Q & A with Donald DeMarco
Editor’s Note: Editor Paul Tuns spoke with frequent Interim contributor Donald DeMarco by email. DeMarco, a prolific author, professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ont., and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., was recently named a Senior Fellow of HLI America, an initiative of Human Life International. Some of his recently writings may be found at HLI’s Truth and Charity Forum.
The Interim: Congratulations on being named a Senior Fellow at Human Life International- America. What does that title entail and how did it come about?
Donald DeMarco: Thank you. I owe this honor to Arland Nichols, the new director of Human Life International. He has been fond of my writings for some time and asked me to write 50 or more articles over the course of the year promoting life while using the HLI byline. I most heartily welcome this opportunity since it is not easy to find publishing outlets that are eager to publish pro-life material. There are “Catholic” outlets that will not extend to me even the courtesy of a simple e-mail refusal. HLI has some good connections. I am grateful to the people at HLI because I have already written many articles that I would not otherwise have written.
TI: You have been writing regularly and often about pro-life for more than four decades. What was your first pro-life essay or book? Has being openly pro-life hurt you professionally (as an academic)?
DD: My first book was Abortion in Perspective: The Rose Palace or the Fiery Dragon? I was most fortunate to have Marshall McLuhan write the introduction and William Kurelek to provide seven original illustrations. Both these larger-than-life figures have been honored on Canadian postage stamps. The book went through three printings and was welcomed by various pro-life groups especially since, in 1974, there was very little pro-life material available.
A paragraph from the acknowledgement of this book should answer, at least in part, the second question: I thank, quite sincerely, the many who have strenuously opposed my views on abortion. Quite often I was forced to develop deeper insights as a result of encountering their strong resistance. While they may be less willing to receive my thanks than I am to extend them, I acknowledge their indirect contribution nonetheless.
TI: Why is abortion and euthanasia an important issue for you to put pen to paper or to bang away at the keyboard?
DD: Life is the great issue of the day. As a philosopher and writer, I do not think I could put my time and energy to better use. I also have good reason to believe that this is what God wants me to do.
TI: You have written 22 books and hundreds of essays and book reviews. Do you have a favourite piece of your own writing?
DD: You can make that 23. I have recently published A Family Portfolio in Poetry and Prose. It includes poems I have written over the course of time for every member of our growing family (my wife, 6 children, 12 grandchildren, and daughters- and son-in-law) and articles I have written about the family. We are all pro-life, and I pray we all stay that way. The book is a kind of literary reinforcement.
I am not certain as to my favourite piece of writing. But “The Facelessness of the Unborn” is a good candidate. It was selected by the editors of The Human Life Review for inclusion among their 30 articles in a retrospective entitled, The Debate Since Roe: Making the Case Against Abortion (1975-2010). It is humbling to appear alongside of pro-life stalwarts such as Jérome Lejeune, Ronald Reagan, Richard John Neuhaus, Malcolm Muggeridge, Henry J. Hyde, and others.
TI: Who are your greatest intellectual influences?
DD: Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, William Shakespeare, G. K. Chesterton, T. S. Eliot, Etienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain, Josef Pieper, Martin Buber, Mortimer Adler, Karl Stern, and Canada’s own, Marshall McLuhan.
TI: You have taught philosophy to university students and seminarians. Is abortion primarily a philosophical question? To what degree is wayward thinking rather than refusal to acknowledge scientific facts the root of the problem pro-lifers face?
DD: I have maintained for some time that at the core of the abortion issue is a problem of the will, not the intellect. People used to be wiser about life when they had less information about the unborn. Pride can cause blindness and so can an attempt to smother one’s conscience. The will to defend one’s actions, to deny the undeniable, and to retreat into moral isolation can be very strong. Nonetheless, it is crucial to articulate the pro-life message as well as we can. We need to fortify those who are already pro-life and hope for the occasional conversion. There is still merit in the words of Jim McFadden, who founded the Human Life Foundation: “Good writing can win battles; great writing, whole wars.” I think that Interim exemplifies this maxim.
TI: With which philosopher or philosophers should pro-lifers arm themselves? Who has the most to say about the Culture of Death?
DD: Blessed John Paul II has made the most pointed defense of life and the most comprehensive criticism of what he termed “The Culture of Death.” His contribution can be seen on a philosophical level, and not one that is necessarily theological.
Benjamin Wiker and I have put together Architects of the Culture of Death. This book has been very well received and has inspired a number of people to present some of its more trenchant ideas through various arms of the Media. It has been translated into Spanish, Croatian, and Estonian. Currently, it is in the process of being translated into Czech and Polish. I humbly recommend it.
TI: You split your time between Waterloo, Ont., and New England. In what way do Americans think about abortion differently than Canadians?
DD: Americans, no doubt due to their history, which began with the Revolutionary War against England, are feistier than Canadians about pro-life issues (as well as about everything else). My last 20 books, and the vast majority of my articles, have been published, not in Canada, but in the United States. Benjamin Franklin, one of the most resourceful Americans who ever lived, journeyed to Montreal and founded the Montreal Gazette to use as a propaganda instrument to encourage Canadians to join the revolt against England. Canada stayed out of the war and the Gazette is now pro-abortion. There are exemplary pro-life Canadians, to be sure. But as a nation, it is largely intolerant of any serious discussion on pro-life issues.
TI: Any thoughts on this year’s U.S. election? Can the Republican’s defeat Barack Obama? Does it matter? Mitt Romney is a former governor of your “home” state, Massachusetts; can he help arrest the Culture of Death?
DD: My feeling is that the Democrats are corrupt and the Republicans are inept. President Obama, it seems, is doing everything in his power to alienate Catholics and other Christians. He is the most pro-abortion president America has ever had. I find it hard to imagine a worse president than the one who is currently sitting in the White House. Mitt Romney may lack adequate appeal, yet the lesser of two evils in this instance, is the far and away better choice.
TI: This will seem like a diversion, but I don’t think it is. You’re a sports fan and have written for The Interim about baseball and basketball. Is sports a frivolous past-time or is it worth serious consideration, and why?
DD: Sports is hardly a frivolous enterprise. It has attracted the minds and hearts of a number of illustrious thinkers and writers including Jacques Barzun, James Michener, Mordecai Richler, Chaim Potok, Damon Runyon, Paul Weiss, Philip Roth, George Will, and John Updike.
I have an upcoming article in Social Justice Review called, “Three Meditations on the Metaphorical Significance of Baseball.” Setting aside the indiscretions of certain athletes, sports offers images that are sorely lacking in our topsy-turvy world: clean rules, freedom from discrimination, healthy competition, the joy of teamwork, and the motivation to improve. Sports invites us to strive for excellence. It is challenging and, very much like the pro-life outlook, helps us to overcome obstacles in order to gain ultimate victory.
TI: Thank you very much.