the enemy within: a threat that exists within a community, nation, etc., as distinct from an external enemy (i.e. the enemy without) — synonym of the enemy within: fifth column
SOME BRITISH USES
The phrase the enemy within has long been used in various contexts. For instance, in A Course of Family Prayer, the Anglican cleric Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-78) distinguished between external temptations and inner weakness:
Lord, thou knowest our weakness, and the temptations to which we are exposed: our danger from the enemy of souls; and from the present world, which is full of snares; and, above all, from the enemy within, our vile flesh and deceitful hearts, so apt to betray us into sin.
Whether or not in the extended form the enemy within the gates, or within one’s gates, the phrase was frequently used in Britain just before and during the Second World War to designate Nazi sympathisers. For example, on 26th April 1940, the Sussex Express & County Herald reported that in a speech delivered in his constituency, Tufton Percy Hamilton Beamish (1874-1951), English naval officer and Conservative MP for Lewes, in Sussex, declared that:
A large number of organisations existed in this country to weaken the will to prosecute the war, and to aid conscientious objectors as well as the “fifth column” or “enemy within the gates.” “There has been considerable laxity in that direction,” said Admiral Beamish. “We have not been sufficiently alert, or we have been too kind-hearted, but there will be a considerable change in the near future.
“I appeal to the people who are working against the interests of this country—there are some in this constituency—not to continue their policy of defeatism, and not to encourage conscientious objection, but to realise the iniquity of the German people under Hitler, and the necessity of carrying on the war until we crush that demon.”
During the Cold War, the phrase came to be frequently applied to British Communists. For instance, the editorial in The Daily Mail (Hull, Yorkshire) of 22nd December 1947 was titled The Enemy Within; it said, about Harry Pollitt (1890-1960), General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain:
Pollitt, in common with others of his fraternity in many other countries, pours out propaganda that is exclusively manufactured in Russia, even though he speaks with a good English accent. It is at once a matter for shame that Englishmen can so act as the gramophone of a foreign State which is obviously actuated by animosity, and for a certain pride that Britain is one of the few countries in the world where democracy permits such a superlative freedom of expression; if Mr Pollitt and his friends were in actual fact citizens of the country which they have spiritually adopted they would speedily learn the meaning of freedom by its complete absence.
But the most infamous use of the phrase was in a speech that the British Conservative stateswoman Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) delivered, in the context of the British miners’ strike¹, to the Conservative Private Members’ Committee, known as the 1922 Committee, on 19th July 1984; the following day, The Times (London) reported:
The Prime Minister last night drew a parallel between the Falklands War² and the dispute in the mining industry. Speaking at a private meeting of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbench MPs at Westminster, Mrs Thatcher said that at the time of the conflict they had had to fight the enemy without; but the enemy within, much more difficult to fight, was just as dangerous to liberty.
¹ the British miners’ strike was the strike conducted by coal miners in 1984-85 against a plan to close numerous coal pits.
² the Falklands War, an armed conflict between Britain and Argentina, took place in 1982.
The Guardian (London) of the same day had:
Mrs Thatcher told Tory MPs that her government had fought the enemy without in the Falklands conflict and now had to face an enemy within.
This is from the transcript of Margaret Thatcher’s handwritten notes for that speech:
Enemy without — beaten him
& strong in defence
Enemy within —
Liverpool & some local authorities
just as dangerous
in a way more difficult
But just as dangerous to
Scar across the face of
source: Margaret Thatcher Foundation
The following, from Who is the real enemy within?, by Jeremy Seabrook, published in The Guardian (London) on 10th December 1984, is still relevant today:
The enemy within. After five and a half years of the rule — or is it the reign? of Mrs Thatcher, the failures of her promised “revolution” can no longer be concealed; and the air is thick with the plausible interpretations of those to whom the next great and noble task has been entrusted — the finding of alibis.
The enemy within comes as the most resonant and convincing of these; an old ghost to inspire terror without pity. It is a measure of the inversions and reversals of the time that this sinister threat should have been tracked down to some of the most traditional and conservative sections of the working class, those who seek nothing more than to prolong known forms of work and living together. How is it possible that the miners — with their pigeon lofts and chrysanthemums, their leek-growing, football and darts friendlies, bitter beer and dominoes, their endurance, ribaldry and easy companionability, constitute this menace to order and stability? Of what, exactly, are they the enemy, those whose distrust of change makes them resist setting aside old certainties, however harsh, in the interests of fresh uprootings and anxieties for the future of themselves and those they love?
The Conservatives invoke discipline, tradition and continuity, when the forces which they have been so eager to set free have required absolutely the breakdown of the very disciplines they claim to cherish, the erosion of tradition, the most violent discontinuities. In other words, they cry law and order upon the very disorders they have sown. They have been the faithful representatives of those whose business has always been with transforming and reworking human beings, moulding us this time to the contours of the global market-place dismantling the sensibility and re-making it in the image of universal merchandising; and in the process interfering with settled ways of living, prising apart old bonds, re-casting the human substance in strange new forms, re-constructing our needs until we ourselves identify them with capitalist necessity.
That those who resist these pressures, however imperfectly and instinctively, should be called the enemy within is an example of the world of mirrors which we inhabit; where Conservatives seek to conserve nothing but the dominion of money over humanity. It is for this reason that when they do encounter those groups of people who truly wish to conserve something of value — those, for instance, who would limit our predations upon the natural resources of the earth, or those like the miners who wish to conserve the identity of their local communities — their fury knows no limit. Then they can be seen for what they are — the real enemy within. And Mrs Thatcher’s government are its most unflinching and barefaced representatives.
It can be added that the British Labour statesman Tony Blair (born 1953), Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007, was the political heir of Margaret Thatcher.