The lib­er­a­tion of ex-lib­eral David Mamet

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Con­ser­va­tives have a new celebrity spokesman-writer­thinker-philoso­pher. David Mamet, Pulitzer Prize-win­ning play­wright, screen­writer, movie di­rec­tor and some­time es­say­ist, has come out of the closet. No longer, he de­clares, is he a “brain-dead lib­eral.” Now he’s a wide-awake con­ser­va­tive. Some­time af­ter ar­riv­ing in Hol­ly­wood, of all places, and at age 60, he en­gaged in a con­ver­sa­tion with his Repub­li­can rabbi (where did he find one?), who gave him the books of con­ser­va­tive writers, such as Thomas Sow­ell, Shelby Steele, Mil­ton Fried­man and Paul John­son.

He had a dra­matic po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sion. Mamet re-eval­u­ated his own heroes, start­ing with the play­wright Ber­tolt Brecht, whom he now de­scribes as “a show dog of com­mu­nism,” who the­atri­cally crit­i­cized cap­i­tal­ism even as his roy­al­ties al­lowed him to live com­fort­ably on cap­i­tal de­posited in a Swiss bank ac­count. Karl Marx, he dis­cov­ered, never earned his money, but mooched from Friedrich En­gels’ fam­ily, which may ac­count for his ideas about how wealth should be dis­trib­uted.

Mr. Mamet writes of his con­ver­sion to free-mar­ket eco­nom­ics and his dis­cov­ery of the er­rors of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism in a new book en­ti­tled “The Se­cret Knowl­edge: On the Dis­man­tling of Amer­i­can Cul­ture.” He sounds like a lat­ter-day Can­dide ma­rooned in post-mod­ern Amer­ica, where lib­er­als think they have all the an­swers for cre­at­ing the “best of all pos­si­ble worlds.” He ren­ders them as ab­surd as Dr. Pan­gloss, who saw even the great Lis­bon earth­quake of 1755 as among “the best of all pos­si­ble worlds.”

“The great wicked­ness of Lib­er­al­ism,” Mr. Mamet dis­cov­ered, “was that those who de­vise the ever-new state Utopias . . . set out to bank­rupt and re­strict not them­selves, but oth­ers.” Mr. Mamet first ob­serves his own hypocrisy, rec­og­niz­ing the dis­con­nect be­tween how he acted and how he talked, “talk­ing Left and liv­ing Right,” which leads him to a col­lec­tive in­dict­ment of him­self and oth­ers in his gen­er­a­tion of baby boomers, whose ide­ol­ogy has never quite been in sync with the real world.

“As my gen­er­a­tion did not live through the De­pres­sion, World War II, and the agony of the im­mi­grants who are our grand­par­ents or great-grand­par­ents; as we were raised in the great­est plenty the world has ever known and in the most just of so­ci­eties,” he writes, “we have grown lazy and en­ti­tled (not un­like Marx, who lived as a par­a­site upon En­gels, and never worked a day in his life).”

In this sce­nario, lib­er­als re­place the Judeo-Chris­tian roots of democ­racy with wish­ful Utopian think­ing, be­lief in man in the ab­stract rather than the flawed hu­man be­ing he is: “We are told we need not pro­duce, but may merely hope, we need not de­fend, but may hope, we must not con­sume, but are al­lowed, some­how, to hope for sus­te­nance, mag­i­cally, de­riv­ing from some un­spec­i­fied ac­tions of a gov­ern­ment, which, all ob­serve, is at best com­pe­tent, and, more usu­ally, self-serv­ing and cor­rupt, who­ever is in power.”

His book comes out just as Pres­i­dent Obama’s poll num­bers have fallen to their low­est yet, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est mea­sure­ment by the Wash­ing­ton PostABC News. By a mar­gin of 2 to 1, Amer­i­cans say the econ­omy is on the wrong track. Mr. Mamet doesn’t ex­am­ine this find­ing but his cri­tique of the pres­i­dent’s 2008 cam­paign slo­gans of “hope” and “change” are ex­posed for what they were, a tri­umph of ad­ver­tis­ing. “Hope is a very dif­fer­ent ex­hor­ta­tion than . . . save, work, co­op­er­ate, sac­ri­fice.” He com­pares vac­u­ous ap­peals of lib­eral think­ing to that of Mark Rudd, the leader of the rad­i­cals who seized an ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing at Columbia Univer­sity dur­ing ri­ots in the 1960s. “We got a good thing go­ing here,” Mr. Rudd cried. “Now we’ve got to find out what it is.”

The ti­tle of Mr. Mamet’s book is meant as ironic — there is no se­cret knowl­edge, ex­cept the recog­ni­tion that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in its ex­pand­ing power is “the zon­ing board writ large.” Mr. Mamet’s new­found hero is Friedrich Hayek, who ob­served that man is lim­ited and gov­ern­ment should be, too. Good in­ten­tions lead to un­in­tended con­se­quences whether in ur­ban re­newal, af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion, wel­fare or bus­ing. His most scathing crit­i­cism lands on lib­eral ed­u­ca­tion, which he re­gards as in­doc­tri­na­tion in iden­tity pol­i­tics, with stu­dents drugged with self-in­dul­gence. He pas­sion­ately de­fends pa­tri­o­tism, tra­di­tion, the fam­ily (rather than the di­luted “fam­ily val­ues”) and the Bi­ble.

This is a big mess of a book, spon­ta­neous and con­tem­pla­tive, wild and earnest, fe­ro­ciously elo­quent and pug­na­ciously per­sua­sive, filled with free as­so­ci­a­tion, dashes of hy­per­bole and over­wrought ar­gu­ments posed in an­gry and edgy Mamet­s­peak. He closes with a re­mark by his son, of­fered as some­thing calmer with the clar­ity of sim­plic­ity, on the dif­fer­ence be­tween lib­eral and con­ser­va­tive:

“Then ba­si­cally, it’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween the heav­enly dream and the God-aw­ful re­al­ity.” How true.

Suzanne Fields is a syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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