sort) will result in treating some better than others, yes, in the logical sense. It would behoove you to stop drawing false equivalences. P.S. It's not about handouts, handouts are those things we give poor hypocrites in red states far more of than to any liberals.
    – ttbek
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 20:54
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    @BenVoigt Also, it was the conservative business community that was upset with the idea of saving good jobs for Americans, insisting that restricting the number of business visas wouldn't let them keep the best people for the job..... The idea that there are better ways to make decisions than which side of an imaginary line in the sand someone was born on is not a uniquely liberal idea.
    – ttbek
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 20:57

Lots of answers addressing the main question, so I wanted to address one of your assumptions:

As a result I agree with the President's "America First" message, since I know that the other countries also believe that.

That is definitely not the case for many of the most prosperous, peaceful and pleasant places to live in the world. For example, many countries are now part of the European Union, working together for their common benfit. The realize that cooperation is better than conflict and attempting to screw each other with one-sided Trump-style "deals".

I'd also point out that Trump's America First strategy, while still relatively new, appears to be isolating him and the country as a whole. Other developed nations tend to prefer mutual benefit and cooperation.

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    Lots of hope and wishes in you answer, yet Brexit and Catalonia are two recent examples that people are human and humans like fences Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 19:56
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    Don't misunderstand what the people of Catalonia want. They want control, not isolation or priority. Brexit is just stupid, people voted for lies and slogans.
    – user
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 20:39
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    @FrankCedeno that Brexit is the only real example, and that a majority of people in the UK are second guessing it, I think that actually reinforces this answer's point.
    – user1530
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 20:46
  • It's also worth noting that American First is now screwing up Brexit, as it becomes apparent that the wonderful trade deals we were hoping to do are actually going to be highly unfavourable. The countries that don't have a "me first" policy are mostly part of the EU, which we are now doing out best to piss off and ruin trade links with.
    – user
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 9:26

Why is nationalism associated with racism?

Because sufficiently many nationalists are also racists.

I think other answers are trying to find causation, when the question can be answered with correlation.

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    -1: this answer would benefit from expanding and citing credible references. As it currently is, it looks like a personal opinion that only invites for discussion and denials. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 0:21
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    @bytebuster terse !== bad. Claiming that these things are somewhat coincidental and people are engaging in a logical fallacy is a valid contrarian interpretation of the conflation. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 12:01
  • Mandela was also a nationalist, just like Ghandi or even Stalin and Mao. Expressing ingroup preference based on country is so general that you can draw correlations with any group or ideology you want.
    – Arne
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 9:06
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    Which is why the OP expressly asked about the USA, Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 21:08

Unfortunately, racism is thrown around all too often and has thus been watered down. By calling anyone in opposition to the accusor's beliefs a racist, it creates a "boy who cried wolf" feeling and makes it harder to call out actual racists.

The thing is, there are nationalists, who believe in the greatness of their nation. It is not derogatory towards other nations, just pointing out the positives of their own nation. That is a good thing. We shouldn't create a culture of self-hate. There is also racism, the belief that your race is superior. Additionally, contrary to a certain side of the political spectrum, any race can be racist if they hold that belief.

Finally, there is the idea of "America First," which you brought up earlier. America First just means that we try to put Americans to work before others. Don't forget we're coming out of a major economic downturn. America First is a way to combat unemployment and the erosion of the American economy. It is good for all Americans. Ultimately, it is good for the global economy when the US has a strong economy, that is what America First promotes.

  • 3
    Umm...not sure where to begin but there's a lot more baggage to the phrase than "jobs"
    – user1530
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 0:08

Let me focus on the question you ask in your text:

What makes Nationalism (as in "my nation is the best") bad?

The reason that nationalism is bad is that it is wrong.

Don't get me wrong: America is a great country, and you — you personally and you collectively — can be proud of it. I lived there for two years and I loved it. But being proud of the United States is not the same as thinking that it is better than others. My nation (Germany) is not best either, even if Germans thought that for a while. As we know, nothing good came of that belief.

There are two core differences between legitimate pride and illegitimate nationalism: Nationalism pits your nation against the others, which is not implied by simple pride; and nationalists are proud primarily just because they belong to a particular nation, while legitimate pride in a nation is based on values and achievements which could be shared and achieved by other nations as well.

The belief that one nation, as a nation, is better than others is wrong. Simply being part of a nation is not an achievement. Policies based on this belief are dangerous and must be rejected. Because think of it: Who could be interested to cast universal values or simply the goal of general well-being aside in favor of an attractive delusion which makes people feel and act as a collective? A delusion which makes them feel superior to others? What are likely directions policies based on such sentiment could take?

Nationalism is even more than simply wrong: In an interesting loop of self-reference nationalism is an agent of its own negation. It is "anti-self-fulfilling": Its adoption as a public doctrine inherently disqualifies a nation as "great". Nationalist countries are clearly worse than countries which strive to achieve partnership with their neighbors on equal terms. Which Spain was "better", Franco's or today's? What Russia, Stalin's or Gorbachev's?

What makes a nation great is living values: Liberté, égalité, fraternité. The pursuit of happiness. That all men are created equal. These values on which America stands are explicitly universal. It is their nature to transcend color, gender, or nation. We should all be nationalists of values.

A great nation emerges from values, not vice versa.

  • I disagree. Us vs Them can be a strong incentive to excel - think about the Olympic Games, where people representing their nation go to enormous lengths to be faster or stronger. Or consider the Space Race, where huge sums were spent on the most incredible scientific and engineering feats. A great nation emerges not because of what is believes but because of what it DOES. (Generally, some beliefs are better at making a nation do great things though...)
    – DrMcCleod
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 9:59
  • @DrMcCleod Obviously, to just talk the talk about values is not sufficient, on that we agree :-). Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 10:23
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    @DrMcCleod Also to me the Olympics are a good example against nationalism. Isn't it rather embarrassing to see nationalist athletes who think they are better than others by virtue of being from a particular nation? As opposed to athletes who compete in a fair and cooperative way in what are, actually, games. We value athletes who stop and help others and play fair and do not think they are anything better except, if applicable, in running. Athletes who do not consider their competitors inferior. The Olympic games are a good example of a meritocracy. Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 10:52
  • " Isn't it rather embarrassing to see nationalist athletes who think they are better than others by virtue of being from a particular nation?". The whole point is to show which athletes are the best by an objective measure. Why are they driven to do it? Personal glory - certainly. But also national pride, which is my point. Nationalism can be either be pathological, or channeled into positive outcomes. The same as any other philosophy really.
    – DrMcCleod
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 11:28

The term "nationalist" is problematic right now in the US primarily because of the rise in visibility of "White Nationalist" movements, which have a significant overlap with full-on white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups:

As the New York Times explains:

White nationalism, [Professor Kaufmann] said, is the belief that national identity should be built around white ethnicity, and that white people should therefore maintain both a demographic majority and dominance of the nation’s culture and public life.

So, like white supremacy, white nationalism places the interests of white people over those of other racial groups. White supremacists and white nationalists both believe that racial discrimination should be incorporated into law and policy.

Some will see the distinction between white nationalism and white supremacy as a semantic sleight of hand. But although many white supremacists are also white nationalists, and vice versa, Professor Kaufmann says the terms are not synonyms: White supremacy is based on a racist belief that white people are innately superior to people of other races; white nationalism is about maintaining political and economic dominance, not just a numerical majority or cultural hegemony.

I'm on the side of those that don't see this as a meaningful distinction, I believe they use terms like "alt-right" and "nationalist" simply because they are more palatable than "white supremacist" or "neo-Nazi".

But let's put those movements aside for the moment and address what I think is your underlying question: Are there problems with having too high an opinion of your own country? Can you be too patriotic? And if so, is that in any way connected to race?

My opinion is yes, there seems to be a pretty clear correlation between unexamined patriotism and the willingness to discount or ignore very real problems in our country, many of which are connected to race.

Note that I haven't posited which direction this goes. It could mean that an overabundance of patriotism can make it hard to recognize or accept (past or current) racial problems with our country. Or it could mean that those who hold racist views use patriotism as a cover for their dismissal of racial concerns. Or perhaps some combination.

To be clear, I think it is absolutely possible to be patriotic but still have a realistic and nuanced view about the wrongs that not only mar our country's history, but are still inherent today.

The problem is that some of those nuanced positions will necessarily be viewed by some as less patriotic:

  • Does patriotism mean always supporting whatever conflict our military becomes engaged in? Those that opposed the Vietnam war were viewed as anti-American, but hasn't history born out their view of that conflict? What about Iraq?
  • Does patriotism mean always supporting actions taken by a law enforcement official in the exercise of his or her duties? Why does asking for better oversight and accountability of the police bring accusations of them being "anti-police"?

This last one, especially, illustrates a big part of the conversation today, as embodied by the "Black Lives Matter" protest movement and the "Blue Lives Matter" countermovement.

Lots of companies, groups, and organizations (Blue Lives Matter, NASCAR, NFL football, Budweiser Beer, the Republican Party) have all tried to "claim" the flag as their own, with various degrees of success. But that doesn't mean that their views (or their sport, or their beers) are actually any more patriotic than others.


I am answering way too late, and only part of the question, but maybe it will enlighten some, so here it goes:

"America first" should mean Country over party (politicians should act in the interests of country, not just in the interests of their own party). This is the difference between statesman and just a run-of-the-mill politician.

It should be also about prioritizing long-term interests of USA over short-term political interests. Making compromises with other democracies to make whole world better place for all democracies helps supporting democracy in USA.

Problem with most politicians is that re-election is not only their first interest of a politician: it is their ONLY interest. If some action is right for the country long-term, but creates a short-term risk for their re-election, most will prioritize re-election over country.

So if racism helps to win next re-election, racism it is. Most voters are not informed enough and not prioritizing long-term interests - and Founding Fathers were well aware of it, so they designed USA as representative democracy (as compared with a direct democracy).

One more thought to think about: What is faster than a rational thought? Emotion.

So if you can add emotional load to your words, emotional load will be faster than any rational explanation, and any rational explanation will be skewed and influenced by that emotion.

Psychologist made experiments, shoving a face for just a split second. Race of a face is detected first, faster than even gender of the face. Race and tribal exclusion (them versus us) is very deep in a primate brain (experiments on rhesus monkey, last common ancestor with homo sapiens 50MYA), cooperation is much later adjustment to our human brains.


I urge OP to check out "Notes on Nationalism". Because nationalism itself entangles with racism/tribalism/regionalism. In fact, this is a complicated question that best fits under a philosophy discussion.

Generally speaking, any group with common agenda can pursue their own nationalist agenda, an individual race just happens to be one of those splitting factors.

There is no way to stop the splitting nature of nationalism, that's why it is a flawed ideology and impossible to fix.

  • 1
    Doesn't communism result in the same "indefinite splitting of group identities", which is illustrated by intersectional feminism?
    – Willem
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 12:56
  • @Willem Examples of such forms of nationalism given by Orwell include Communism, political Catholicism, Zionism, anti-Semitism, Trotskyism and pacifism
    – mootmoot
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 9:45

I think the line is drawn between national pride and "nationalism" in this way.

National pride: I think my nation is the best because of A, B and C, which are awesome.

Nationalism: I think D, E, and F are either great, fine, or acceptable because it's my nation we're talking about.

In one case, it's the actions that define how the nation is judged, in the other, it's the nation that defines how the actions are judged. The second obviously leads to issues of applying consistent standards and objectivity.

Back to the question title, quite often nationalist appeals are often framed in an "us vs them" context if it's being used in a manipulative way. One easy way to identify a "them" or "other" is when they are visibly different than the traditional majority or norm.


The suffix -ism itself can have many meanings, so any compounded word that contains it can be understood in different ways. Add to that the baggage of political ideologies and the related issues. Different people understand the word through different historical and philosophical lenses, and you get the resulting confusion. In fact, as others have noted, this equation between nationalism and racism is not just true in the United States, but in most of Europe.

Fundamentally the word nationalism historically had two meanings:

  1. Nations do exist or being a member of a nations means something.
  2. Some nations are better than others or they have the right of doing anything that benefit them

The first acceptation was relevant to the process of unification of countries such as Greece, Italy and Germany. In fact, it was the main ideology that supported this process. This acceptation is also equated with patriotism.

The second one was relevant for the history of colonialism, in which was inextricably intermixed with racism. The leader and the national discourse of many countries justified these actions with nationalistic and racists reasons. They could range from the right (and sometimes the duty) to protect inferior countries from themselves or other nations (e.g., The USA conquest of the Philippines) to the need to acquire resources to make their own people prosper (e.g., Italian invasion of Libya).

In The USA

Both main parties have expressed a nationalistic sentiment of the first type, for instance they have said that American citizens should be proud of their country (e.g. "it can only happen in America").

So philosophically and historically there is nothing necessarily wrong with the first acceptation. It is like saying that you love your home. But with the second one you are saying that your home need more space, so what is wrong with annexing the backyard of your neighbour?

Istead the second meaning it is inextricably linked with racism, so it is a fair accusation to said that this kind of nationalism is racist, because it has proven to be so.

The expression "my nation is the best" belongs for the most part to the second meaning. That is because, if it really is the best, things that benefit your nation benefit mankind. Also, that your country has the right to decide which countries are problematic and what happens to them ("my nation knows best"). The expression implies a comparison and also a judgement of the status of others (i.e., "other nations sucks"). That is because if a nation does something different from your nation it does it wrong, since by your definition your nation is the best.

I understand that this is not what the questioner means to say, but this is what the statement implies. It would be better to say "my nation is great" which does not preclude any other nation to be great in their own way.

When Nationalism Can Also Be Racism

The real point of contention is that there are a few things that could be ascribed to both meanings of nationalism and potentially to racism.

They all refer to the application of nationalism internally, to govern a country. This is the positive application of nationalism: you use nationalism to force the members of a country to conform to nationalistic ideals. For instance, it can be used to exclude some groups that do not belong to the nation (e.g., ethnic minorities) or to limit some freedoms (e.g., you cannot speak a certain language at all). Given that many of these characteristics are linked to specific racial groups, this can be legitimately associated with racism. For example, it might just be simple nationalism to say that everybody should speak English, but it is probably racist to force all Hispanics to only speak English and ban Spanish education.

Finally, nationalism can also be linked to racism because of guilt by association, because there are nationalists that are also racists. Logically this is a mistake, but many people believe that.


What is Nationalism

Nationalism is an ideology and movement characterized by the promotion of the interests of a particular nation, especially with the aim of gaining and maintaining the nation's sovereignty (self-governance) over its homeland. Nationalism holds that each nation should govern itself, free from outside interference (self-determination), that a nation is a natural and ideal basis for a polity, and that the nation is the only rightful source of political power (popular sovereignty). It further aims to build and maintain a single national identity—based on shared social characteristics such as culture, language, religion, politics, and belief in a shared singular history—and to promote national unity or solidarity.

Therefore, nationalism inherently is aimed at purging people of minority religions, cultures, ethnicities, etc. from the country. Mechanisms for doing this include genocide, mass deportation, and cultural indoctrination. Perpetrating these sort of acts against minority ethnicities is quite plainly racist or adjacent to racism.

Not everybody understands what nationalism means, and they confuse this term with patriotism. Some people who support / defend nationalism leverage this ignorance. But nationalism should not be confused with patriotism. The original question appears to confuse nationalism with patriotism.


Nationalism is "My group is better than yours, because it's better."

Racism is "My group is better than yours, because it's better."

The only difference is the exact groups we're talking about. History has shown that people who are likely to fall for one of these ideologies are extremely likely to fall for the other.

Nationalism is bad because they promote the idea that some people's lives are worth more than others. Looked at it from the opposite direction, they promote the idea that some people's lives are worth less, or nothing. That leads to a variety of bad things, such as slavery, murders, genocide, etc.

On the other hand, patriotism is "I want to make my country better". While nationalists tend to call themselves patriots, they are the very opposite.

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