By Yoon Jin Lee
Blyth (2002) argues that in situations of “Knightian” uncertainty, such as periods of economic crises, “the agents are unsure as to what their interests actually are, let alone how to realize them” due to uniqueness of events. In amidst of uncertainty, ideas particularly play a significant role in determining agents’ behaviors and their outcomes. This blog post characterizes the U.S. immediately after the 9.11 terrorist attacks as a situation of Knightian uncertainty. It delineates how the idea of anti-terrorism gained its prominence during this period and induced institutional changes. Specifically, the idea resolved collective action and coalition-building problems, was used as a weapon against existing institutions and served as the basis of new institutions.
The September 11 attacks left the country in surge of depression and uneasiness. Although responded differently, most people found the threat of terrorism real and acute. Hence, the unprecedented level of agreement on anti-terrorism was reached, which allowed the collective action against terrorism to successfully happen. For example, President Bush gained a broad mandate for his stringent anti-terrorist measures in the name of national security. The president’s approval rating, moreover, reached 90% after the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan. With the change in perception of costs and benefits of resorting to anti-terrorist measures, the U.S. could pursue the common goal of anti-terrorism.
The president, furthermore, used anti-terrorism ideology as a weapon against the existing institutions. He urged for reforms in the institutions in order to defeat terrorism, which had been previously not allowed because of the issues of human rights and basic freedom encroachment. But with the unprecedented level of agreement on anti-terrorist measures, the U.S. passed new legislations and amended the existing ones. One such act was an introduction of the U.S.A. Patriot Act that permitted “the U.S. security agencies to take invasive measures.”This clearly demonstrates how anti-terrorism ideology formed the basis of new institutions. Thus, after the 9.11 attacks that created a situation of Knightian uncertainty, anti-terrorism ideology played a significant role in inducing the U.S. institutional change.