Psychological Aspect Of Patriotism

Dr. Pranavjeet Kaldate

6/4/20233 min read

group of people standing on blue yoga mat during daytime
group of people standing on blue yoga mat during daytime

We all felt a buzz of the Republic Day in the air. We also can’t help but reminisce about our school days when Independence Day and Republic Day used to be much bigger occasions. Those flag-hoisting ceremonies where every student and staff member stood in honour of the flag and the nation, the collective spirit of each person making our chests swell with pride at the thought of our own history. As we head for the 74th Republic Day of India, let’s have a look at the patriotism we all feel from a psychological perspective.

According to the article, “The Psychology of Patriotism” by Michael J. Bader patriotism is so compelling, because it promises to satisfy some of our deepest psychological needs. Mr. Bader explains that to identify with your own country, or to feel like you belong there, is to feel at once safe and connected. Patriotism establishes a “we” that satisfies the longings for connectedness and affiliation that are so often frustrated in our private lives. And it offers an image of a strong and fair authority in relationship to which we can feel safe and secure.

The government of a country also plays a part in enhancing the feelings of patriotism among people. They look to the government to provide security and defense, including a muscular retaliation against the country’s “enemies”. On a symbolic level, we look to our leaders to provide the protection and strength usually associated with fathers. In the second instance, people look to the government to provide care and nurturance, a safety net — qualities associated in our culture with mothers. Because we project these feelings onto the government, they help us feel complete in things that we perhaps lack in our lives.

Another well-known phenomenon is the “us” and “them,” which helps the “us” in question feel closer and connected to each other. An example of this can be an India vs. Pakistan cricket match which draws intense feelings and emotions from members belonging to both nations. When the victory belongs to India, people take to the streets in celebration, and thus a whole lot of strangers are seen coming together as an “us”, forgetting all their differences or daily hassles for a minute. We see patriotism blooming within people in such a scenario, along with appreciation for their nation’s best players.

The psychological needs that drive patriotic fervor are universal. People will always need to be connected and secure. However, these longings can be gratified in healthy or unhealthy ways. For example, patriotism can cause people to develop mob mentality. Mob mentality, herd mentality, pack mentality, groupthink, or crowd psychology — the concept has many names. These all boil down to the same idea: Individuals are influenced by a larger group. Regardless of whether that group includes people in a class, a neighborhood, or an entire nation, you may experience mob mentality.

In order to understand this better, social psychology gives these causes:

  • Deindividuation— when people are part of a group, they experience a loss of self-awareness.

  • Identity— when people are part of a group, they can lose their sense of individual identity.

  • Emotions— being part of a group can lead to heightened emotional states, be that excitement, anger, hostility, etc.

  • Acceptability— behavior's that are usually seen as unacceptable become acceptable when others in a group are seen carrying them out.

  • Anonymity— people feel anonymous within a large group, which reduces their sense of responsibility and accountability.

  • Diffusion of responsibility— being part of a group creates the perception that violent or unacceptable behavior is not a personal responsibility but a group one.

The larger the group or crowd, the more likely there will be deindividuation and diffusion of responsibility.

This is only one harmful effect of feeling intense patriotism. Leo Tolstoy (1987) argues that patriotism is morally questionable due to its irrationality. Those who are patriotic believe their country to be the best, even though only one country can objectively hold that position.

But patriotism, when considered in realistic moderation, brings a plethora of important practical benefits. It promotes public sacrifice that is crucial to the functioning of a state, decreases the likelihood of conflict, reduces corruption, and is extremely inclusive as an identity. So while you get in gear to celebrate 26th of January, let your love for India remind you that there is a lot we all can contribute to it as a nation to make it better and improve living conditions for all its citizens.

Patriotism, as discussed earlier, can also help provide feelings of safety and connectedness to others through a larger group. It helps fulfill psychological needs, such as the need for belongingness and affiliation. While feeling affection and concern for one’s country is definitely a virtue, we should keep in mind that these feelings shouldn’t override all other moral considerations. This moderation will help us maintain good mental and physical health, and be an ethical citizen.

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