Crisis Magazine contributing editor Joseph Pearce was interviewed recently by Exit Hate, an online journal in the U.K. which encourages people to abandon political ideologies rooted in hatred. This is a slightly edited and adapted version of that interview.
Firstly, could you tell us a little about who you are and what it is that you currently do?
I’m an Englishman who’s been living in the United States for the past twenty years. I moved to the USA to take up a position as writer-in-residence and associate professor of literature at a Catholic university. For the five years prior to my move to the States, from 1996 until 2001, I was a full-time writer living in Norfolk, though I’m originally from London. I’ve now written around thirty books, which include biographies of Chesterton, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Oscar Wilde, and William Shakespeare. My new book is Faith of Our Fathers: A History of True England.
You previously identified with white supremacist politics before abandoning its rhetoric and ideals. Could you shed a little light on your time in the movement and the degree to which you were involved?
I was involved in a white supremacist organization called the National Front from 1976 until 1986, joining when I was only fifteen years old. I became the chairman of the Young National Front and the editor of three of the NF’s magazines. For editing one of these journals, Bulldog, I was sentenced to prison twice, in 1982 and 1985, for publishing material likely to incite racial hatred. I spent my twenty-first and twenty-fifth birthdays in prison. As someone who was virulently anti-Catholic, I was also involved in the violent politics of Northern Ireland. I was a member of the Orange Order, an anti-Catholic secret society and was involved with the leadership of two terrorist groups, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).
What would you say were your main reason(s) for both joining and subsequently leaving the world of white supremacist politics?
My main reason for joining the NF was a deep-seated racism and opposition to immigration, coupled with my hatred of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). As a hot-headed and hard-hearted youth, I wanted to take up arms against those whom I considered to be my nation’s enemies. I left the movement as part of my journey toward conversion to Catholic Christianity, a process which was set in motion by my extensive reading of the works of G.K. Chesterton.
You are now a Catholic. What would you say Catholicism provides you in your life that extremist political ideas didn’t?
The two creeds are as different as chalk and cheese, having nothing in common. My time in radical politics was a period of service to a false concept of reality, based upon a quasi-scientific worship of the Tribe. My journey to religious conversion was a move toward the embrace of philosophical objectivity and the rational understanding of love, the latter of which is the rational choosing of self-sacrifice for the other, whether the other be our friend or our enemy.
Has your religion changed the way you view political ideas? If so, how?
Of course. Any political perspective on either the so-called right or the so-called left is anathema if it justifies feelings of hatred toward others. Evil is the absence of love. It doesn’t matter if the jackboot that crushes our neighbor is on the left foot or the right foot.
There are some people that claim to identify both with Catholicism and with extreme ideologies (which happens across various religious, ideological, and political movements, from veganism, to localism, to environmentalism, to Paganism, and beyond, where extremists try to advance particular causes in order to broaden its appeal). How would you personally distinguish your Catholicism and Catholicism at large from extremist political ideas?
We need to define our terms in accordance with the definition that evil is the absence of love, as stated above. I believe in the integrity and sovereignty of small nations in the face of globalist tyranny. I would call myself a localist. This is a question of the need for liberty based upon the understanding of the dignity of the human person as being made in the image of God. This has nothing to do with white supremacism, nor does it belong on the so-called left or the so-called right. We need to move beyond outmoded notions of right and left in order to return to the perennial understanding of reality, including political reality, in terms of right and wrong.
We mainly deal with those who have either left extremist organizations or are currently having doubts about their current ideology. What would you say to those people who are possibly interested in Catholicism but are reluctant to actively pursue that interest because their particular strain of thinking has persuaded them against it?
The first thing that is necessary for the pursuit of a true understanding of reality is the virtue of humility. It is humility that leads to the sense of gratitude which opens the eyes in wonder. Without eyes wide open in wonder, we will not be moved to the contemplation of the truth necessary for dilation of the mind and heart into the fullness of reality. Pride is the absence of humility. It lacks a sense of gratitude and manifests itself in the hatred and contempt of others. It shuts the eyes to the wonder that is necessary for the liberation of the mind from the prison of political ideology. The prison of ideology makes contemplation impossible, resulting in the shriveling of the mind and heart into the smallness of petty hatred, anger, and resentment. It is not the dilation of the mind and heart into the fullness of reality but the closing of the mind to higher truths. As the rock band U2 remind us, if we want to kiss the sky we need to learn how to kneel. Humility is the key to any escape from ideology.
Finally, do you have any last messages to those still involved in the sort of political extremism that attracted you when you were young?
I would ask them to consider whether they are motivated by a genuine love for good things, such as their homeland, or whether their motivation is rooted in anger, resentment, and hatred. If they are motivated by love, they need to abandon anything that leads to love’s absence, including the hatred of neighbor. No progress is possible until love is embraced and hatred rejected.
[Editor’s Note: Joseph Pearce has written further about his journey into and out of political extremism and racism in his book Race with the Devil: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love.]