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For Cause and Comrade: Devoted Actors and Willingness to Fight


This report provides initial evidence that “devoted actors” who are unconditionally committed to a sacred cause, as well as to their comrades, willingly make costly sacrifices, including fighting and dying. Although American military analysts since WWII tend to attribute fighting spirit to leadership and the bond of comradeship in combat as a manifestation of rational self-interest, evidence also suggests that sacrifice for a cause in ways independent, or all out of proportion, from the reasonable likelihood of success may be critical. Here, we show the first empirical evidence that sacred values (as when land or law becomes holy or hallowed) and identity fusion (when personal and group identities collapse into a unique identity to generate a collective sense of invincibility and special destiny) can interact to produce willingness to make costly sacrifices for a primary reference group: by looking at the relative strength of the sacred values of Sharia versus Democracy among potential foreign fighter volunteers from Morocco. Devotion to a sacred cause, in conjunction with unconditional commitment to comrades, may be what allows low-power groups to endure and often prevail against materially stronger foes.

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