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9/11, Foreign Threats, Political Legitimacy, and Democratic Social Institutions


  • Jon D. Wisman


This paper reassesses the political reaction in the United States to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in terms of economics and evolutionary biology. The fact that war and its threat were ever-present in human evolution resulted in two social propensities that render society vulnerable to political manipulation. External threats dramatically heighten social cohesion as well as loyalty to leaders. In pre-state social groupings, all members could clearly witness and judge the nature of an external threat. And because leaders had to spearhead any response, they were most vulnerable to injury or death. In modern highly complex societies, by contrast, the nature of threats is less transparent, and leaders can command far from immediate danger. Consequently, in modern times, leaders can be tempted, especially in times of economic dysfunction, to generate fear of an external threat to rally support and detract attention from otherwise inadequate leadership. This paper explores these dynamics in the context of post-9/11. It concludes with reflections on the potential of democratic institutions and practices to lessen the potential for political leaders to exploit their advantages by trumping up external threats.

Suggested Citation

  • Jon D. Wisman, 2012. "9/11, Foreign Threats, Political Legitimacy, and Democratic Social Institutions," Working Papers 2012-08, American University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:amu:wpaper:2012-08

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gaynor, Martin & Vogt, William B., 2000. "Antitrust and competition in health care markets," Handbook of Health Economics,in: A. J. Culyer & J. P. Newhouse (ed.), Handbook of Health Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 27, pages 1405-1487 Elsevier.
    2. Gaynor, Martin & Town, Robert J., 2011. "Competition in Health Care Markets," Handbook of Health Economics, Elsevier.
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    4. Gaynor, Martin, 2006. "Is vertical integration anticompetitive?: Definitely maybe (but that's not final)," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(1), pages 175-180, January.
    5. Guido W. Imbens & Jeffrey M. Wooldridge, 2009. "Recent Developments in the Econometrics of Program Evaluation," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 47(1), pages 5-86, March.
    6. Laporte, Audrey & Windmeijer, Frank, 2005. "Estimation of panel data models with binary indicators when treatment effects are not constant over time," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 88(3), pages 389-396, September.
    7. Deborah Haas-Wilson & Christopher Garmon, 2011. "Hospital Mergers and Competitive Effects: Two Retrospective Analyses," International Journal of the Economics of Business, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 18(1), pages 17-32.
    8. Cameron,A. Colin & Trivedi,Pravin K., 2008. "Microeconometrics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9787111235767, March.
    9. Martha A. Starr & R. Forrest McCluer, 2014. "Prices and Quantities in Health Care Antitrust Damages," Working Papers 2014-03, American University, Department of Economics.
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    More about this item


    Ideology; fear; democracy; free-rider problem; social cohesion;

    JEL classification:

    • A12 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Other Disciplines
    • N40 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification
    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism


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