On Patriotism, Nationalism, Globalism and Ethics

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I teach global leadership and applied ethics. Students often have questions about the differences between patriotism, nationalism and globalism. This post explores the differences and their ethical implications. 

There has been a lot of recent discussion around nationalism. The term has been used in ways that seem to put it on par with patriotism. To understand how it’s different, I’ll take a look at nationalism, patriotism and globalism using an ethical lens. Without seeing them through an ethical lens, the differences are less clear. Using an ethical lens, we begin to see that what appear to be subtle variations are vast differences in intent and impact. 

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines patriotism as “love for or devotion to one’s country” and nationalism in part as “loyalty and devotion to a nation.” While they seem positive and similar at the surface level, Merriam-Webster goes on to clarify how they are different: 

“the definition of nationalism also includes ‘exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations…’ This exclusionary aspect is not shared by patriotism.”  Merriam-Webster, The Difference Between ‘Patriotism’ and ‘Nationalism’

Patriotism is pride in country, which is positive, but when it loses its grounding and takes a detour around ethical values it becomes something completely different. George Orwell, Bart Bonikowski and Noam Chomsky reflect on how nationalism impacts our actions and behaviors:

By ‘nationalism’ … I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests.”   

George Orwell, Notes on Nationalism

“The study of nationalism in settled times is not a unified field, but the multiple research streams described here offer…how such beliefs shape support for authoritarian politics and exclusionary policies.”

Bart Bonikowski, Nationalism in Settled Times, Harvard.edu

Patriotism and Nationalism in the Global Context

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines globalism as “a national policy of treating the whole world as a proper sphere for political influence.” Seeing the world as a global village helps us consider the impact of our choices on a wider scale.  If we don’t consider our impact on the rest of the world, we are operating with blinders on, ignoring the realities of the global context. We’re ignoring important ethical variables including human rights and respect for differences. Noam Chomsky said in a speech in Glasgow that nationalism has a way of oppressing others.” If we follow that line of thinking, we begin to need to ask a powerful question – “Is nationalism simply patriotism without ethics?” Consider this important question as you think about these two very different views of the world and our place in it.

Globalists:

  • recognize the connectedness of our global economy and consider the impact of decisions on a global scale
  • recognize that all people are equal and deserve to be treated with respect, regardless of where they come from
  • acknowledge diverse cultures and traditions of the world as all important
  • see the world as one big community of people

Using a globalist world view, patriotism is pride in one’s country in the context of the global village.

Nationalists:

  • consider their country to be “the best”
  • think about people outside their country as less important, of a lower status or inferior to those in their own country
  • ignore cultural diversity and only feel comfortable with the traditions of their own country
  • make decisions that benefit their own country and fail to consider the negative impact on the rest of the world
  • think of people who came from outside their country as not deserving the respect or fair treatment that would be offered to people in their own country

Using a nationalist world view, patriotism is a desire for exclusive benefits for one’s country, without regard for the impact on those beyond its borders.

How Different World Views Impact Our Ethical Choices

Let’s look a little deeper at the differences between globalism and nationalism. A person with a globalist worldview is more likely to value peaceful global relations among countries (seeing the world as a community) and a person with a nationalist worldview is more likely to value “winning” in the global arena (seeing one country as the best and entitled to more than the other countries). This nationalist sense of superiority and entitlement can lead to decisions that unfairly target, exclude and harm those from other countries. Someone with a nationalist worldview could be seen as lacking ethical competence due to failing to consistently honor human rights, and lacking cultural awareness and respect for differences. If we acknowledge the complexity of this issue, there are likely “shades of nationalism” that reflect combining patriotism with widely varying degrees of ethical awareness and action.

Using an ethical lens, patriotism and nationalism are more than different ways of seeing the world. They are ethically aware (patriotism + globalism) and ethically unaware (nationalism), respectful of differences (patriotism + globalism) and not respectful of differences (nationalism) on a sliding scale of degrees. Through an ethical lens, nationalism looks like patriotism that ignores the global context and ethical responsibility. 

Resources

Questions For Discussion

  1. Where have we seen recent examples of nationalism?
  2. In those examples, was there a detour around ethical values, ethics codes and/or global agreements? 
  3. Do you think that nationalism is “patriotism without ethics”? Why or why not?

 

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500th Post: Index to 500 Articles on Authentic Ethical Leadership

 

By Linda Fisher Thornton

There are many ways to define “ethical leadership” but there is increasing global interest in learning “ethical leadership” in a holistic and authentic way. This authentic ethical leadership takes us beyond laws and regulations, beyond respect for others and beyond traditional definitions of a business “win.” It generates a positive leadership legacy and a better shared future. If this sounds like the kind of leadership you want to learn, you’ve come to the right place.

The Leading in Context Blog now includes 500 articles on high-level, holistic and global ethical leadership. This blog started off as a way to organize and share emerging research in my leadership classes.  Ten years later it has become a “go-to” site for organizational leaders across industries, university professors and seekers looking for a better way to lead. 

To celebrate having published 500 Posts over 10 years, I’ve shared a short video on one of my favorite reader questions – “What were you thinking including Profit (which has no moral grounding) in a model of ethical leadership? 

To help you on your ethical leadership learning journey, this Milestone post also includes a Leading in Context Blog Index.  What will you find? Every post published on the Leading in Context Blog since 2009, in date order with the newest posts first. If there is something you want to learn about ethical leadership, it is probably here. If it isn’t, post a comment to let me know what YOU want to learn more about. 

Do you want to understand how all of the ethical leadership concepts in these posts fit together? I distilled several years of intensive research into 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership, a clear guide to “seeing” ethical issues in seven important dimensions that apply across industries and geographic boundaries. Looking through all 7 Lenses you have a clear line of sight to making ethical choices and leading authentically for the long term. 

Enjoy the lifelong learning journey to ethical leadership… 

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Ethical Thinking is Intentional, Thoughtful and Applied

By Linda Fisher Thornton

One of the things we know about ethical decision-making is that we need to take the time to do it. But if we fill up every minute of the day with meetings, deadlines, emails and projects, when will we have time to think about the impact of our choices? 

How will we consider our decisions in terms of ethical values if we don’t take time to consider our decisions at all?

Rushing to a decision in response to perceived external pressures is a good way to make an ethical mistake. The thinking that leads to ethical choices is intentional, thoughtful and applied.

Intentional and Thoughtful

Some people tend to trust their “gut” and make very quick decisions that turn into highly visible ethical failures. Listening to our “gut” has a place in ethical decision-making but it has to be balanced with a more intentional way of thinking about our choices. If we instantly assess the situation based on our very human implicit biases (we all have them), we are not likely to make a fair and ethical choice.

We have to intentionally overcome those flaws in our thinking to make moral choices. Once we decide to use ethical thinking, we need to take the time to dig into grey areas and explore the potential long-term ethical impact of the different paths we could take. 

Applied

How do we tap into our “ethical brain?” According to Professor Joshua Greene, there is no specific place in our brains that is “moral.” He points out in The Moral Brain: A Multidisciplinary Perspective that “It’s now clear that the ‘moral brain’ is, more or less, the whole brain, applying its computational powers to problems that we, on nonneuroscientific grounds, identify as ‘moral.'”

As we practice resolving dilemmas we find ethics to be less a goal than a pathway, less a destination than a trip, less an inoculation than a process.   — Rushworth Kidder

There is no automatic setting or magic technique for ethical thinking. It is a thoughtful process. We have to apply ourselves – to  understand issues, explore their ethical implications, and choose a moral path. Watch for leaders and organizations who are embracing this process and reaping the benefits through improved ethical brand value. 

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Context Matters: What We’re Learning About Food

By Linda Fisher Thornton

New research is turning conventional wisdom about healthy eating inside out. This new research radically changes the way we think about nutrition and wellness and will completely change “best practices” in food-related industries. Here is a sneak preview:

WHOLE FOODS (WITH THE FAT) TEND TO HAVE MORE FIBER AND A LOWER GLYCEMIC INDEX 

“Fat and fiber tend to lower the GI of a food. As a general rule, the more cooked or processed a food, the higher the GI; however, this is not always true.”

Glycemic Index and Diabetes, American Diabetes Association

The reason it’s called “whole milk” has less to do with its fat content, than the fact that it’s comparatively unadulterated.

Roberto Ferdman, The whole truth about “whole milk”, The Washington Post

FOOD COMBINATIONS, LEVEL OF PROCESSING AND BRAIN RESPONSE ARE ALL IMPORTANT 

“Processed foods have an altered food matrix, which impacts their bioavailability.”

Hiip.com, What is the Food Matrix?

“Foods high in fat and carbohydrate are, calorie for calorie, valued more than foods containing only fat or carbohydrate and that this effect is associated with greater recruitment of central reward circuits.”

Supra-Additive Effects of Combining Fat and Carbohydrate on Food Reward, Cell Metabolism

INDIVIDUAL NUTRIENTS DON’T TELL THE WHOLE STORY

“The food matrix may exhibit a different relation with health indicators compared to single nutrients studied in isolation.”

Thorning et al., “Whole dairy matrix or single nutrients in assessment of health effects: current evidence and knowledge gaps,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Applying the “food matrix” concept we learn that we can’t accurately assess nutritional impact based on breaking down individual nutrients in isolation from the whole. We have to consider what we added and what we left out. In other words, context matters. 

We need to see the whole picture to understand human wellness. Whole foods from nature have complex nutritional combinations and protections built into them that vanish when you strip out the fiber and fat. As Aristotle recognized ages ago (and we’re just now rediscovering) “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Questions For Discussion

  1. How are we already contributing to health and well-being through our food choices?
  2. Where should we adjust our practices to reflect what researchers are learning about the complex food matrix?
  3. What should we stop doing or change to support the long-term health and wellness of our constituents?

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Ethical Thinking Requires Dialogue

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethical leadership requires us to understand the context and embrace the natural complexity of issues. One of the pieces that we can’t be successful without is learning from the widely varying perspectives of others.

“Kohlberg believed, as did Piaget, that most moral development occurs through social interaction.”

Robert N. Barger, Ph.D., University of Notre Dame, A SUMMARY OF LAWRENCE KOHLBERG’S STAGES OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT

Thinking in a vacuum without considering the needs of others we may forget important elements of the decision-making process. Have you heard the expression “There’s no ‘I’ in team?” Maybe there’s also (metaphorically) no ‘I’ in ethical thinking when we need to understand complex issues.

In highly complex situations we need to listen to and learn from each other to get ethics right.

One person will be the most knowledgeable about laws governing our work, another will understand the trends and consumer expectations, yet another will ask hard questions to make sure we consider our constituents’ needs. Dealing with particularly complex issues demands an inclusive thinking process. Without any one of these important voices we may lose our way.

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