NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 31, 2008

In 1995 and 2003, the Norway-based International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) carried out surveys of national identity across 23 and 34 countries respectively, ranging for established democracies like Australia and the United States to younger ones such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  In the polls people were asked about the degree to which they agreed that their country is better than most.  The stronger this sense of national superiority, the higher the level of nationalism, writes Gustavo de las Casas in Foreign Policy.

Across the board, countries with a higher average level of nationalism were consistently wealthier:

  • Contrary to the conventional wisdom, poorer countries such as Latvia and Slovenia are actually among the least nationalistic.
  • And the rich Western countries, such as Australia, Canada and the United States, score as the most nationalistic.

The virtues of nationalism also transcend citizens' bank accounts, says de las Casas.  For example, consider the problem of corruption:

  • According to the World Bank, corruption is consistently lower in countries with higher levels of nationalism.
  • Like parties to a business transaction, public servants who contemplate corruption face an unsavory trade-off: to profit at the expense of fellow nationals.
  • So, if bureaucrats are highly nationalistic, they are also more sensitive to any damage to society, and less prone to abuse public office.

Nationalism also changes the mindset of those affected by corruption:

  • A nationalistic public is less likely to accept government corruption and simply look the other way.
  • But a nationalistic citizenry gauges the effect of corruption on the entire nation, and this greater concern for potential abuse triggers the collective response that keeps corruption in check.

For all nationalism's supposed faults, it is incredibly -- and consistently -- associated with things we value in economics, politics and society, says de las Casas.

Source: Gustavo de las Casas, "Is Nationalism Good For You?" Foreign Policy, March/April 2008.


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