Has Mamet recanted liberalism?
Did you see David Mamet’s recantation of liberalism? I can’t recall whether this was mentioned on VFR. Given that Mamet is arguably America’s most respected playwright, this is pretty big.
Everyone keeps overstating what Mamet said. Don’t people read? He didn’t recant liberalism. He recanted “brain dead liberalism.” It’s right in the title of his article: “Why I Am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal.” He now says that instead of seeing America as evil and oppressive, he sees America as a “marketplace.” Meaning he has moved from left-liberal anti-Americanism to right-liberal America-is-an-empty-abstraction. And I’m supposed to be excited by this?
- end of initial entry -
What is it with conservatives (I except you from this statement as I gather you are not exactly a conservative but someone who is adjacent to the conservative universe) that they make such a big deal out of so little? Conservatives are so emotionally needy, so needing some sign that liberals agree with them, that they lose their minds, they start dancing in the streets, when any liberal seems to come over to their side. They thus show that spiritually they are still in orbit around liberalism instead of being independent of liberalism. That is why, to their everlasting dishonor, they’ve welcomed the evil Christopher Hitchens in their ranks, solely on the basis that he supported the “war on terror.” Ditto the odious Tony Blair, because he supported the invasion of Iraq, even though he is a leftist cultural warrior who has done more harm to Britain than any single individual in its history.
This past week I saw Mamet’s new play November at the Barrymore Theater. Its only virtuous character is a hideous lesbian who is the chief speech writer for a staggeringly corrupt and bigoted U.S. president who redeems himself at the end of the play by consenting to marry the lesbian to her partner on national television. There was nothing non-liberal about this play. Completely apart from the lesbian marriage theme, it was the most disgusting, degraded, stupid, unfunny, unenjoyable, and worthless stage play I’ve ever seen. To give you an idea of how low it was, while the F word must have been used 300 times in two hours, that was the least offensive aspect of the play. To give you an idea of how unfunny it was, the most recurrent joke in the play—it must be repeated eight times—concerns a demand that the president allow a Thanksgiving turkey that has been brought to the White House for his official “pardon” to smell his hand.
I say this as someone who has liked many of Mamet’s plays and movies—which by the way have always struck me as decidedly non-liberal. So, if November represents his new “non-liberal” self, he should have remained a liberal—or, to use his language, he should have remained an effing liberal.
A reader writes:
Much of what you say is true, about “November” especially, but you’re being a little unfair. He says the Constitution is a great document, reining in the rampant self-gratifying impulses of human nature. He note the wonder of the jury system, the ability of people to rise and change in America, he does see a lot of good things, not just marketplace. Maybe you need to read it more carefully.
Whoo-eee, he supports the jury system! A liberal playwright says he supports the jury system! Let’s declare a Conservative National Holiday!
And he discovers now that he likes the Constitution. But which Constitution? The one that used to exist, or the one we have now, which, far from reigning in the human lust for power, unleashes it, giving the national government unlimited scope to interfere in the states and localities, and overturning state and municipal laws regulating behavior, ranging from school dress to loitering to pornography to sodomy to the teaching of evolution?
My main point, and my main reason for objecting to him, stands: he describes America, our country, as a “marketplace,” thus he is a right-liberal, not a conservative. Indeed, his very moment of conversion to belief in America in place of his former left-liberal hostility to America is his moment of realizing that America is a marketplace.
And so I, like many of the liberal congregation, began, teeth grinding, to attempt to do so. And in doing so, I recognized that I held those two views of America (politics, government, corporations, the military). One was of a state where everything was magically wrong and must be immediately corrected at any cost; and the other—the world in which I actually functioned day to day—was made up of people, most of whom were reasonably trying to maximize their comfort by getting along with each other (in the workplace, the marketplace, the jury room, on the freeway, even at the school-board meeting).
And I realized that the time had come for me to avow my participation in that America in which I chose to live, and that that country was not a schoolroom teaching values, but a marketplace. [Emphasis added.]
“Aha,” you will say, and you are right. I began reading not only the economics of Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher) but Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson, and Shelby Steele, and a host of conservative writers, and found that I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism.
I have been a bit too hard on Mamet. In the article he does show certain, I won’t say non-liberal, but non-leftist understandings. He realizes that man is not perfectible, he realizes man is essentially flawed, and that the Constitution is designed for a society of flawed but basically rational men in order that they mutually restrain their desire for power.
His realization is something like that of David Horowitz. The great revolution in Horowitz’s life, which he’s told in several books, was when he gave up the radical dream of a perfected humanity, and began to live in humanity as it actually is. This is good. But it doesn’t mean that one has become a conservative, it means that one has become a liberal with some conservative tendencies.
For example, Horowitz, while calling himself a conservative, remained absolutely committed to tolerance as the organizing moral idea of society. But of course the belief in tolerance as the leading idea of society is the keynote of modern liberalism.
I suspect that Mamet is somewhere in that area too. Certain leftist illusions have fallen away from him, and this is good, though it seems to have taken him to age 60 before this happened, which isn’t so good, and he seems to have still a host of liberal attitudes.
Also, he has written this article just as his play “November” was on Broadway, and seems to have done so in order to create interest in the play. He writes:
I wrote a play about politics (November, Barrymore Theater, Broadway, some seats still available). And as part of the “writing process,” as I believe it’s called, I started thinking about politics.
He then goes on to describe the play as a confrontation between a conservative president and his utopian socialist lesbian speechwriter. I saw the play last week. There is nothing conservative about the president. He stands for absolutely nothing. He is simply extremely corrupt and extremely profane. Further, as I said, the play makes the utopian socialist lesbian speechwriter the representative of virtue, and the corrupt president, by consenting to marry the lesbian speechwriter and her partner on television, redeems himself. So there is no way at all in which this is a conservative or even an anti-leftist play. It is a typical Broadway play of the last 25 years, in which acceptance of homosexuality is the central theme, and the homosexual is the hero.
Also, many of Mamet’s works going back many years had genuine anti-liberal content, such as Oleanna, an attack on PC in the university. His movies have always had a rich sense of human evil that was anything but a liberal sense. The upshot is that I simply don’t believe Mamet when he says that he re-thought his liberalism in the last couple of years (he mentions the 2006 off-year election as when this happened, and then the writing of “November”). To the contrary, “November” is by far the most leftist work of his I’ve ever seen, even as he’s claiming that it is an expression of his new non-liberalism.
So, again, I doubt Mamet’s honesty—or at least his self-understanding—in this article on several counts.
Steven Warshawsky writes:
Regarding David Mamet’s recent “conversion” from “brain-dead liberalism,” I agree that being a free market libertarian (assuming that’s the position Mamet is staking out) is not the same thing as being a conservative. However, strong support for economic freedom and decentralization, i.e., the marketplace, is one of the central tenets of American conservatism. For someone to move from unthinking acceptance of the welfare state and government control over our economic lives to a vigorous free market perspective is a huge step, in my opinion. One to be encouraged, not disdained as insufficient.
“However, strong support for economic freedom and decentralization, i.e., the marketplace, is one of the central tenets of American conservatism.”
Your point is taken. If Mamet had put it that way, I would not have objected. But he did not put it that way. He did not simply say that economic freedom and entrepreneurship are central to America, which I agree with. He said that America is a marketplace. That is a soulless, desolating thing to say about one’s country.
Ken Hechtman writes:
An NYU English Lit professor walks out of a Broadway theater and gets accosted by a bum on the street.
“Can you spare a dollar?” the bum asks.
“Neither a lender nor a borrower be,” says the professor. “William Shakespeare.”
The bum answers, “F__k you. David Mamet.”
Mencius Moldbug writes:
Okay, imagine you’re in a war against a bunch of Nazis. One Nazi general says “I give up, this Nazi stuff is crap, me and my soldiers will fight no more.” Do you accept his surrender? Or do you demand that he turn his panzers around and paint the American flag on them? The latter, of course, would be ideal, but…
What should excite you is not that Mamet has become a VFR reader, but that he has shown weakness and defeat. His surrender makes the intellectual weakness and moral bankruptcy of the progressive movement visible to all, or at least all who read the Village Voice. Certainly not an uninfluential community.
The progressive movement is trapped by its own victory. As a permanent revolution, it has nowhere to go. Obama in the White House would be like Napoleon in Moscow—the only way that progressivism can “change” is to retreat.
So Mamet says: “Read Thomas Sowell.” I like Thomas Sowell—he’s a good writer. Does he have all the answers? Of course not. Is he a viable place for the progressive movement to retreat to? Did Napoleon hole up in Kiev? Mamet’s endorsement of right-liberalism is tactically irrelevant—he can retreat to libertarianism, or to anywhere. As could Napoleon himself. For his army, however, it was a different matter.
I don’t mean to take away from the value of a person supposedly on the left giving up his leftism (as I’ve said, I have doubts about his whole story). But, unlike mainstream conservatives, my primary focus has never been on the radical left, it’s on the liberal and conservatives mainstream. We could be completely rid of the left, and the mainstream liberal/conservative belief in tolerance and non-discrimination and a world of free persons and open borders would still be enough to destroy us.
“Obama in the White House would be like Napoleon in Moscow.”
This is a very clever line.
A reader, who also saw “November” and was appalled by it, writes (April 2):
Your comment that begins, “I have been a bit too hard on Mamet,” is good, but is it necessary to feel that dishonesty may be behind the confusions?
LA (speaking Mamet speak) replies:
Maybe not necessary, but that f_____g play was so horrendous and left-wing that his big article, claiming that he’s not a liberal any more, strikes me as a big f_____g lie, you know?
Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 31, 2008 01:31 AM | Send