The Enemy Within


The idea and expression of “the enemy within” is briefly explored in its multiple uses. A rising parallel with the emergence of individualism, this notion was first tied to the religious ideals of purifying the self, later secularized and revived with the development of the idea of the unconscious. It is especially close to the notion of conspiracy. In folklore, the description of Others, through tales, is mostly ethnocentric and negative. A tentative classification of tales, with respect to visibility and origin, is suggested, and the detours and ambiguities that characterize folklore discussed. The contemporary orientation of conspiracy theories – present in the three realms of folklore, popular fiction, and social protest movements – to denounce “evil elites” is briefly commented on: these theories were widespread in explaining the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. However, the story of “the compassionate terrorist,” one that reflects the detours and ambiguities of folklore,is the most representative of the spontaneous lore linked to terrorist attacks.

How to Cite

Campion-Vincent, V., (2003) “The Enemy Within”, Ethnologia Europaea 33(2), 23-31. doi:

Publisher Notes

  • This article was previously published by Museum Tusculanum Press.


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Véronique Campion-Vincent (Maison des Sciences de l'Homme)



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