On culture wars and the “woke capital of Europe”: A conversation with Mark Dooley

“I don’t believe we are in a culture war,” says the prolific author, editor, and philosopher, who is also Sir Roger Scruton’s literary executor. “Rather, we are fighting a spiritual battle, and for that you need spiritual weapons.”

Dr. Mark Dooley is the author and editor of several books, including "Why Be a Catholic?" and "The Roger Scruton Reader". (Images: drmarkdooley.com)

Having discovered the journal The European Conservative last year, I started noticing articles by Dr. Mark Dooley, one of the contributing editors. An Irish philosopher and journalist, Dooley closely collaborated with the late influential philosopher and writer Sir Roger Scruton, who died in 2020, renowned for his defense of traditional aesthetic and political philosophy. Dooley is Scruton’s literary executor. He taught philosophy for a decade at University College Dublin,, was a columnist with Sunday Independent and Irish Daily Mail, and has written several books on philosophy, theology, and foreign affairs.

Dr Dooley recently responded to some questions about the state of Ireland today, the legacy of Scruton, and the so-called “culture wars.”

CWR: Can you tell us a little about your background, your influences, and the particular focus of your work?

Mark Dooley: I was born and educated in Ireland. From 1992-2003 I lectured in philosophy at University College Dublin, where I was also the John Henry Newman Scholar in Theology. Following that, I made the decision to enter public life, believing that the lessons of philosophy and theology ought to reach a wider audience if they are to survive and thrive. And so, in 2003, I became a columnist for Ireland’s best-selling newspaper, the Sunday Independent.

I wrote primarily on foreign affairs, although not exclusively. It was a controversial column as it often defended the Iraq War and sought to expose the threat to Ireland from radical Islam. In other words, I found myself speaking as a public intellectual who had left the safety of the university for the cut and thrust of journalism. That said, I continued publishing a string of books on philosophy and theology, notably works on Kierkegaard, contemporary theology, and Derrida.

However, in 2006, I left the Sunday Independent to write a column on “Moral Matters” for the Irish Daily Mail, and it is there that I would stay for the next 12 years. I also took up an appointment lecturing philosophy at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, home to the National Seminary. While there, I became aware of some scandalous stories related to priestly formation that I exposed in the Daily Mail.

I also covered that topic in my book Why Be a Catholic? (2011), which sought to defend Pope Benedict XVI from concerted attacks in the wake of revelations regarding clerical child sex abuse. Today, I am a contributing editor to The European Conservative magazine, and I continue to publish widely in both book and article form.

CWR: You have called Ireland the “woke capital of Europe.” Would you say that the rapidity of cultural and religious change in Ireland over the past 40 years is largely an attempt to prove that Ireland is no longer its historically backward, insular, and Catholic self?

Dooley: Yes, that is true to a large extent.

When we gained our independence from Britain, the aim was to establish a Catholic identity. Indeed, Irish identity was Catholic identity. There was no area of Irish life exempt from the Church’s influence. However, the appalling revelations regarding child sex abuse completely eroded the Church’s moral standing in Ireland, ultimately leading to its tragic decline today.

At the same time, progressive forces saw their opportunity and agitated for social changes which not only defied Catholic teaching but sought to eradicate Catholicism from every area of Irish life. And so now we have swung to the other extreme: a country that wildly embraces every woke cause and one that considers religion the enemy of freedom. Of course, the “freedom” they speak of is not freedom at all but license to do whatever one wishes.

Hegel called that “hedonism”, by which he meant addiction masquerading as liberty.

CWR: In the context of Anglosphere politics and globalist attitudes, what do you think remains about the Irish mentality today which will always differentiate it from England and America?

Dooley: I think Ireland has no sense of the deep patriotism that characterizes Britain and America. It has a dark nationalistic streak embodied primarily in Sinn Fein, a communist party linked to the IRA, and one that may well take power at the next General Election.

However, the deep love for country, its traditions, its achievements, and shining exploits, is not a feature of Irish life. America and Britain are proud and great nations that are not afraid to celebrate their past, but Ireland has been completely consumed by the European Union and is now more proud of “Pride” than its historical patrimony.

CWR: When it comes to gender ideology, Catholic leaders tend to ignore the problem while it encroaches on the day-to-day life of Christians around the world. Beyond deploring its literal “queerness,” what are concrete steps that readers can take to oppose it’s dictatorship?

Dooley: When in doubt, I always turn to St. Paul. He was not afraid to suffer for the truth, even if that meant physical suffering. Christians have no choice but to follow in his footsteps.

However, to do so, we must know what the truth is. Far too few Christians know the wondrous message of salvation taught by Paul in his epistles, one that shows us what happened to us through the death and resurrection of Christ. We must, therefore, understand what this message is and why it is the key to successfully confronting the prevailing culture.

You see, I don’t believe we are in a culture war. Rather, we are fighting a spiritual battle, and for that you need spiritual weapons. If we think of this as merely a culture war, we have already conceded because our opponents control the culture. However, when you see it through spiritual eyes, it becomes clear that we must be prepared to speak and live the truth in such a way that we cannot be typecast or dismissed. We must, as Paul instructs, season our words with salt for the one who speaks with grace will always be heard. This also means following Paul when he admonishes us in Ephesians to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day.” We must stand, “having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”

Put simply, we must be prepared to counter the culture with the Gospel – irrespective of what that might cost. But, of course, that first demands knowing what the Gospel is.

CWR: What form of government would you describe as Ireland’s political tradition? How do you view the renewed interest of recent years in the Catholic Habsburg Monarchy? Do you think it could be politically beneficial?

Mark Dooley: Ireland is a constitutional democracy, a republic that slowly emerged from its status as a British colony. It did so often at the end of a gun and the dark shadow of that grim past still haunts the Irish psyche despite the woke attempt to deny it. Whatever virtues the Habsburg Monarchy may have, it is not something that will ever be considered favorably in Ireland.

CWR: Sometimes I hear people say that the Church in Ireland is “still in the 1990s” compared with America. Can you speak to this claim?

Dooley: The Irish Church is very much trying to appease all those forces that seek its extinction. It refuses to defend itself or its teaching for fear of alienating its enemies. The result is that it consistently alienates those who are loyal to it.

Again, there is no St. Paul in the Irish Church, no one to stand against the tide of lunacy for fear of cancellation or media opposition. And so, what you have is a fearful Church that would prefer to lie low than defend its beliefs.

This is not to say that there are not great priests and churches where the faithful can receive truth. However, they are few and far between. Relatively speaking, America has a strong Church and some very courageous bishops. Sadly, Ireland has neither.

CWR: Do you think Hungary, with its strongly Christian and pro-family laws will sabotage the general secularization of Europe?

Dooley: No, I don’t think it will, simply because the scourge of secularization runs too deep. However, it reminds Europe that there are strong pockets of resistance, and that the truth still has a proud and loud voice.

CWR: You worked closely with Sir Roger Scruton, and are now his literary executor. How did this collaboration and friendship between Irish and English philosophers initially form?

Dooley: I first encountered Roger when he visited University College Dublin in or around 1990. I had met all the great names in philosophy, but he was very different. He reminded me of Kierkegaard, in that he spoke and looked like an intellectual from the Nineteenth Century. I was very impressed with him, both as a man and a scholar. Indeed, here was someone who spoke the truth irrespective of the consequences – someone who gracefully defied the liberal orthodoxy of his day in the name of high culture, the sacred, and beauty. He was a model for all those wishing to know how to oppose the corruption of culture and the spiritual life.

When I was writing for the Sunday Independent, I began to see that Roger’s conservatism was not simply an English variant but was the real and genuine conservatism of Hegel and Burke. From there, he began to influence all that I wrote, and we became lasting friends. In 2009, I published the first book on him, an intellectual biography entitled Roger Scruton: The Philosopher on Dover Beach, which will be reissued next year on its fifteenth anniversary. That was followed by The Roger Scruton Reader (2009), Conversations With Roger Scruton in 2016, and, in 2022, Against the Tide: The Best of Roger Scruton’s Columns, Commentaries Criticism.

CWR: As someone intimately familiar with Scruton’s work, which of his books would you recommend as an introduction to his thought?

Dooley: For those starting out, I would recommend our Conversations With Roger Scruton, as it covers all aspects of his life and work. Philosophy: Principles and Problems is an excellent synthesis of his particular brand of philosophy, while Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged explores what is at stake in the degradation of culture and how to remedy it.

For those seeking an introduction to his religious thought, I recommend The Soul of the World and The Face of God. And for those interested in his critique of Marxism, existentialism, and postmodernism, you should read Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left.

CWR: In a recent article on Public Discourse, you speak of the “homestead of the heart.” Is this your own phrase or Scruton’s? And do you think a homestead of the heart is sufficient or do we need actual homesteads and communities where Catholics can disengage from the modern world and live simpler lives?

Mark Dooley: It is my phrase. Sometimes, and especially in the time in which we live, people cannot form communities of like-minded souls. The world is fractured, and no amount of online community can supply what real communities can. That is why the homestead of the heart is so important, for it allows any one of us to seek refuge in the beauty of great music, in the spiritual grandeur of our divine liturgies, and in the works of those who speak to us of a nobler and higher way of life.

This is not escapism, but a way of caring for the soul so that, when you return to the maelstrom, you will see it for what it is and, having tasted from the trough of truth, you will be better equipped to point others towards the light.

(Editor’s note: This interview was edited slightly for clarity and length.)

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About Julian Kwasniewski 6 Articles
Julian Kwasniewski is a musician specializing in renaissance Lute and vocal music, an artist and graphic designer, as well as marketing consultant for several Catholic companies. His writings have appeared in National Catholic Register, Latin Mass Magazine, OnePeterFive, and New Liturgical Movement. You can find some of his artwork on Etsy.


  1. We read: “We must stand, ‘having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace [….] But, of course, that first demands knowing what the Gospel is.”

    And, what is the “truth” of the “Gospel?”

    Articulated through the lens of receptive REASON, the Mystery of God is: first, Other than ourselves; and second, that by the testimony of witnesses to the historical Incarnation (the Gospel), He is the Triune One, rather than as any-“thing” else.
    Pope Benedict XVI spoke clearly to this gifted and even “alarming” Reality:

    “If one investigates this concept [the use of symbols] more closely, however, one encounters something unexpected that–as far as I can tell–is glossed over in almost all the pertinent studies. The Church Fathers found the seeds of the Word, NOT [!] in the religions of the world, but rather in philosophy, that is, in the process of critical reason directed against the (pagan) religions, in the history of progressive reason, and NOT [!] in the history of religion” (Ratzinger/Benedict, “On the Way to Jesus Christ,” Ignatius, 2005; 72).

    WHAT does this path beyond the compost of merely human and symbolic constructs tell us about today’s “pluralism” and implied equivalence of religions with the Faith?
    And, about our regression into politicized SYMBOLISM: past -isms, current identity politics and wokism, LGBTQ ideology—and, of obscuring the depths of our contingency and fallen-ness with the post-Enlightenment political/economic/Statist idolatry of mass-consumption?

    And then, is SYNODISM, itself, at some risk of becoming such a rootless and ambulatory plebiscite? In the article above, what if we substitute the word “Synodal” [in brackets] for the word “Irish”— Dooley:

    “The [Synodal?] Church is very much trying to appease all those forces that seek its extinction. It refuses to defend itself or its teaching for fear of alienating its enemies. The result is that it consistently alienates those who are loyal to it…Again, there is no St. Paul in the [Synodal?] Church, no one to stand against the tide of lunacy for fear of cancellation or media opposition. And so, what you have is a fearful Church that would prefer to lie low than defend its beliefs.”

    QUESTION: How or Who now to salvage our at-risk Synodality, with the open path described by Benedict?—
    Faith & Reason: versus the compost of symbols, memes, slogans, and anti-Catholic ecclesiology, and anti-binary pluralism or goat entrails, or whatever?

  2. His work: Why be a Catholic is an excellent means of understanding where and what it takes to be a Catholic and where each is called to exercise their unique role. It is very short, but bursting with inspiration in the midst of the current malaise both in Church and society!!!

    • Very good article. Thank you. There are also good books by Timothy Radcliffe. For example, Why be a Christian and Why go to Church, and more.

  3. The answer to the question “Why Be a Catholic?” is to have the best chance to avoid going to Hell, and, concurrently, because it is the right thing to do. Refusal to become a Catholic despite a reasonable belief that it is the true religion WILL cause a person to go to Hell, if he dies in such a state.

    That said, the single most important thing next to being orthodox (i.e. not a heretic) is to follow the pope – NOT an antipope.

    As such, attending the Tridentine Latin Mass isn’t enough, nowadays. The Catholic Church is united by its submission to the pope.

    The Catholics in Japan for a long time didn’t have priests. It was impossible for them to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, so they couldn’t. This was a matter of moral impossibility.

  4. It is not enough to say that we are in a spiritual war. Per Sun Tzu, if you don’t know your enemy you will not defeat him. If the Irish bishops do not know who their enemy is, then they have not read the Gospels nor St. Paul.

  5. A first and only visit to Ireland was years past after teaching in Malawi as a layman. At the time I was impressed with the strong practice of faith, the local church in Killarney packed every day for morning Mass. In Dublin there were breviaries for laity use in the pews. Travelling through the countryside remains of a contemplative monastery, a giant oak thrust above the interior walls. A seeming divine sign that what Cromwell destroyed would be recovered.
    What occurred since is bewildering. How and why so quickly? Evil is mysterious. Once there’s a chink in the faith it seeps in and corrupts. Likely the sixties, the pill, the breakaway theology post Vat II unleashed a sense of moral betrayal by the Church. But wasn’t that the precise fault of the fallen angels?

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