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National Identity and Political Power

How Representation Breeds Patriotism

A girl with a Greek flag in Athens, March 2015. Alkis Konstantinidis / Reuters

Among liberal elites in the West, nationalism’s bad reputation is getting worse. They associate it with white supremacy, the newly restrictive immigration policies of many Western countries, the resurgence of economic protectionism, or the illiberal populism of U.S. President Donald Trump

But nationalism also has a positive side. National identities can encourage solidarity with fellow citizens and lead individuals to sacrifice personal gain for the common good. Patriotic individuals, for instance, are less likely to cheat on their taxes, and politicians with a strong commitment to a national cause are more focused on providing public goods—such as infrastructure, health care, and schooling—and less inclined to narrowly cater to their base. Especially for developing countries struggling with political integration, building a sense of national solidarity above and beyond ethnic or regional identities is crucial.

An important question for both academics and policymakers, therefore, is why citizens develop

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