ABOUT RADICAL EVIL – EDITORIAL NOTE

Radical evil is the willing embrace of monstrous crimes either for their own sake or to advance a cause that allegedly justifies murder and terror. It should be a rare and almost exotic sin, confined to the poetry of Milton or the novels of Dostoevsky.

Yet as several articles in this issue establish, radical evil permeated the European politics of the last century and corrupted millions of people. That corruption has not been entirely removed even today.

The full truth of the Kossuth Square massacre in 1956, scrupulously examined and evaluated by Professor Jobbágyi here, is still obscured in most accounts of the period. Yet his evidence suggests that mass murder was deliberately adopted as a political tactic. David Satter points to the underlying cause of such crimes in the adoption by both Nazism and Communism of the view that their political religions overrode any transcendent moral consideration. Árpád Kadarkay contributes a passionate endorsement of Hannah Arendt’s insight that this totalitarian version of radical evil corrupted everything from the German language to the mediocre soul of Everyman to produce a routinization of murder and a “banality of evil” in the form of Eichmann. Satter returns to remind us that although the radical evil of Nazism has been universally repudiated, its Communist twin still retains some respectability among Western Europeans deceived by its seemingly idealistic aims, embarrassed by its crimes, and anxious to make excuses or change the subject.

That is the “banality of evil” too, admittedly in a much milder form. Unless we are honest with ourselves about such matters as genocide, we will lack a vital element in resisting radical evil when it re-appears as it has done in the recent past – not outside Western Europe either.

In his autobiographical book, The Informer, Sean O’Callaghan describes the moment when he realised that in becoming an IRA terrorist in the 1970s, he had joined the camp of evil. He and other terrorists, who had retreated to a farmhouse after firing a mortar at a British Army base, were listening to the BBC for news of its impact. The BBC announcer reported that the attack had killed a part-time woman reservist. She had been pregnant. “Two for the price of one”, said another IRA man. O’Callaghan got up quietly, went out into the farmyard and vomited. Shortly afterwards he contacted Irish intelligence (and later British intelligence) in order to work for them to prevent future terrorist attacks. He subsequently volunteered a confession of his past crimes to the British courts and was sentenced to a long term of imprisonment. Now released, he writes on terrorism.  Eichmann concealed with euphemisms the radical evil he served until he had embraced it beyond repair. O’Callaghan saw plainly – or, rather, heard clearly – the nature of his radical evil in time, rejected it, and began a long course of amends.

We cannot, of course, routinise Dostoevskyan repentance. We must rely on more practical measures. Following Stalinism and Hitlerism Europe embarked on a project of unity to prevent war between European states, to establish procedures for resolving disputes amicably, to protect Christian and Enlightenment virtues, and in general to make radical evil impossible. It has been an imperfect but remarkable success. Yet opinion polls suggest that the European Union is increasingly distrusted and that its most fervent political supporters are likely to suffer a sharp reverse in next May’s elections for the European Parliament. Thus, György Granasztói wonders uneasily: “Can we vote against Europe?” The answer given by him (and by Piotr Naimski) in this issue is that we cannot reject the “Europe” that signifies our membership of a European democratic community rooted in liberal values, economic cooperation, the rule of law and the virtue of fraternity. But we can reject specific policies that centralise power, reduce the national sovereignty of member states, weaken democratic accountability within them, and impose social and economic policies against the grain of those societies. Indeed, perhaps we should do so if we want our citizens to develop the critical (and self-critical) capacity to treat political questions as matters for them to decide and to judge their rulers rather than being protected by them. That makes democracy possible and radical evil far more difficult.

Democracy needs truth-telling. It therefore needs truth-tellers. We congratulate our regular contributor, George Jonas, who left Hungary in 1956 and emigrated to Canada, on his invitation to join the Order of Canada on the grounds of his distinguished commentary on public affairs from a principled standpoint of classical liberalism over many years.

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