Race With the Devil
My Journey From Racial Hatred to Rational Love
By Joseph Pearce
Saint Benedict Press, 2013
264 pages, $22.95
To order: saintbenedictpress.com
On Dec. 12, 1985, a 24-year-old radical white supremacist named Joe Pearce stood in the dock at the Old Bailey and was convicted of violating the British Race Relations Act. He was sentenced to 12 months in prison.
Four years later, on March 19, 1989, this same Joseph Pearce was received into the Catholic Church.
As a professional race-baiter, Pearce was known for his provocative articles and hell-raising speeches. As a Catholic public figure, Pearce is known for his “literary biographies” and has written about G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, Hilaire Belloc, C.S. Lewis, William Shakespeare, and, most recently, Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Now, in an account of his own life, Pearce describes how this incredible transformation took place.
Pearce likens his early childhood in rural England to Tolkien’s Shire: innocent, idyllic, peaceful. But due to the negative influence of the adults in his life, by the time he was 15, racial politics had completely dominated his life.
He lied about his age to join the National Front (the leading white supremacist organization in Britain), and, that year, his photograph appeared in the local paper. “[T]o this day,” he recalls, “I remember the look of fanatical anger on my face. I had metamorphosed into a political extremist.”
Just before turning 17, Pearce became a full-time worker for the National Front: “I was now living every young radical’s dream of being a fully paid, full-time revolutionary, giving his life to the cause.” He stirred up hatred between white and black youths by inciting riots. He distributed racist literature at football stadiums. He scaled up his pro-British fanaticism by participating in demonstrations in Northern Ireland and joining the anti-Catholic Orange Order.
What eventually landed him in jail was his editorship of The Bulldog, the official newspaper of the National Front. In 1981, and again in 1985, Pearce was charged with “publishing material likely to incite racial hatred,” which in Britain is characterized as a “hate crime.”
He first stint in prison merely annealed his white, Anglocentric bigotry. But his second incarceration was different, because by that time he had discovered authors who challenged his racist worldview, including Solzhenitsyn, Belloc, and, most importantly, Chesterton.
“In reading Chesterton,” Pearce writes, “I was undermining my own most dearly held prejudices. … I realize now what I had no way of realizing then, that it was the combination of Chesterton’s eminently rational mind and his transparently virtuous heart that had captured and captivated me. It was the charm of goodness, the presence of goodness, the light of sanctity shining forth in the darkness, the life of love that can kill all hatred.”
This is an amazing conversion story. Joseph Pearce was truly a hard case, someone whose entry into the Catholic Church one would never dare predict.
But Pearce takes the trouble to weave into his story the small things that, with hindsight, make his conversion appear inevitable: his voracious appetite for books that led him to Chesterton and other Christian authors, his experiences of beauty in rural England and elsewhere that “baptized his imagination,” and small acts of kindness from strangers that struck him as remarkable, even in the midst of his angry-young-man period.
His inside look at radical movements is fascinating, as is the discussion of the books that formed him, for good and for ill.
Americans unfamiliar with British history may get a bit lost during certain sections, but these passages do not detract from the overall quality of the book.
Race with the Devil is a highly recommended and encouraging story of the power of God’s grace to change lives.
Clare Walker writes from Westmont, Illinois.