Philosopher, writer, journalist, and academic Mark Dooley. (Images: drmarkdooley.com)
Dooley is a Catholic philosopher, writer, journalist, and academic who
has been a regular contributor to a variety of radio programs, TV shows,
newspapers, and journals. His specialties are continental philosophy,
philosophy of religion, and theology, and he is the author of articles
and books on the thought of Søren Kierkegaard, Jacques Derrida, and
Roger Scruton, among others. His books include Why Be a Catholic? (2011), Moral Matters: A Philosophy of Homecoming (2015), and the forthcoming Conversations with Roger Scruton (2016).
He recently spoke with CWR about his work and current projects,
focusing on the importance of beauty and tradition, the need to escape
from “Cyberia”, and the Church’s social doctrine.
CWR: Your new book of interviews with Roger Scruton, who is famous for his BBC documentary on Beauty,
is coming out this summer. Can you tell us a little about its contents?
Is it a good place to start for those not familiar with Scruton’s work?
Mark Dooley: Yes, Conversations With Roger Scruton
will be published by Bloomsbury in May. It is a wide-ranging, and often
intimate, insight into Scruton’s life and times. There are a number of
revelations which are quite poignant and which shed light on this often
misunderstood figure. It is a book in which Scruton candidly opens up,
thus allowing us a glimpse behind the writer, the intellectual, and the
philosopher. I think people will come away from it with a new
appreciation for the man behind the work.
Yes, I strongly recommend that someone coming to Scruton for the first time should start with Conversations.
In doing so, you will, I think, have a much better understanding of his
worldview, his philosophical vision, and his vocation as a writer.
only that, you have created the unparalleled opportunity for people to
be in conversation with Roger for a week in Ireland. Tell us a bit about
the Edmund Burke summer school (EBSS): Who is invited to attend? Where
is it happening? What can people expect?
EBSS takes place from June 1925 in a lovely resort in County
Westmeath. It is open to everyone and consists of a series of lectures,
seminars, and discussions with Roger Scruton, the French scholar
Alexandra Slaby, and me. We also intend having a series of evening
lectures by public intellectuals in the Burkean tradition. There will
also be a strong social dimension to the school, thus enabling
participants to discuss matters with the teachers in a relaxed setting.
Roger will touch on all aspects of his work. Alexandra will hold a daily
workshop on Irish history, and I will chart my intellectual journey
from Kierkegaard to my latest writings on the implications for human
life of the culture of “Cyberia.”
The full programme is available on my website drmarkdooley.com, and the closing date for applications is April 30.
CWR: You yourself have been deeply influenced by your encounter with Roger. How has this encounter shaped your faith journey?
writings convinced me that beauty is next to Godliness. Without beauty,
we cannot feel at home in this world and neither can God. It is our way
of striving to capture something of the transcendent reality of the
divine. In the absence of beauty, we are stranded in a functional
wasteland where the satisfaction of pleasure and appetite is the
fulfillment of human life. However, where there is beauty we are
confronted by something which limits appetite in favor of awe. We see
something that is to be revered for its own sake and not solely for the
personal pleasure that can be derived from it.
That is why the
Church has, traditionally at least, emphasized the pivotal role of
beauty in its liturgy. The liturgy was a complete cultural experience in
which music, art, and architecture provided a space in which the
Creator was made abundantly present to the congregation. Take beauty
away and it becomes much harder to identify the sacred in the midst of
CWR: You wrote a book recently about your latest philosophical thoughts on things, called Moral Matters. How does it complement your thoughts in Why Be a Catholic?
Dooley: Moral Matters
is an attempt to show how we can reconnect to the ‘soil and man alike’
in the midst of a virtual kingdom. We have become slaves to “Cyberia”,
communicating with everyone but in touch with nothing. We have forgotten
that we are dependent on the earth, on each other, and on the sacred
source of all creation. And so, what I try to do is state how we can
how we must! detach from Cyberia and reattach ourselves to those
things without which no human life is complete.
In the final chapter, entitled “Saving the Sacred”, I take my argument in Why Be a Catholic?
a stage further by suggesting that without the binding power of
religion, we can never truly be rooted to anything. We shall perpetually
remain strangers to ourselves.
CWR: You began your philosophical explorations with Kierkegaard and Hegel. What did you learn from them?
Kierkegaard, I learned that faith is the highest achievement of which
we humans are capable. By showing how desire and the moral life are
transfigured in the religious, Kierkegaard demonstrated how the self can
become fully whole only in its relationship to the divine. Without
Kierkegaard, I could never have known the true value of
self-understanding rooted in God. From Hegel, I learned that without the
recognition that we find in each other, in the world, and in culture,
we shall never overcome the alienation which is the natural condition of
early childhood. Until the individual discovers that we are preceded by
a community of the living and the dead, and until that individual
identifies with the consciousness of all that community, that person
shall never know what it means to be at home here on this earth.
CWR: You also studied Jacques Derrida. What did you learn from him, and what did you reject?
is another very misunderstood thinker. I spent much time in his company
and a more gentle and kind person you would struggle to find. His basic
message was that we each belong to history, and because history is
comprised of multiple traces, the full story can never be recovered. It
is like a trial in which opposing sides present their evidence from the
fragments of the crime scene. They cannot recreate the event as it
actually happened, but they can surmise from the evidence what is likely
to have occurred. Either way, they are dealing with traces that cannot
reveal, or make fully present, the actual event. Such is the case with
all our lives: We are comprised of stories or narratives which are based
on fragments of memory and memory is always faulty. Hence, we are never
fully present to ourselves, just as culture (something also comprised
of traces) is never full present to itself.
does not mean that we should not try to recover from the ashes of memory
the full story even if doing so is impossible. Having a “passion for
the impossible” (the title of one of my early books) means that we
should try to make present those aspects of our lives and culture,
despite the fact that something will always elude memory. This takes the
steam out of those extreme political or religious positions that base
their legitimacy on having a direct line to the origin. Think of the
fundamentalist who declares that because the origin is fully present
there can be no deviation or opposition. ISIS is a perfect example.
I think Derrida was simply encouraging us to cultivate a certain
humility in the face of our own limitations. However, if Derrida
emphasized what cannot be remembered, retained, or recalled, Scruton
emphasizes what can and must be recollected. No trace is without the
spirit of its author. As I say in Moral Matters, while there
may be countless interpretations of Hamlet, we still know that it is a
Shakespearean play and that we can only ever deviate so far from that
reality. In sum, I drift from Derrida on the point of what can and
should be retained. And it is tradition which helps keep the spirit of
things and traces alive.
CWR: Why is Edmund Burke so important for you?
is the great defender of tradition against those who would lay waste to
our precious patrimony. The forces he was writing against in Reflections on the Revolution in France,
were the Jacobins who went on to destroy everything that France had
stood for and which made that country great. By emphasizing the truth
that we cannot tear up our timeless contract with absent generations
without becoming blind, Burke sent a salutary warning to every society
which seeks to deny its past for a nebulous future.
disconnect from the dead is simply to deprive the unborn of their
rightful heritage. As trustees of this sacred bequest we are not
entitled to cast it away, but that is what many societies seem intent on
doing today. Indeed, what Burke called “Jacobinism by establishment” is
now the norm in many European countries. This is something which I
argue at length in Moral Matters. Our addiction to Cyberia, I state, has become the primary reason why the dead and the unborn have been summarily silenced.
CWR: Tell us about Alexandra Slaby and her participation in the 2016 Edmund Burke summer school.
is a marvelous French scholar who teaches at Caen University in Lower
Normandy. She is an expert in modern Irish history and has published a
definitive guide to that period in French: Histoire de l'Irlande: De 1912 à nos jours.
That book will form the basis of her lectures at the Edmund Burke
Summer School. This is especially interesting as we in Ireland are about
the mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising an event which is now
regarded as the “myth of origin” of the Irish Republic. Alexandra is
also a profoundly spiritual person whose Catholicism informs everything
CWR: What do you think Burke can
contribute to the social teaching of the Catholic Church? How is Scruton
a guide in these matters as well? What might Pope Francis learn from
Dooley: I think Burke compliments the
social teaching of the Church. His emphasis on tradition, on our
immemorial contract with the dead and the unborn, his beautiful belief
that we belong the “great eternal society”, and his ferocious opposition
to the “armed doctrine” of the Jacobins, is of a piece with the best of
Church teaching. That is why Burkeans like Scruton are so drawn to the
Catholic position, even if they belong to a different denomination.
Again, I think Roger’s emphasis on beauty is pivotal for the Church, and
this is something I write about at some length in Why Be a Catholic?
I think Pope Francis is much more traditional than he is generally
perceived. However, as Burke taught, change should always be moderated
by continuity. If not, it can unleash forces which may ultimately
destroy the very thing you were trying to save through change.
philosophical reflections have an enchanting literary quality. What is
your next book project? What book do you recommend for someone who is
new to your writings?
Dooley: Thank you for
saying that! I have always believed that writing is an art form. It is
not just a purveyor of soulless information, but something which carries
the spirit or consciousness of the writer (this, again, is another way
to answer Derrida). If, therefore, writing is to have any effect, it
must reach out to the reader. It must seek to address him or her in such
a way that they are moved to respond. The words should touch the reader
in such a way that he or she should be able to feel your pain, share
your sorrow and your smiles.
If I were to recommend a book of mine to someone coming to my work for the first time, it would be Moral Matters.
That is because it encompasses my entire range of thinking in a way
that seeks to make it relevant to our contemporary problems and
concerns. I have already finished a book of weekly meditations on music,
wine, and song entitled Savouring the Sacred. It attempts to root the reader to reality in line with my appeal in Moral Matters. My next philosophical work is a book provisionally called How to Find Your Self.
In tracing the notion of selfhood as it has developed through the
history of philosophy, it will aim to show why philosophy is still our
best source of self-help.