The term jingoism refers to a nation's aggressive foreign policy which has been propelled by public opinion. The word was coined in the 1870s, during an episode in Britain's perennial conflicts with the Russian Empire, when a popular music hall song urging military action contained the phrase, “by Jingo.”
The public, viewed by the British political class as uneducated and badly informed on foreign policy, were mocked as “jingos.” The word, despite its peculiar roots, became a part of the language, and was periodically invoked to mean those crying for aggressive international action, including warfare, in any nation.
In the modern world, the term jingoism is invoked to mean any aggressive or bullying foreign policy.
Key Takeaways: Jingoism
- The term jingoism refers to excessive and especially belligerent patriotism leading to an aggressive or bullying foreign policy.
- The term dates to the 1870s, against the background of the British having to decide how to counter perceived Russian moves against Turkey.
- The word has a peculiar source: the phrase "by Jingo" appeared in an 1878 music hall song pushing for military action against Russia.
- The term has become part of the language, and is still used to criticize aggressive foreign policy.
Jingoism Definition and Origin
The story of how the expression “by jingo,” a British expression essentially meaning “by golly,” came to enter the vernacular of politics begins in the spring of 1877. Russia went to war with Turkey, and the British government led by Benjamin Disraeli as prime minister had grave concerns.
If Russia triumphed and captured the city of Constantinople, it could create a number of serious problems for Britain. From that position the Russians could, if they wanted, seek to block Britain's vital trade routes with India.
The British and the Russians had been rivals for years, with Britain at times invading Afghanistan to block Russian designs in India. In the 1850s the two nations had clashed in the Crimean War. Therefore, the idea of Russia's war with Turkey somehow involving Britain was a possibility.
Public opinion in England seemed to settle on staying out of the conflict and remaining neutral, but that began to change in 1878. Partisans supporting a more aggressive policy began breaking up peace meetings, and in London's music halls, the equivalent of vaudeville theaters, a popular song appeared that called for a stronger stance.
Some of the lyrics were:
“We don't want to fight
But by Jingo if we do,
We've got the ships, we've got the men, we've got the money too.
We won't let the Russians get to Constantinople!”
The song caught on and spread widely through the public. Advocates of neutrality began to deride those calling for war by labeling them “jingoes.”
The Turkish-Russian war ended in 1878 when, with pressure from Britain, Russia accepted a truce offer. A British fleet sent to the area helped apply pressure.
Britain never actually entered the war. However, the concept of “jingoes” lived on. In its original usage, connected to the music hall song, a jingo would have been someone from the uneducated class, and the original usage carried the connotation that jingoism was derived from the passions of a mob.
Over time, the class element of the meaning faded away, and jingoism meant someone, from any social strata, who favored a very aggressive, and even bullying, foreign policy. The word had its period of greatest usage in the decades from the late 1870s to World War I, after which it tended to fade in importance. However, the word still surfaces with regularity.
Jingoism vs. Nationalism
Jingoism is sometimes equated with nationalism, but they have distinctly different meanings. A nationalist is someone who believes citizens owe their loyalty to their nation. (Nationalism can also carry negative connotations of excessive national pride to the point of bigotry and intolerance.)
Jingoism would embrace an aspect of nationalism, the fierce loyalty to one's own nation, but would also incorporate the idea of projecting a very aggressive foreign policy, and even the waging of war, on another nation. So, in a sense, jingoism is nationalism taken to an extreme position with regards to foreign policy.
Examples of Jingoism
The term jingoism came to America and was used during the 1890s, when some Americans fervently promoted entry into what became the Spanish-American War. The term was also later used to criticize the foreign policy of Theodore Roosevelt.
In early 1946, the term was used in a headline of the New York Times to describe actions being taken by General Douglas MacArthur in Japan. The headline, which read "M'Arthur Purges Japan of Jingoes In Public Office" described how the extreme militarists of Japan were being barred from participating in the postwar government.
The term has never gone completely out of use, and is periodically mentioned to criticize actions seen as bullying or belligerent. For example, an opinion columnist of the New York Times, Frank Bruni, referred to the jingoism of Donald Trump's foreign policy in a column published on October 2, 2018.
- "Jingoism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, edited by William A. Darity, Jr., 2nd ed., vol. 4, Macmillan Reference USA, 2008, pp. 201-203. Gale Virtual Reference Library.
- CUNNINGHAM, HUGH. "Jingoism." Europe 1789-1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of Industry and Empire, edited by John Merriman and Jay Winter, vol. 3, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2006, pp. 1234-1235. Gale Virtual Reference Library.