Of Fear and Strangers: A History of Xenophobia

With George Makari

What has caused the recent international resurgence of xenophobia? Looking for clues, psychiatrist and historian George Makari started out in search of the idea’s origins. He discovered that while the fear and hatred of strangers may be ancient, the notion of a dangerous bias called “xenophobia” arose not that long ago.

Coined by late-nineteenth-century doctors and political commentators, and popularized by an eccentric stenographer, xenophobia emerged as a popular cultural concept alongside Western nationalism, colonialism, mass migration, and genocide. Makari chronicles the concept’s rise, from its popularization and perverse misuse to its spread as an ethical principle in the wake of the Holocaust, and then on to its sudden reappearance in the twenty-first century. He investigates xenophobia’s evolution through writers like Joseph Conrad, Albert Camus and Richard Wright, and innovators like Walter Lippmann, Sigmund Freud, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Frantz Fanon. Weaving together history, philosophy and psychology, Makari also offers insights into related ideas such as the conditioned response, the stereotype, projection, the authoritarian personality, the other, and institutional bias.

Makari offers a unifying paradigm for comprehending more clearly how xenophobia, other irrational anxieties and contests over identity sweep through cultures and lead to the dangerous divisions so prevalent today.