Policymakers and international relations scholars concur that prestige is critical to world politics because states having prestige enjoy greater authority. An examination of how policymakers assess their and other states' prestige, however, reveals that this traditional view of prestige is wrong, for two reasons. First, policymakers do not analyze their own states' prestige, because they feel they already know it. They use their feelings of pride and shame as evidence of their state's prestige. Second, political and psychological incentives encourage policymakers to explain another state's behavior in ways that make it unlikely that states gain prestige. Policymakers systematically discount the prestige of other states; a belief that their state has earned the respect and admiration of others is therefore illusory. Consequently, the justification for costly prestige policies collapses. In other words, states should not chase what they cannot catch. Evidence from the South African War supports this conclusion.

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