This article presents a theoretical reconceptualization of escalation behavior as an instance of persistence, or the basic tendency to bring goal-directed behaviors to completion. Most past efforts to explain escalation (e.g., self-justification theory and prospect theory) have tended to underscore the sequela of sunk costs and emphasize issues of emotional or cognitive bias. Lewinian and Atkinsonian theories of motivation, as well as contemporary theories, are employed as the basis for an alternative, persistence paradigm, emphasizing the continuity of inertial elements central to all forms of human motivation. This paradigm is used to derive key theoretical constructs such as proximal closure, clarity of completion, goal valence, or intrinsic interests active in escalation. Particular attention is drawn to the empirical viability of the paradigm, its utility in integrating past research and theory, and its potential contribution in framing new research and generating practical means of intervention or control.