Patriotism generally is defined as the love of and devotion to one's country and its ideals. A strong belief in nationalism, which is a devotion to the national interests of a country, often is included in the definition of patriotism. Patriotism also refers to a sense of unity among a country's inhabitants, particularly the natives of the land, and a firm will to be and to remain a sovereign government. Patriots also typically view national independence as necessary for the protection of citizens and their way of life. A person can be patriotic toward the country where he or she is a citizen or permanent resident, or a person could be patriotic toward his or her fatherland, even if he or she is not a citizen and does not live there.
In some cases, having a love of and devotion to one's country does not mean having a love of and devotion to its government. A person might believe in the principles upon which a country was founded but might believe that its current government has strayed from those ideals. This type of person might believe that it would be patriotic, therefore, to oppose the current government and urge it to return to its founding principles.
Although patriots usually agree on the basic definition of what patriotism is, they don't always agree on how a patriot should react when faced with a decision to support or resist the decisions and policies of the country. One's personal and political opinion, status in society, religious beliefs and life experiences can affect his or her beliefs regarding just what it means to be patriotic. For example, a person's devotion to his or her country might not go as far as supporting a decision for the nation to go to war. He or she might react in different ways, such as participating in public demonstrations against the war while supporting the country in other decisions or refusing to become a soldier to fight for the nation. Others believe that the demonstration of true patriotism in such a situation would be to accept the nation's decision to go to war by refusing to publicly demonstrate; by becoming a soldier, in some cases; or by supporting the country's military and its personnel.
A person's religion also might affect his or her personal definition of a patriot. For example, members of a religion who are citizens of nations ruled by another religion often demonstrate patriotism only to a certain degree because their beliefs are that they should follow their religion over their government. If their beliefs are in conflict with the government, they often choose to follow their religious beliefs.
People who are treated as second-class citizens also might have different interpretations of the definition of a patriot. Members of an oppressed class of people, for example, might not be patriotic toward their country in the same way as members of other classes of people. For them, patriotism might be expressed more as a hope for change in their country.