People Can Change
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
Life After Hate: An Interview With Former Far-Right Activist Joseph Pearce. For many former members of the far-right, religion is something they find particular solace in once they abandon hate. To understand why, it’s important to know why these people join the far-right in the first place. The far-right provides you with community, identity, a sense of belonging, and a thought-system which will help you interpret the world. What many people have and will continue to discover, is that they don’t have to descend into racial hatred, sectarianism, and bigotry in order to find those things. Below is an interview with former far-right and current Catholic writer, Joseph Pearce.
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 far-right politics before abandoning its rhetoric and ideals. Could you shed a little light on your time in the movement & 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 your main reason(s) for both joining and subsequently leaving the far-right? 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 heard-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 towards conversion to Catholic Christianity, a process which was set in motion by my extensive reading of the works of G. K. Chesterton.
You currently identify as a Catholic. What would you say Catholicism provides you in your life that far-right 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 towards 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 far-right 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 towards others. Evil is the absence of love. It doesn't matter if the jackboot that crushes our neighbour is on the left foot or the right foot.
There are some people that claim to identify with both Catholicism and far-right viewpoints. How would you personally distinguish your Catholicism and Catholicism at large from far-right 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 the far-right 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 far-right 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 minds from the prison of political ideology. The prison of ideology makes contemplation impossible, resulting in the shrivelling 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 closiing 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 in the far-right? 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 neighbour. No progress is possible until love is embraced and hatred rejected.
— Joseph Pearce started his time in nationalism in his early teens.. He was a close friend and ally of the biggest names in British nationalism at that time, with Nick Griffin in particular being a close associate. Due to his writing capabilities, he spent a great deal of his energy editing and publishing far-right magazines, newspapers and pamphlets, spearheading certain strains of political thought and being chiefly involved in the ideological trajectory of the nationalist movement at that time. It was his writing that first gave him prominence in the movement, but it was also his writing that helped him find his way out.
Pearce read extensively during his time in the far-right to extract new ideas and develop the far-rights ideology further. This extensive reading thankfully led him into the writings of those he had been previously taught to hate. Now he uses his talents for better causes, free from the exploitation of the far-right.
Joseph Pearce has written further about his journey into and out of the far-right in his book Race with the Devil: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love.
Further material can also be found at his website https://jpearce.co/