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Negative Liberty

Negative Liberty: Public Opinion and the Terrorist Attacks on America

Darren W. Davis
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Negative Liberty
    Book Description:

    Did America’s democratic convictions “change forever” after the terrorist attacks of September 11? In the wake of 9/11, many pundits predicted that Americans’ new and profound anxiety would usher in an era of political acquiescence. Fear, it was claimed, would drive the public to rally around the president and tolerate diminished civil liberties in exchange for security. Political scientist Darren Davis challenges this conventional wisdom in Negative Liberty, revealing a surprising story of how September 11 affected Americans’ views on civil liberties and security. Drawing on a unique series of original public opinion surveys conducted in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and over the subsequent three years, Negative Liberty documents the rapid shifts in Americans’ opinions regarding the tradeoff between liberty and security, at a time when the threat of terrorism made the conflict between these values particularly stark. Theories on the psychology of threat predicted that people would cope with threats by focusing on survival and reaffirming their loyalty to their communities, and indeed, Davis found that Americans were initially supportive of government efforts to prevent terrorist attacks by rolling back certain civil liberties. Democrats and independents under a heightened sense of threat became more conservative after 9/11, and trust in government reached its highest level since the Kennedy administration. But while ideological divisions were initially muted, this silence did not represent capitulation on the part of civil libertarians. Subsequent surveys in the years after the attacks revealed that, while citizens’ perceptions of threat remained acute, trust in the government declined dramatically in response to the perceived failures of the administration’s foreign and domestic security policies. Indeed, those Americans who reported the greatest anxiety about terrorism were the most likely to lose confidence in the government in the years after 2001. As a result, ideological unity proved short lived, and support for civil liberties revived among the public. Negative Liberty demonstrates that, in the absence of faith in government, even extreme threats to national security are not enough to persuade Americans to concede their civil liberties permanently. The September 11 attacks created an unprecedented conflict between liberty and security, testing Americans’ devotion to democratic norms. Through lucid analysis of concrete survey data, Negative Liberty sheds light on how citizens of a democracy balance these competing values in a time of crisis.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-151-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. About the Author
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Chapter 1 Introduction: A Climate of Threat and Vulnerability
    (pp. 1-15)

    The September 11 attacks transformed a nation that had been absorbed in the contentious 2000 presidential election, Republican-proposed tax cuts, shark attacks off the California coast, and Barry Bonds’s pace to break Mark McGwire’s single-season home run record into a nation contemplating its own mortality and the threat of terrorism. Previous controversies, social conflicts, and esoteric concerns became infinitesimal compared to the newfound sense of fear and vulnerability American citizens suddenly faced. Time literally stood still as the images of that day were replayed in a never-ending loop: passenger airliners exploding into buildings, people leaping from the top floors of...

  7. Chapter 2 Context: The Promise of 72 Virgins
    (pp. 16-30)

    Contextualizing the value trade-offs citizens faced after September 11 and taking a hard look at the major events following the attacks, I hope to give some insight into individual perceptions during the period. My primary goal is to define the social and political context, how it may have shifted over time, and the events that impinge on the decisions among individual citizens. The context I refer to throughout involves more than simply exposure to the horrific events surrounding the September 11 attacks. Such events are a major component of the context and, as I mentioned in the opening chapter, they...

  8. Chapter 3 Value Conflict: Civil Liberties Versus National Security
    (pp. 31-58)

    In situations where liberty and security collide, and enjoying one means sacrificing the other, political and social life are likely to be unpleasant. Individuals face the dilemma of tolerating a sense of threat and vulnerability to both an external enemy and the government. Both types of threat, I will argue later, can be equally menacing and indistinguishable to many citizens. Short of dissolving the social contract and starting over, individuals might be expected to tolerate restrictions on freedom and live with a certain sense of vulnerability that civil society by definition is intended to resolve. This tolerance runs counter to...

  9. Chapter 4 Explaining the Support for Civil Liberties
    (pp. 59-86)

    American citizens drew on a variety of values, beliefs, and emotions to make sense of the unfamiliar compromise between protecting civil liberties and enjoying greater security after September 11. Individual decisions were likely made through a variety of perceptual screens, such as sense of threat and vulnerability, trust in government, liberal or conservative ideology, patriotism, and racial experiences. Although there are probably as many reactions to the terrorist attacks as there are citizens, my interest here is not in taking account of all possible reactions. My interest is rather to determine the extent to which there was a shared or...

  10. Chapter 5 Acceptable Consequences
    (pp. 87-112)

    In the last chapter, I showed that America citizens conformed to theoretical expectations, drawing on normal value preferences and contextually driven perceptions to make sense of the choice between liberty and security. Under a heightened sense of threat and vulnerability, many individuals either adopted new positions or acquiesced to government policies in a way that seemed to contradict their normal system of political beliefs. Political liberals, normally protective of civil liberties, began to reflect the preferences of political conservatives under a heightened sense of threat. Similarly, individuals normally less trusting and suspicious of political authorities began to reflect the preferences...

  11. Chapter 6 Civil Liberties in an Evolving Context
    (pp. 113-137)

    The sober second thought approach I used in the last chapter captured an important aspect of attitude stability: the extent to which individual citizens were willing to defend their security or civil liberties positions when confronted with the consequences of their initial preferences. In response to information challenging their attitudes, many respondents hardened their positions instead of moderating them, though respondents who initially preferred civil liberties were more likely to moderate their preferences than those who initially preferred security. This asymmetry is understandable, given the heightened sense of threat after the attacks of September 11, and my confrontational approach. But...

  12. Chapter 7 Spiral of Silence: Partisan Orientations in a Climate of Threat
    (pp. 138-163)

    In the discussion so far, ideology has been an important consideration in understanding how individuals responded to the terrorist attacks of September 11. For the most part, political conservatives were more willing than moderates and liberals to concede freedom for greater security. But chapter 4 suggested that when exposed to a heightened sense of threat, liberals and moderates began to resemble conservatives in valuing security over civil liberties. The broader political discourse at the time reflected a similar ideological convergence among Democrats, who appeared to tolerate restricting civil rights and liberties—political values they have faithfully defended.¹

    Democrats and, to...

  13. Chapter 8 Racial Reactions
    (pp. 164-191)

    Race and ethnicity have rivaled other factors, such as political trust and perceptions of sociotropic threat, in comprehending the effects of the September 11 attacks on individual attitudes. Although American citizens and political institutions appeared to acquiesce to political authorities to make the country safe and secure, they did not share equally in their willingness to concede civil liberties. As I showed in chapters 4 and 5, African Americans were much less likely than most other citizens to cave in to their sense of threat and vulnerability. When presented with the security consequences of their initial trade-off decision, blacks rejected...

  14. Chapter 9 Social Group Affect, Intolerance, and Threat
    (pp. 192-217)

    I now explore the extent to which the threat from the attacks of September 11 influenced affective perceptions toward various groups in American society, including Islamic fundamentalists, Arab Americans, Jews, African Americans, Latinos, whites, and Christian fundamentalists. Following the attacks, the deep political and social antagonisms that usually characterize American society did not seem to constrain citizens’ need and willingness to reach out to others. As Americans attended to their newfound sense of threat and vulnerability, longstanding social conflicts and hostilities appeared trivial. Americans had been targeted without regard for race, ethnicity, gender, political viewpoint, or sexual preference, and they...

  15. Chapter 10 Conclusion
    (pp. 218-224)

    My intent in this final chapter is to step back from the data to offer a broader picture of the findings and how they inform both the theoretical literature and individual reactions to the terrorist attacks of September 11. As tragic and horrifying as the attacks were, they created a unique context to study the compromise between liberty and security. Because support for democracy and freedom is situational, it is only when they clash with real events that we can understand the nature of democratic support. At no other time in American history have citizens believed that they would have...

  16. Appendix A Terror Event Timeline
    (pp. 225-227)
  17. Appendix B Data and Research Design
    (pp. 228-230)
  18. Appendix C Survey Questions
    (pp. 231-244)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 245-252)
  20. References
    (pp. 253-266)
  21. Index
    (pp. 267-280)