The Banality of Evil, in Ireland

Implementation of the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol—which is part of the UK’s withdrawal agreement with the EU—has resulted in shortages in the province and consequent protests that risk renewing the civil war. Our title derives from a different context where the evil was intentional and its magnitude not comparable with the ‘Troubles’ in Ireland. A similar question arises however: is this unthinking bureaucracy or a deliberately aggressive policy?

Functionaries of the EU are stirring up trouble by aggressively interpreting the regulations of the Northern Ireland Protocol and thereby creating shortages. For example, a Sainsbury-branded pork pie can be held up at the Irish Sea border so that it won’t risk being shipped across the non-border into the Republic of Ireland – despite there being no Sainsbury stores in the Republic.

The journalist Hannah Arendt, attending the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961, saw him as a bureaucrat who unthinkingly followed the rules and beliefs of his regime; she invented the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe his approach to his crimes (see Footnotes*). The example of a Dutch customs officer confiscating a ham sandwich from a British lorry driver’s lunch box (he was unlikely to sell it and so violate the Single Market’s phytosanitary regulations) shows that a spiteful culture exists amongst some EU officials. The question in the Irish case is whether the obstruction arises from a similar culture or is a deliberate policy from above. Are these functionaries unthinkingly following the underlying spirit of the EU or simply following orders (the Nuremberg defence)?

We can be pretty sure EU leaders approve and encourage their behaviour; von der Leyen’s threatened vaccine border clearly showed that Irish lives don’t matter to her as much as the EU’s dodgy precepts. Though the officials may not realise the full consequences of their actions their leaders do because this activism violates the spirit and intention of the Belfast Agreement, which they pretended to be protecting in the Brexit negotiations. It is hypocrisy and it risks lives, a true example of “European values”—or rather EU values— whereby apostate nations must be punished instead of being shown an improved path towards the virtues and benefits proclaimed by the ‘regime’.

A belief system may sometimes lead its adherents to do things that result in outcomes in direct contradiction with the supposed goals. This can happen in economics when a theory is pursued despite it leading to lasting poverty and despair (adherence to the Gold Standard after WW1 or the imposed austerity on Greece after the banking crisis). An extreme example was the expropriation of kulaks by the Soviet regime, which did not result in a paradise where peasants shared the collective wealth, it destroyed their wealth and the lives of millions.

In NI both the wealth and lives of citizens are under threat from the aggressive application of a flawed agreement. Roughly twice as many checks on goods are imposed on trade into Belfast from Britain than into Rotterdam from the rest of the world, despite the current alignment of standards between the EU and its adversary, the UK. They wish the UK ill and are willing to risk its citizens lives. Are there any refusenik apparatchiks manning the UK-NI border who believe passionately in the peace rhetoric of their masters and wish the UK a fair deal or are concerned about the consequences of their actions?

*Footnotes:

1. Arendt’s argument was that Eichmann may have lacked an ‘intention’ to commit genocide so much as he failed to think about the crimes he was committing. That didn’t save him from the court’s or history’s judgement. If the Troubles restart in Ireland the blame must be attributed to the banal evil of EU ideology and its adherents.

2. In some cases it is claimed the mass murders of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and the disabled were carried out on threat of death for the executioners and that soldiers were killed or beaten for refusing.

Hannah Arendt
Adolf Eichmann

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