The Banality of Eagleton

On Evil
Terry Eagleton
Yale University Press, $25, 163 pp.

 “Evil is not something we should lose too much sleep over,” according to Terry Eagleton. How much sleeplessness is just enough?

In February 1993, two ten-year-old boys, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, lured a two-year-old child, Jamie Bulger, away from a shopping center in Liverpool. They proceeded to batter him to death. Arrested and charged with murder, they were sentenced to a minimum of eight years in prison, later raised to ten years and then to fifteen. The term was subsequently reduced to eight years after the European Court of Human Rights condemned the boys’ trial in an adult court as “inhuman and degrading.” Venables was released “on license” in 2001 and given a new identity. The conditions of his parole were that he must never contact Thompson or go back to Liverpool.

When I was in London a few months ago, I read reports in newspapers and heard on TV that Venables had now been returned to prison, his parole revoked, and that new charges against him would be considered on the basis of “extremely serious allegations,” as then–Justice Secretary Jack Straw announced. (I have not read or heard anything of Thompson since his release.) Jamie Bulger’s mother, Denise Fergus, demanded that the Justice Secretary give her full information about Venables’s alleged new offense, but he refused, on the grounds that any disclosure would “undermine the integrity of the criminal justice process.” Harriet Harman, leader of the House, said, “Bear in mind that the...

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About the Author

Denis Donoghue holds the Henry James Chair in English and American Letters at New York University. His most recent book is Irish Essays (2011).