Of Fear and Strangers: A History of Xenophobia

Tuesday, February 1, 2022 at 8 PM

Of Fear and Strangers: A History of Xenophobia

Presenter: George Makari, M.D.

Discussant: Kwame Anthony Appiah

By 2016, it was impossible to ignore an international resurgence of xenophobia. What had happened? Looking for clues, psychiatrist and historian George Makari started out in search of the idea’s origins. To his astonishment, he discovered that while a fear and hatred of strangers may be ancient, the notion of a dangerous bias called “xenophobia” arose not so long ago.

Coined by late-nineteenth-century doctors and political commentators and popularized by an eccentric stenographer, xenophobia emerged 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 a series of calamities that culminated in the Holocaust and its sudden reappearance in the twenty-first century. He then investigates attempts to psychologically understand the rise of xenophobia through the writings of innovators like Walter Lippmann, Sigmund Freud, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Frantz Fanon. Weaving together history, philosophy, and psychology, Makari offers us a unifying paradigm by which we might more clearly comprehend how irrational anxiety and contests over identity sweep up groups and lead to the dark headlines of division so prevalent today.

Historian, psychoanalyst, and psychiatrist George Makari is the author of the newly released Of Fear and Strangers: A History of Xenophobia, a New York Times Editor’s Choice. He is also the author of Soul Machine: The Invention of the Modern Mind and the widely acclaimed Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysis. His essays have won numerous honors, including twice winning the JAPA Essay Prize, and have also appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and other publications. Director of the DeWitt Wallace Institute of Psychiatry: History, Policy, and the Arts, Dr. Makari is Professor of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and Adjunct Professor at both Rockefeller University and the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. He attended Brown University, Cornell University Medical College, and the Columbia Psychoanalytic Center.

Kwame Anthony Appiah is Professor of Philosophy and Law at NYU. He was born in London, but moved as an infant to Kumasi, Ghana, where he grew up. He has BA and PhD degrees in philosophy at Cambridge and has taught philosophy in Ghana, France, Britain, and the United States. He has been President of the PEN American Center and serves on the boards of the York Public Library and the Public Theater and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2012 he received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama. He has written the New York Times column The Ethicist since 2015. His most recent book is The Lies that Bind: Rethinking Identity.