Symbolic versus Blind Patriotism: Distinction without Difference?

By Parker, Christopher S. | Political Research Quarterly, March 2010 | Go to article overview

Symbolic versus Blind Patriotism: Distinction without Difference?


Parker, Christopher S., Political Research Quarterly


Patriotism is an important predictor of political attitudes and preferences. Nevertheless, the complexity of patriotism remains unresolved, especially as it pertains to blind and symbolic patriotism. Symbolic patriotism represents a relatively abstract, affective attachment to the nation and its core values. Blind patriotism, in contrast, is more concrete, indexing uncritical support for national policies and practices. While the concepts appear analytically distinct, their political consequences are often similar, leading one to question whether the distinction is real. The results offer some support for maintaining conceptual differences between blind and symbolic patriotism.

Keywords: patriotism; democratic norms; tolerance; attitude functions

Few would argue with the proposition that patriotism is an important concept in political science affecting myriad issues central to the study of politics. Patriotism, for instance, informs the political norms of the public insofar as it impacts civil liberties judgments and attitudes toward political and social tolerance (Davis 2007; Huddy and Khatib 2007; McClosky and Brill 1983; Sidanius and Pratto 1999). Patriotic appeals have also proven effective in the area of politics in general, where they guide political preferences, policy preferences, and political behavior (Huddy and Khatib 2007; Hurwitz and Peffley 1990; Schatz, Staub, and Lavine 1999; Sullivan, Fried, and Dietz 1992).

The explanatory power of patriotism is certified, but its complexity remains open to question. For instance, one view of patriotism conceives it as a blend of affection for the country, its way of life, and its core values, with national institutions and policies responsible for sustaining it, that is, the country and its way of life (Berns 2001; Curti 1946; McIntyre 2002; Sullivan, Fried, and Dietz 1992; Viroli 1995).

Another view pushes for a conceptual distinction within patriotism, one that separates the affection that one feels for the nation's way of life and values from support for its institutions and policies. Generally, political symbols represent one's attachment to political and cultural values (Almond and Verba 1963; Elder and Cobb 1983). Symbolic patriotism taps one's affective attachment to the nation and its core values through symbols. Blind patriotism, on the other hand, is aligned with a more cognitive (i.e., ideological) perspective on the relationship between the individual and the nation in which unconditional support for the nation, its institutions, and its chauvinistic policy preferences represents the norm (Citrin,Wong, and Duff 2001; McClosky and Brill 1983; Schatz, Staub, and Lavine 1999; Schatz and Staub 1997). Thus, blind and symbolic patriotism appear distinct, conforming to arguments that the meaning of patriotism is contested terrain (Dietz 2002; Huddy and Khatib 2007; Sullivan, Fried, and Dietz 1992).

Which view is correct? This article aims to answer two basic questions about patriotism in the United States.1 First, is the blind-symbolic divide a distinction without real, tangible difference, as the first approach suggests? Second, if found, what are the political consequences associated with the empirical distinction between blind and symbolic patriotism? More specifically, how might patriotism affect the public's support for democratic norms, especially due process and free speech? Furthermore, we will also do well to consider the impact of patriotism on social group perception. If the treatment of people of Middle Eastern descent is any indication, tolerance for Arab Americans and adherents of the Islamic religious faith is in short supply. During what some call the Global War on Terror, Arabs and Muslims have come under increased scrutiny, serving as targets for public and institutional scorn in which they have often fallen victim to discrimination and hate crimes.2 To put it bluntly, is either or both types of patriotism conducive to group-based antipathy?

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