As a young man, Joseph Pearce was more likely to incite riots outside a Catholic church than to enter one. A member of the National Front—an English political party that promoted racist, neo-fascist views—Pearce published hate-filled propaganda and was twice sent to prison for inciting racial hatred. Such writings could have destroyed his life. But the writings of others, from G. K. Chesterton to C. S. Lewis, eventually helped him find his way. These days, Pearce has written and edited more than a dozen books, most related to the Catholicism he once despised but has now embraced. His latest, Race with the Devil: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love (Saint Benedict Press, Sept.) chronicles the author’s journey from the prejudice of his young life to the faith and philosophy that inspired his conversion and continue to motivate him today.
Why publish this book now?
I didn’t want to write about it while my parents were still alive. Also, I wanted to be able to write it in such a way that I walked a tightrope between falling into self-loathing or self-righteousness. You have to walk a middle path between those two extremes. I wasn’t sure until very recently that I was mature enough to actually apply that.
It seems that looking back at your life from your current Catholic viewpoint could offer a unique perspective on your relationships, political or familial.
Of course a central aspect of Christianity is that we do not sit in judgment of others. Instead, I had to allow others to look at me and want to understand my problem. Catholicism allows us an element of introspection, to see ourselves in relation to an objective reality, in order to make sense of the past.
Could you name the one book that most influenced your past political views and the one that most influences your current Catholic ones?
Several books had a negative effect on me. World Revolution by Nesta Webster was one. It was by someone who saw history as a sort of convoluted conspiracy organized by Jews and Freemasons. One book of many that led me in the right direction was E. F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful. That allowed me to become more Libertarian. I don’t call myself a Libertarian, but I began to distrust big brother, big government, big business. Once you come to the realization that power tends to corrupt, you come to see that, well, if my own side had that kind of power, we would become as corrupt as the people we want to overthrow.
Do you ever worry about the way your past might influence the people you meet today, or the way it might influence the way people see you?
In so far as my past actions and past writings have caused anybody to suffer or reinforced prejudices, for that I am deeply sorry. I am motivated, in many ways, in my writing life now to rectify any problems that I caused in my earlier life. That’s the first thing. The second thing is what people think of me. My attitude is that there are two things you can do if you have a skeleton in your cupboard: you can hide it and lock the door and conceal the key and spend the rest of your life worried that someone will discover it, or you can take the bones out, rattle them in front of everybody and say, ‘This is my past, take me for what I was.’ If anyone were to suggest that a leopard cannot change his spots, then I would merely point out that I am not a leopard.