Joseph Pearce and His Top 10 Books
Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – “Joseph Pearce is on the Dude Maker Hotline. This is appearance number three here, I believe, on the Crusade Channel. David Simpson is here for #WendesdayWisdom.” Check out today’s transcript for the rest….
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: . . . your latest writings on, not so much on this subject, although I think that they actually are on this subject, if they stranded you on an island, if you were marooned on an island or shipwrecked, the ten books that you wish to have. Of course, you listed ten books, ten poems, ten novels. The ten turned out to be more like 40. What I found fanciful about your description of the ten books was that if they came to rescue me and I wasn’t finished reading the books, I’d probably tell them to go pound sand. Go get somebody else who needs to get rescued. I’m pretty comfy here on the island. I’ll see you guys in two years.
Joseph Pearce: The way I paint the desert island in that particular article is almost like the Garden of Eden. Leave me alone. Leave me at peace. Just get rid of the world and leave me with these great books of civilization, great poems, and just leave me to, if you like, wallow in the majesty of human civilization, Christian civilization. Basically as regards the world, let me get off. Obviously your listeners might know, I’ve been on before about my past, I’ve been to prison twice. One thing about being in solitary confinement in prison, which I was for a period of time, it taught me, actually, that I’m very comfortable with solitude, especially as long as I have a good book to read or materials with which to write.
Mike: What did you read when you were in prison?
Pearce: Actually, I read St. Thomas Aquinas for the first time. I read John Henry Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua. I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time during my second prison sentence. I got a lot of reading done. The Lord of the Rings, for instance, was a book I meant to read for years. I looked at the size of it and how thick it was and thought I was too busy. Well, you find yourself in a 12-month prison sentence in solitary confinement and you think: Hey, this is a perfect time to pick that book up. I read The Lord of the Rings in prison, and that was a life-changing experience.
Mike: One of the things that you mention in your article about the ten things you’d like to be stuck reading, one of them was, I believe it’s the C.S. Lewis translation of Beowulf.
Pearce: Actually, it’s the Tolkien translation.
Mike: Why the Tolkien translation?
Pearce: Tolkien is probably the premier expert on the poem Beowulf, certainly was during his lifetime. He was a scholar in Old English. Tolkien is much more than just the author of The Lord of the Rings, although that, of course, would be enough to get his ticket. He was a scholar of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University. He wrote the seminal essay on Beowulf called “The Monster and the Critics.” He translated the poem. For me, he has a feel for the language, both the Old English language, the Anglo-Saxon, but also a feel, of course, for modern English, which he wrote so beautifully in his other work. For me, Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf is about as good as it gets, not that there weren’t others. Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet, also did a wonderful poetic translation of Beowulf a few years ago.
Mike: Joseph Pearce is on the Dude Maker Hotline with us here. His latest work is called “Top Ten Books for My Desert Island.” Previous to that, you had written – you might know that you can send your essays to me before you send them to Winston and let me proofread them.
Pearce: Is there some error?
Mike: No. I’m going to actually steal them and publish them myself.
Pearce: You know what T.S. Eliot said, don’t you? T.S. Eliot said: The bad writers borrow but good writers steal.
Mike: I’ll fancy myself a bad writer. You wrote about the tragedy that was – I was fascinated by this. We’re in the midst of a cultural revolution. You could say pin the tail on the decade. There are things that you could point out in any decade that are messed up. Right now, though, the things that are messed up, I believe, are going to lead to, again – we know this from the gospels. As a matter of fact, my best friend David Simpson is here. Did you name Stephen after St. Stephen or after St. Stephen of Hungary?
David Simpson: Stephen the protomartyr.
Mike: Say hello to Joseph Pearce.
Simpson: Hello, doctor. Is it Dr. Pearce?
Simpson: I was driving in listening to you and I have to confess, I have career envy. When I heard you were sitting in a restaurant in Rome reading books and drinking wine, I said: Why didn’t I do that?
Pearce: It’s a hard life I live.
Mike: If you’re really lucky, if he’s home today, we might hear the rooster crow in the background.
Pearce: I can close the window so you don’t. If you want to hear the rooster crow, I’ll open the window for you.
Mike: One of the things that Joseph – let me finish the point about the protomartyr. The first act of martyrdom is – I talked about this on yesterday’s show. St. Stephen goes to the square and is white martyred first. They yell at him. They threaten him: We’re going to take this away. We’re going to banish you, kick you outside of the city. Then he goes and prays upon it and goes: I’m going back. The Lord told me I have to go tell them, so I’m going to go tell them again. He goes back for the second round. The rest, as they say, is history. He goes through the two martyrdoms. Right now we are perilously close, I think, here in the United States, to witnessing, if we haven’t already seen, some acts of white martyrdom. They’re going to increase. There are going to be people that are going to refuse. They’re just not going to conform their minds to this unreality that men aren’t men and women aren’t women. There are going to be consequences for this.
When we proceed to the red martyrdom, no one knows how that’s going to turn out, but I would hope that our countrymen would have the good sense to say: We’re not just going to let you come in here and start executing people, or start telling us that we have to execute them. Maybe we should part company. I leave it at that, Joseph. You wrote two days ago about the tragedy that is the Southern United States. Because it could not and would not at the time divorce itself from, and was already in the twilight, in the sunset of its evil reign of chattel slavery that we had here in the States. There’s nothing that you can say or do that can undo that. It cannot be undone. The fact of the matter is that because it did begin or was partially responsible for the war of Northern aggression, the fate of republican government here on these shores was basically settled.
Joseph, you probably know this, you probably even read the writings to this day of the Acton Society. Lord Acton famously wrote a letter to Robert E. Lee and said: If you guys lose, republicanism in the English-speaking world, this is the knell. It’s over. Your comment?
Pearce: That’s the whole point. The purpose of my article – my article was called “The Tragic South,” in the sense that I see the South in some ways as being the epitome and embodiment of the tragic heroes such as Achilles in Homer’s Iliad who’s this strong, noble character who basically his Achilles’ heel is not – of course, physically it’s his heel beyond the story – but his Achilles’ heel ultimately is his pride. It’s his pride and arrogance that brings him down. In other words, he had a fatal flaw. It’s the fatal flaw that ruins him.
What I said about the South is that the South was noble but its tragic flaw was slavery. There are two issues in the War Between the States. One was the issue of slavery. Of course, slavery is an abomination and no Christian can support slavery. The other issue was states’ rights, in other words, the right of local government to have its own local power without an over-encroaching, overreaching, overarching central government getting more and more powerful. These were the two issues. The tragedy is that, yes, the war to abolish slavery was won, but what it brought into being was this hideously large and growing larger all the time centralized state that the United States has become, which bears no similarity whatsoever with the vision for the United States that the founding fathers had.
That’s the tragedy, that one of the two things the war was being fought on, one was a victory but the other was a defeat. The tragedy is that slavery was on its way out anyway. Every other country except Brazil had abolished slavery already. Slavery was in its twilight zone. It was going. 750,000 Americans had to die to make it finish sooner. I’m not saying that was necessarily a bad thing. The consequence of that is putting in place this juggernaut, this federal government which is uncontrollable and out of control, which is imposing its will on the American people in a manner which is very undemocratic.
Mike: It would be okay if it was imposing a good will, but it’s not imposing a good will; it’s imposing a diabolical will.
Pearce: You mentioned Lord Acton. I would remind us of Lord Acton’s words that power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. The more powerful a body becomes, the more likely it is to become corrupt. Putting our trust in a bigger and bigger government is really ensuring we get a more corrupt government.
Mike: I’m wondering – David is descended from highlanders. I’m not sure if you’re descended from highlanders. We may have to get acquainted with highlander living again.
Pearce: You talk about the North and the South. Of course, we have our own North and South. You mentioned highlanders. They’re Scots. We try not to mention those people north of the border.
Mike: Joseph Pearce is on the Dude Maker Hotline. This is appearance number three here, I believe, on the Crusade Channel. David Simpson is here for Wisdom Wednesday. Joseph’s top Chesterton books that he would be marooned on an island with: Orthodoxy, The Everlasting Man, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Aquinas, Chesterton’s autobiography, which I have not read any part of, In Defense of Sanity, and the last of which is a recently published the best of Chesterton’s essays, that is, Have You Anything to Declare? I have read some or part of all of those, including his thoughts on St. Francis of Assisi and on St. Thomas Aquinas. Joseph, David and I missed meeting you when you were here in Ponchatoula back in April. As a matter of fact, you met David’s brother. He has a picture of you.
Simpson: My brother was the 6’4”, 300-pounder in the kilt. You probably remember him.
Pearce: Funny enough, there were several people in kilts at that conference. Chesterton attracts those sorts of people. Needless to say, you’ll never see an Englishman in a kilt.
Mike: David is the second largest. It goes you, Robert Simpson, and then David Simpson for vying for first place in the Chesterton fan club. David and I have talked about this many times. I’d like to get your take on this. How is it that Chesterton can write this magnificent biography of Aquinas and confess that he didn’t read all of Aquinas?
Pearce: Because he’s a genius, as simple as that. Basically the story is, as you may know, he asked his secretary, Dorothy Collins, to go to the library and get every book she could get on Aquinas. She came back with this huge pile of books, 20 or so books on Aquinas, and put them on his desk. Chesterton spent about 20 minutes looking through them, put them to the side, and never looked to them again. Then he dictated his book on Aquinas. That’s the legend. Etienne Gilson, one of the great Thomistic scholars of the 20th century said that Chesterton’s book on Aquinas was the sort of book he’d been trying to write the whole of his life. In other words, Chesterton did a better job than the experts. It’s astonishing. It’s a great testimony to Chesterton’s genius that he got the gist of what Aquinas was doing and saying and could wax eloquent on it for several hundred pages in a manner that impressed the greatest Thomists of his time.
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Mike: I have here a – I just took a trip to Virginia. I was actually in Philadelphia and then Virginia to see my beloved brother and sister-in-law. A priest up in Michigan gave me a spare copy of the book that he had called The Arts of the Beautiful by Etienne Gilson. I started reading it. I think I got to the third chapter. I left it there because my sister-in-law says: You want me to mail your book back? I’m like: Yeah! Before you go, you said that Gilson was one of the greatest Thomists of the 20th century. What’s the difference between – the audience may not know this because they don’t listen to Wisdom Wednesday all the time, don’t hang around for Philosophia Perennis on Wednesday evening with David and I. When someone is a great Thomist, I would contend, and I’m sure David would agree, that just makes them a great realist. They have a great ability to be able to look at – I’d say you are a great Thomist, Mr. Pearce, because you have an ability to be able to look at this mad world that we live in and deal with the reality of it and then write about it. Is that what makes a great Thomist?
Pearce: Absolutely. Even in the technical, philosophical term, Thomism is a realist philosophy. In other words, it believes that transcendentals such as beauty and love and reason are not merely things that we invent as human beings and stick a label on, but something that exists in spite of us. Whether any human beings ever existed, things such as reason and love and beauty would exist anyway because they ultimately come from the source of all goodness, truth, and beauty, which is God himself. In other words, as opposed to nominalism, which leads to relativism – that’s what we’re living under now, which basically thinks that all these things are merely human constructs. In other words, they’re not real. Yes, I would say that Thomists are realists in the absolute sense of the philosophical understanding of the world. Of course, once you have that absolute sense of realism, it allows you to actually see reality in all the other manifestations much more clearly.
End Mike Church Show Transcript