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Abstract

In times of national emergency, the role of the government expands — albeit temporarily — to mitigate harm against its citizens, thwart the threat, restore order and normality, and ultimately, dissolve its augmented authority. However, emergency policies are justified in the eyes of the public when the political leadership’s response to the threat is proportional to the harm posed by the threat. Thus, the public’s perception of the magnitude of a threat and their assessment of a proportional response determine the level of support for the government’s proposed emergency policies. Relatedly, securitization theory posits that people in power carefully construct a threat to convince the public of the existence and gravity of the threat, and accordingly, place the threat beyond the realm of “normal politics.” The extant international and domestic security literature predominantly focuses on the threat of physical warfare. In contrast, the current global pandemic and other threats like natural disasters constitute a categorically divergent enemy. Physical warfare is largely perceived as anthropomorphous in nature, while epidemics and natural disasters are often portrayed as non-anthropomorphous. Based on the assumptions that people can hate a human enemy more passionately and that people may believe harm from non-anthropomorphous threats is inevitable, I argue that anthropomorphous threats yield a higher level of public support for emergency policies than non-anthropomorphous threats. To test this hypothesis across regime types and cultures, this study conducts survey experiments in the United States, South Korea, and Egypt. Despite some mixed results (most likely stemming from the issue of saliency), the findings present preliminary support for the chief argument. This research offers an innovative approach to security studies and international relations, and the findings hold significant implications for a variety of international and transnational non-anthropomorphous security issues, such as public health crises, environmental disasters, food insecurity, poverty, immigration, and energy management.

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