Review of Behavioral Economics > Vol 8 > Issue 2

Martyrdom and Rebellious Collective Action

Vladimir V. Maltsev, Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, Russia,
Suggested Citation
Vladimir V. Maltsev (2021), "Martyrdom and Rebellious Collective Action", Review of Behavioral Economics: Vol. 8: No. 2, pp 111-124.

Publication Date: 19 Jul 2021
© 2021 V.V. Maltsev
Behavioral economics,  Economic theory,  Public economics
JEL Codes: D01, N42, P49, Z12
AnarchysuperstitionmartyrdomDoukhoborsSons of FreedomRussiaCanada


Download article
In this article:
1. Introduction 
2. A Brief History of the Doukhobors 
3. Martyrdom and Rebellious Collective Action 
4. Conclusion 


The paper analyses the role of martyrdom superstition in fostering rebellious collective action. Rebellions are plagued with problems of free riding, as the benefits of this activity are small, while the costs are high. I argue, however, that a religious society may rationally use the martyrdom superstition to incentivize rebellion. Martyrs gain utility from suffering, which lowers their private costs in case a rebellion does not succeed. If the spiritual benefits from martyrdom are sufficiently high and the costs of failed rebellion are not infinite, then the expected value of rebelling will be higher than the expected value of non-participation. I apply these insights to a radical splinter of the Canadian Doukhobor sect called the Sons of Freedom. Through martyrdom, the anarchic group rebelled against the Canadian government for nearly 80 years, despite their small numbers and low odds of success.