Why do we have so many ethnic partisans in the world ready to die as suicide bombers? Does a rational calculus lie beneath the nationalist pride and passions? Can it be discovered if only we apply our understanding of rationality more creatively? This article seeks to answer these questions by focusing on the nationalism of resistance. It argues that a focus on dignity, self-respect, and recognition, rather than a straightforward notion of self-interest, is a better prism for understanding ethnic and nationalist behavior, although self-interest is not entirely absent as a motivation in ethnic conflict. In the process of developing this argument, a distinction once made by Max Weber—between instrumental rationality and value rationality—is recovered and refined further.
No more arresting emblems of the modern culture of nationalism exist than cenotaphs and tombs of Unknown Soldiers …. They are either deliberately empty or no one knows who lies inside them …. The cultural significance of such monuments becomes even clearer if one tries to imagine, say, a Tomb of the Unknown Marxist or a cenotaph for fallen Liberals. Is a sense of absurdity avoidable? The reason is that neither Marxism nor Liberalism is much concerned with death and immortality. If the nationalist imagining is so concerned, this suggests a strong affinity with religious imaginings ….—Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, 1983He received many helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. He would especially like to acknowledge the criticisms and suggestions of Gabriel Almond, Benedict Anderson, Robert Bates, Morris Fiorina, Ira Katznelson, Pratap Mehta, Vibha Pingle, Ronald Rogowski, James Scott, Kenneth Shepsle, Jack Snyder, Sidney Verba, the late Myron Weiner, Elisabeth Wood, Crawford Young, and three anonymous reviewers of this journal. Needless to add, not all of them agreed, so the standard disclaimers apply.