Political Psychology, Vol. 25, No. 5, 2004
What Does It Mean to Be an American? Patriotism,
Nationalism, and American Identity After 9/11
Mershon Center, Ohio State University
Marilynn B. Brewer
Department of Psychology, Ohio State University
The period of heightened nationalism in the United States that followed the terrorist attacks
of 11 September 2001 provided unusual conditions for investigating issues surrounding the
distinction between patriotism and nationalism and the relationship between national identification and pluralistic values. In a survey of national identity and social attitudes conducted in late September 2001, two different definitions of national unity were inserted in
the introduction to the questionnaire in an attempt to prime activation of different conceptualizations of nationality. Results demonstrated that the priming conditions did have
an effect on the pattern of interrelationships among measures of patriotism, nationalism,
and tolerance for cultural diversity.
KEY WORDS: patriotism, nationalism, American identity, tolerance
The meaning and consequences of national identification have long been the
subject of debate among philosophers, historians, and social scientists. Of particular concern is the question of whether identification with one’s country—in the
form of national attachment, pride, and loyalty—is or is not necessarily associated with derogation and contempt of nations and cultures other than one’s own.
On the positive side, group identification at the national level, like other social
identities (Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987), creates bonds of
solidarity among all members, aligns individual interests with national welfare,
and provides the motivation for being a good group member at the individual
level—that is, for enacting the voluntary, participatory behaviors that constitute
the citizen role (Brewer, in press). On the downside, high levels of national iden-...