Jingoism (Appeal to Patriotism)


The argument attempts to persuade by calling on ones community spirit, specifically on ones love of country. Alternatively, the argument may attempt to refute a position by calling it treasonous or unpatriotic.



"Of course the war in Iraq is justified! Support our troops!"


"Questioning the president's tax cut is tantamount to treason."



The English lexicographer Samuel Johnson once remarked, "Patriotism is the last resort of scoundrels." Indeed, appeals to patriotic pride were used during the 20th Century to legitimize some of the most unspeakable crimes in human history. Flag waving and the use of other symbols of national pride in palce of reasoning is an old tradition in America as well, and we should not imagine that we are immune to the evil that the appeal to such strong emotions can cause.

Patriotic pride is a powerful and ennobling emotion. Like any emotion rooted fundamentally in love, it takes us outside of ourselves. When moved by such emotions we transcend our narrow personal interests and become part of something large and meaningful. We realize that there are some things worth dying for. What things? Well, perhaps different patriots are moved by different ideals, but modern democracies have in common this ideal (from John Locke), that the legitimate basis of government resides in the consent of the governed. That idea, replacing the old notion of the divine right of kings, is one that American patriots died for in 1776. French patriots died for it a few years later, and around the world that idea has toppled dictators and broken the chains of injustice. No ideal has more profoundly shaped the course of history and make the world a better place to live. When an idea is that important, there is no illogic in asking for some sacrifice--even the ultimate sacrifice--on its behalf. Ideas matter, and the ideas that define our civic identity matter more than most.

But, of course, this creates an opportunity for bad reasoning. An argument commits the fallacy of Jingoism when it makes reference to the noble ideals that define our civic identity, but does so only symbolically, making no real connection between the ideals and the actual actions or opinions defended by appeal to them. For example, the so-call "U.S.A. Patriot Act" was named specifically to evoke feelings of patriotism (shortly after the 9/ll toppling of the World Trade Center when Americans were particularly prone to such feelings). Yet the content of the act was actually about increasing the authority of law enforcement agencies to spy on citizens without their knowledge or consent and to engage in discriminatory practices in the treatment of suspects. The act might have been more appropriately named The Investigative Powers Act. The disconnect between the name of the law and its actual content was, indeed, darkly ironic, since most Americans consider freedom from intrusive spying to be one of the values that define our civic identity! This perfectly illustrates the disconnect between the fallacious appeal to patriotism that characterizes Jingoism vs. genuine patriotic ideals.


Source: The term "jingoism" dates from 1878. It was first used to describe the excessive (and misguided) patriotism of British politicians who wanted Britain to enter the Russo-Turkish war (on the side of the Turks). The word comes from a popular song of the time, written by G. H. MacDermott, which included the following chorus:

We don't want to fight, but by jingo if we do...
We've got the ships, we've got the men, and got the money too!

This was not, of course, the first time, nor the last time, that appeals to patriotic ferver have been used to promote an ill-advised entry into an unnecessary war.


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