Of Fear and Strangers: A History of Xenophobia

George Makari. Norton, $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-393-65200-0
Animosity toward those different from oneself has been the subject of long and convoluted debate, according to this scattershot study. Psychiatrist and historian Makari (Revolution in Mind) revisits milestones in Europe’s hatred and oppression of outsiders from the Spanish conquest of the Americas to the Holocaust, but focuses on complex and sometimes contradictory intellectual explanations of xenophobia. It has been described, he notes, as a neurological ailment, an ideological prerequisite for nation-building, a response to economic competition, a conditioned reflex, or an outgrowth of cinematic stereotypes; meanwhile, thinkers including Freud, Adorno, and Sartre made xenophobia central to psychological development, proposing that the antagonism between “self” and “other” was at the heart of man’s existential predicament. Makari’s wide-ranging treatment draws on psychiatry, sociology, literary criticism—he devotes many pages to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Richard Wright’s Native Son—and his family’s immigrant journey from Lebanon to suburban New Jersey. It’s elegantly written, erudite, and often intriguing, but Makari’s concepts of otherness and alienation are so vast that he includes everything from Simone de Beauvoir’s take on sexism to Michel Foucault’s interpretation of madness as critiques of xenophobia. The result is a distended theory that clarifies little by explaining too much. Photos. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 06/14/2021
Release date: 09/14/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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