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Encyclopedia > Enmity

An enemy or foe is a relativist term for an entity that is seen as forcefully adverse or threatening. The term is usually used within the greater context of war, to denote an opposing group and the individuals within as threats to one's own national, ethic, or political group. To individuals within the threatened group, the "enemy" concept is an amorphous personification of both a threat to one's collective social group, as well as a personal threat to oneself. The term "enemy" serves the social function of designating a particular entity as a threat, and the "most feared enemy" status reserved for those who pose the greatest mortal threat.

The general ideological mechanism by which particular threats are determined is called marginalization. (Mechanisms which assert a unilateral amnesty for particular individuals and groups as being "enemies" is protectionism.) The characterization of an individual or group as an enemy is called demonization. The propagation of demonization is called propaganda.

An "enemy" may also be conceptual; used to describe impersonal phenomena such disease, and a host of other things. Throughout religious theology, "the Enemy" is typically reserved to represent the human tendecy to do evil, often personified as a malicious deity, such as the devil or a demon.


"Enemy" is a strong word, evoking associations of hate, violence, battle and war. The opposite of an enemy is a friend or ally; the state of being or having an enemy is enmity. But in general, "the enemy" is a bit too militaristic a term to use in polite society, and informal substitutes are moreoften used. Often the substututed terms become pejoratives in the context that they are used. In any case, the designation of an "enemy" exists solely to denote the status of a people or group as a threat, and to propagate this within the local context.

"The enemy," as the object of social anger or repulsion, has througout history been used as the prototypical propaganda tool to focus the fear and anxiety within a society toward a particular target. The target is often general, as with a ethnic group or race of people, or it can also be a conceptual target, as with an ideology which characterises a particular group. In some cases the concept of the enemy have morphed; wheras once racial and ethnic claims to support a call to war may later have changed to ideological and conceptual based claims.

In the United States, the current "War on Terrorism" is widely understood to be the replacement for the Cold War against "Communism." Thus the enemy term "communist" has largely given way to the newer "terrorist," and the threats of nuclear annihilation and "communist expansion" have given way (within political parlance) to "acts of terrorism" and religious (almost always Islamic) fundamentalism.

During the Cold War, the terms "Communists" or "Reds" were broadly understood in American society to mean "the enemy," and the meaning of the two terms could extremely pejorative, depending on the political context, mood, or state of fear and agitation within the society at the time.


The concept of the enemy is well covered in the field of Peace studies, which is available as a major at many major universities (including a somewhat well-known program of study at American University in Washington, D.C.).

In Peace studies, enemies are those entities who are perceived as frustrating or preventing achievement of a goal. The enemy may not even know they are being regarded as such, since the concept is one-sided.

Thus, in order to achieve peace, one must eliminate the enemy. This can be achieved by either by:

  • changing one's perception of an entity as enemy, or
  • by achieving the goal the enemy is frustrating.

Personal conflicts are frequently either unexamined (one's goals are not well defined) or examined only from one point of view. This means it is often possible to resolve conflict (to 'eliminate' the enemy) by redefining goals such that the frustruation (not the person) is either eliminated, obvious, negotiated away, or decided upon.


The enemy of my enemy is my friend. -Arab proverb

  Results from FactBites:
Updated: The Love Of Hating: The Psychology Of Enmity, by Ofer Zur, PhD., offered by Zur Institute for Psychologists, ... (16326 words)
A systematic exploration of enmity is a prerequisite to the prevention of wars.
The crucial step in the development of enmity and the conduct of war is the transition from the accurate and realistic perception of differences among people (dark skin-light skin, Muslim-Christian, socialist-capitalist) to associating the ingroup with a higher level of humanity than the outgroup.
The bonding energy that group enmity elicits must be redirected towards new types of challenges and targets, such as injustice, pollution, hunger, poverty or the destruction of the rain forest.
  More results at FactBites »



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