The terms 'nationalist' or 'nationalism' bring back memories of things like Nazi Germany or, at least, former US president Donald Trump's platform. But a political force, without demeaning other nationalities or any jingoism, can simply promote national identity, using and teaching national language at schools, especially when those things are suppressed (for example, in Belarus, Lukashenko discourages using Belarusian which is seen as some sort of opposition agenda). What would you call such a political group or politician, if not nationalist? What is the equivalent of that word but with neutral or positive connotations?

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    Is patriotism the word you are looking for? Mar 21, 2021 at 20:06
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    @WeatherVane If a movement in Wales advocated a stronger emphasis on the Welsh language, culture and identity, or in Ireland on the Irish language, or in India on the Hindu and other languages, would we call that patriotic or nationalist? I think "nationalism" is the normal English term, in spite of its ambiguity. I rarely hear "patriotic" in this sense.
    – rjpond
    Mar 22, 2021 at 9:14
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    @rjpond true in that case, but OP asked for a word other than nationialism. Mar 22, 2021 at 9:21
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    Whether nationalism is positive connotated depends on the reader, replacing the word will not change that. Generally speaking before things go wrong nationalism is positive (like in the USA), after things go wrong it's negative (like in Nazi Germany, seen from today's perspective).
    – M. Stern
    Mar 22, 2021 at 11:57
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    Nationalism encompasses a lot of different things, from the far right through to often leftwing anti-colonial independence movements. It can also involve seeking to unify a prevously divided nation (like Italy in the 19th c). It sometimes involves protecting a language previously discriminated against (Cornwall, Norway, Faroes). The notions of national lang. & national culture and promotion of them are inextricably tied to the history of nationalism. As to the relationship between different nationalisms and whether any of them are beneficial, these questions are well beyond the scope of ELL.
    – rjpond
    Mar 22, 2021 at 12:25

7 Answers 7


What would you call, for the lack of a better way to put it, “benign nationalism”?

The word for "benign nationalism" is nationalism.

Also, the word for "malignant nationalism" is nationalism.

How can this be? Because Nationalism simply pertains to being oriented towards the Nation.

It's true that, like all group-identity-oriented philosophies, Nationalism focuses on markers which differentiate the in-group from the out-group.

But, of itself, Nationalism contains no implicit misanthropy or philanthropy towards the out-group.

Any given expression of nationalism can be either:

  • exclusive and hostile towards the out-group
  • inclusive, sharing and welcoming towards the out-group

or neither.

If a nationalist expression adopts a welcoming perspective towards the out-group, it should be regarded as no less Nationalist.

The terms 'nationalist' or 'nationalism' bring back memories of things like Nazi Germany

This is Far-right Nationalism - which is both exclusive and hostile towards (some or all) members of the out-group. What makes it malignant is not that it is nationalist, but that it is far-right.

Nationalism may be expressed in ways which are highly tolerant of, if not entirely inclusive and welcoming to members of the out-group:

  • The Velvet Divorce on Jan 1st 1993 was the culmination of successful nationalist movements in the Czech Republic and Slovakia which wanted to take their countries forward separately rather than as a joined-up federation. These nationalist movements were benign - and yet they were, indisputably, nationalist.

  • The Faroese Independence movement which seeks to establish the Faroe Islands as an independent national state no longer governed by Denmark is a benign movement. But it remains, nevertheless, nationalist.

  • The London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony was a dramatic piece of nationalist pageantry, celebrating world-famous British literary characters (James Bond, Harry Potter), British automotive engineering, British pop music, the NHS... and doing its best to paint a Union Flag on both the invention of the World Wide Web and the Industrial Revolution. In parading these national markers, the show did not seek to exclude the international community, but rather welcome everyone in, saying: "This is what Britain is all about - look at what we've done! We want to share all this with you. We are a country of progress and innovation. Come and be our welcome guests!"

A number of other respondents have suggested that patriotism is the benign counterpart to a malignant nationalism.

This is a common misnomer and it isn't correct because patriotism and nationalism are actually two different things.

  • Nationalism pertains to the Nation
  • Patriotism pertains to la Patrie (or the homeland, the motherland, the fatherland)

The first is primarily focused on the in-group as it exists and defines itself today, its current needs and future ambitions, always influenced by the philosophical perspective that what is best for the in-group is of the in-group, by the in-group, for the in-group.

The latter is a quasi-religious, romanticisation of the homeland in which long-standing, half-remembered (or semi-imagined) culture, customs and traditions are venerated.

Nationalism may invoke Patriotism (and far-right nationalism almost always does), but it has no requirement to do so.

Importantly, depending on how it is expressed, Patriotism can be malignant and lean towards excluding others, no less than Nationalism.

In Summary:

Nationalism and Patriotism are both philosophical perspectives but they are not equivalent.

Crucially, both philosophies can be found on both sides of the competitive / collaborative dynamic.

While each centres on markers which differentiate their target demographics from the world outside that demographic, both philosophies may express themselves with hostile or with welcoming intent.

The word for benign nationalism is nationalism.

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    Good contribution. I largely agree. (We are at risk of getting drawn away from ELL topics and into political philosophy, but I think that is the nature of the OP's question!). Still - given that the term "nationalism" covers such a broad range, how would you distinguish? You mentioned that the far-right variety could be dubbed "far-right nationalism". Would you recommend that the democratic, inclusive nationalists posited by the OP should be labelled in any particular way for greater clarity? e.g civic nationalism, liberal nationalism.
    – rjpond
    Mar 24, 2021 at 16:01
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    Not civic nationalism, certainly - that's usually used in contrast to ethno-nationalism. Though liberal nationalism sounds like a good contender. I'd probably go with your suggestion of Liberal Nationalism, yes.
    – Rounin
    Mar 24, 2021 at 16:04

The word you’re looking for is patriotic:

Patriotism generally has a positive connotation. It’s used for various positive sentiments, attitudes, and actions involving loving one’s country and serving the great good of all its people. — “Patriotism” vs. “Nationalism”: What’s The Difference?

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    While the quote does the use word generally, it's getting more and more common to see Patriot and Patriotism used in a very pro-right wing form. This article discusses some of the issues around word ownership.
    – Jontia
    Mar 22, 2021 at 12:44
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    Patriotism and nationalism have overlapping meanings, but not perfectly so. Patriotism is not typically used to describe "promot[ing] national identity, using and teaching national language at schools."
    – Juhasz
    Mar 22, 2021 at 17:38
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    @Jontia Nationalists will often call themselves patriots to make their activities seem more positive. And some of them probably think of themselves as patriots, because they view others as demeaning the country. E.g. many of the insurrectionists on Jan 6 were convinced they were saving the country from a stolen election.
    – Barmar
    Mar 23, 2021 at 15:37
  • @Juhasz I'd say the lines are fuzzy due to the rise of the concept of "nation state" which blurs the lines between a "nation" (strictly speaking a distinct group of people) versus the sovereign polity. (Particularly true in the United States, where the concept of a "nation" of unified American people was promoted to bring together the disparate immigrants.) My impression is that "nationalism" (originally) refers to the cultural side of things, whereas "patriotism" refers to the polity. The distinction blurs with a nation state, though.
    – R.M.
    Mar 23, 2021 at 15:56
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    The meanings are aligned when the nation and the state are aligned, however, there are many "benign nationalist" activities whose interests significantly diverge from the state - for example, if the nationalist movement argues for independence, then in that community the patriotic people are anti-nationalist (perhaps pro-"empire" in some way?) and the nationalist people are anti-patriotic i.e. against the current state/polity.
    – Peteris
    Mar 23, 2021 at 19:01

Promoting the national identity, culture and language of a nation that is perceived to have been oppressed is generally known as "nationalism", despite the ambiguity and possible negative connotations.

For example, the movements for independence in Scotland, Wales and Catalonia are generally known (including by many of their supporters) as Scottish, Welsh and Catalan nationalism.

Other relevant terms include "civic nationalism", "cultural nationalism", and "national independence movements".

In your example, Belarus is already an independent state, so that last term could not apply.

  • 'Civic nationalism' and 'cultural nationalism', is it a thing, are those terms common? Never heard it Mar 22, 2021 at 2:01
  • @SergeyZolotarev "Civic nationalism" is frequently used in discussions among the Right-wing of politics as a contrast to "ethno-nationalism".
    – nick012000
    Mar 22, 2021 at 4:39
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    The Scottish National Party takes offence at being called the Scottish Nationalist Party. Mar 22, 2021 at 9:15
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    @JackAidley Yes, because that's not their name. The Democratic Party in the US also sometimes takes offence at being called the Democrat Party. And Irish people sometimes take offence at the use of the term "Eire" by English speakers, because it isn't the correct name in English for their country. Afaik, the SNP don't object so much to the term "Scottish Nationalists" - although they prefer to simply say "SNP".
    – rjpond
    Mar 22, 2021 at 9:21
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    @ziggurism It doesn't, I only meant that the phrase "national independence movement" would then no longer be available at an alternative description..
    – rjpond
    Mar 23, 2021 at 13:38

Another option (my first choice would probably be patriotism) is national pride, which describes a positive attitude toward one's nationality, together with a sense of unity and alignment.


If you want to talk specifically about people in Belarus who fight for the right to use their native language, you could refer to them as to linguistic human rights activists. There's also the concept of cultural rights, which cover a broader set of national or ethnic identity features than just language. Ethnic nationalism could also fit, though it would not be perceived as "benign" anymore by many people.

I wouldn't describe such as "nationalists" at all if all they do is defending their own human rights without trying to do so at the expense of other national groups. I.e. a hypothetical party trying to promote Belarusian by banning other languages in schools or on TV would be "nationalist". A party trying to get the number of schools teaching Belarusian in agreement with the number of kids having Belarusian as their native language is not.

  • "Language rights activism" would work if their prime concern was to promote their language. But if their concern is part and parcel of a desire to promote their national identity in a nation-state they see as their own then I think it is a nationalist policy. As framed in the OP, language is just one part of it.
    – rjpond
    Mar 23, 2021 at 23:00
  • @rjpond Exactly, the "nation-state" agenda would actually be nationalist. I'm not sure what "benign" means in this case. Mar 24, 2021 at 9:33

Requesting a word or phrase, the poster asks:

What would you call, for lack of a better way to put it, "benign nationalism"?

Why not just use the word 'nationalism', but tag it with the phrase "(lower-case 'n')"? This phrase comes from the inverse of the more common phrase, a "With a Capital.." letter, used to show emphasis.

Many words have become politically loaded or carry some pejorative taint, including the words "socialist", "communist", "secular", "patriot", "nationalism", and "liberal", among others. In such cases you can use a form of the phrase "lower-case" to tag that the word should be taken without any loaded connotation. This avoids long explanations.


  • "Bob is a little too liberal (little 'l') in his views for me."
  • "Marry went to a church retreat. She will live as a member of a communist (lower-case 'c') group that share their time, talent and resources in support of each other."
  • "Sally visited a group of little 'p', patriots in Washington."
  • "Most Americans support medical care for wounded veterans, national standards for food, air, and water safety, as well as public schools and Social Security. These are all 'socialist' programs (with a lower-case 's')".
  • "We all support nationalism, with a lower-case 'n'. No one wants private companies owning and charging us to use our interstates; nor the private ownership of the military, the NTSB, the FBI, or our National Parks."

Benign nationalism is patriotism, where patriotism is to place importance of the nation before individual(ism); "nationalism is a kind of excessive, aggressive patriotism", which places importance on one's own country/nation well beyond individualism to over & above other (group of) nations as well.

Communism on the other hand is the belief in a classless society without privacy or private ownership; being "a form of socialism", which allows private ownership but the bulk of wealth is "communally owned and managed by a democratically elected government", similar to getting paid in shares working in a company instead of just cash salary (thereby granting part ownership of property/wealth, in this case the company).

Since nationalism is "aggressive patriotism", benign nationalism would be patriotism.

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    Welcome to ELL. Thanks for your answer. To be honest, the paragraph about Communism strikes me as irrelevant to the question, though.
    – rjpond
    Mar 23, 2021 at 8:38
  • @rjpond ... and slightly wrong also, since most examples of communism have rather been autocratic/despotic "planned economies".
    – Stian
    Mar 23, 2021 at 14:03
  • @rjpond indeed it seems to be in opposition to the answer ... communism (in 1920s Germany at least) was to be feared/disliked because of its internationalist dimension, as the enemy of nationalism, more than any other reason (and its anthem, after all, was the Internationale) Mar 23, 2021 at 19:25
  • Communism is about the people, nationalism is preference to the country. rjpond - the 2nd paragraph was extra information to aid comprehension. Stian - Communism is classless autocracy (class warfare). Brian - According to Mein Kempf, "1920s Germany" was anti-Communist; more of a Fascist evidenced by il Duce influence on Führerprinzip.
    – Zimba
    Mar 25, 2021 at 9:03

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