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The Warden's Dilemma as Nested Game: Political Self-Sacrifice, Instrumental Rationality, and Third Parties

  • Brian S. Denny (a1)

Abstract

Inspired by the famous Prisoner's Dilemma game theory model, Karin Marie Fierke introduced the Warden's Dilemma to explain self-sacrifice and compromise in asymmetric interactions and to show that such an explanation requires a social ontology. She applied her model to Irish Republican Army hunger strikes in 1980–1981. Her model, however, closely resembles what game theorists call a ‘nested game’. This article (re)introduces the nested Warden's Dilemma, focuses on the tripartite relationship inherent to the model and examines hunger strikes as part of a strategy potentially informed by instrumental rationality and knowledge of the Warden's Dilemma dynamic. After briefly discussing the implications of approaching self-sacrificial behaviour from a rationalist perspective, a case study of strategic non-violence in Myanmar (Burma) demonstrates how third parties can both diffuse instrumental rationality regarding political self-sacrifice and facilitate patterns of resistance that appear to capitalize on the Warden's Dilemma dynamic.

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Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Email: bdenny@uci.edu

References

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