Jingoism: Definition, History & Examples

Instructor: David White
Through this lesson you will learn what defines jingoism, and come to understand how this political philosophy has influenced military actions and global relations.

What is Jingoism?

Over the course of the year 2014, the United States, along with other Western nations have been engaged in a bitter debate over the attempts of Russian separatists to annex a portion of Crimea. Some politicians suggest imposing greater sanctions that would stop the conflict, while others would prefer a military style intervention. The latter of these options has received considerable criticism for being what many consider to be an expression of jingoism.

Jingoism is a term used to describe a political perspective that advocates the use of threats or military force in foreign relations, as opposed to finding a peaceful or diplomatic solution. Jingoism often contains strong elements of nationalism and moral superiority, and is often present in fiercely patriotic rhetoric.

The word jingoism is derived from the 19th century European slang term 'jingo,' which is an exclamation used to avoid saying 'by God' or 'by Jesus.' The popular theory is that it was first coined in a British folk song from 1878, used to inspire patriotism. In the years that followed, the term jingoism became a popular way of describing people who were aggressively patriotic, or who embodied the sentiment of that song.

Examples of Jingoism in History

Jingoism may seem like a straightforward concept, but in practice it can become very complicated or controversial. Because jingoism is often spoken of as being a harmful point of view, but can at times seem rational, it might be useful to explore some other examples of jingoism from history.

Take, for example, the United States' ongoing conflicts with Native peoples throughout the 19th century, formally known as the Indian Wars. The government frequently used patriotism, nationalism, and racism to justify the relocation and violent oppression of Native tribes across the nation. In order to justify territorial expansion by military force, the federal government took the position that Indians were a threat to American greatness, and their resistance should be met with swift force in order to deal with the problem.

The American Indian Wars were the result of jingoist rhetoric
Indian wars

During the Cold War (c. 1947-1991), both sides of the conflict frequently relied on jingoist rhetoric to bolster support. From the perspective of the United States and its allies, democracy and Western values were the only way to move forward as a global community, thereby implying that any other type of government was in some way inferior. The USSR, on the other hand, continued their attempt to spread communism throughout eastern Europe. Though it never reached the point of war, both sides were attempting to portray themselves as superior to the other, which would justify imposing their beliefs on another country or culture. It was, in short, very jingoistic.

Modern Examples of Jingoism

The previous examples demonstrate how jingoism has affected people in the past, but as a political ideology, it remains a powerful tool in the present day.

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