Great Nonfiction: The Enemy Within, by John Demos

The Enemy Within: 2,000 Years of Witch-hunting in the Western WorldScapegoats and victims

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The term “witch hunt” is used today to describe all sorts of attempts by communities to rid themselves of elements deemed “evil”, whether those elements are communists, child abusers, or heretics. People do not like what they do not understand, and crises, be they epidemics, wars, terrorists, or waves of immigrants, they tend to band together to find someone to blame, along with a way to expel that threat. In The Enemy Within, respected historian John Demos shows, in the first part of the book, how and why early western societies persecuted and executed suspected witches, examining the sociological factors that led to the panic. In the second part, he deals with contemporary society, in which we view ourselves as scientifically informed and free of superstition, yet persist in the ancient drive to identify and purge the causes of our deepest anxieties. Hard times seem to revive our collective fears, and the challenge is to avoid lapsing into the old, destructive, reactionary patterns. Written for the general reader, The Enemy Within is a potent reminder to remember how near to the surface the patterns remain, and to strive to find intelligent solutions to the very real problems that we face today.

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