There has been quite a little hubbub created by a confession written by David Mamet, the great theater and film writer and director, in which he claims he is no longer a “brain-dead liberal.” This confession was made in the Village Voice no less, a left wing rag if ever there was one.
As I was reading the piece I couldn’t help thinking this was some kind of a joke. He can’t really be serious, I thought.
Yet he was making a very solid argument for conservatism. When he praised the writing of Thomas Sowell and called him “our greatest contemporary philosopher,” I became fairly certain that he wasn’t joking. Mamet also mentioned Paul Johnson and Milton Friedman, two towering figures of the right.
Maybe he really was being serious. I think in psychological terms I was experiencing cognitive dissonance.
What interested me most was that it seemed his whole rationale for leaving the left is a proper understanding of human nature. He was, like other liberals who’ve come right, mugged by reality:
I took the liberal view for many decades, but I too have changed my mind.
As a child of the ’60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart.
Mamet understands now that although people are generally decent, they are not fundamentally good. This is a crucial distinction that has been the fault line between the right and left for over 200 years. [This idea comes directly from the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a point that I have made frequently (such as here and here), as I consider it a critically important aspect of what went wrong with the West during the past couple of centuries.—Ed.]
The left side of that line dividing two fundamentally different views of human nature gave us the bloody, cataclysmic failure of the French Revolution, and the right set forth the still successful American Revolution.
Those on the left side of this divide see human beings as perfectible and their behavior as fundamentally determined by social structures, while those on the right side see flawed human beings requiring the guidance of law, social mores, and traditions while naturally owning rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This point of view rejects social engineering and government fiats dictating what to do in every area of life.
Of government Mamet further writes:
Well, in the abstract, coming from my time and background, I thought it was a rather good thing, but tallying up the ledger in those things which affect me and in those things I observe, I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow.
After saying this. Mamet is certainly out of the club now. He says that he thinks government intervention in individual choices (other than those that clearly and directly harm other people) is usually deleterious, which is certainly correct, but the modern political left, embodied in the Democrat Party, believes government can do no wrong. So maybe Mamet has always been a bit out of step with his comrades on the left. [This is exactly what I had thought about Mamet all along, based on the evident meanings of his plays and movies.—Ed.]
Culturally and creatively, some on the left are reacting angrily to the loss of one of their most prized possessions as a powerful creative spirit seemingly possessing a leftist worldview. That is laughable. The left loves to look at itself as infinitely nuanced, as not stuck in looking at the world as black and white the way Neanderthal conservatives do.
An amusing example of this is from the English newspaper the Guardian, in which a British leftist laments the terrible loss Mamet’s confession represents:
I am depressed to read that David Mamet has swung to the right. In an essay for the Village Voice, Mamet claims he is no longer a "brain-dead liberal" and increasingly espouses a free-market philosophy and social conservatism. As a citizen, Mamet is free to do as he likes. What worries me is the effect on his talent of locking himself into a rigid ideological position.
Is this not rich? Only conservatives can be locked into a “rigid ideological position”. No wonder there aren’t any talented conservatives in our world. They are just all locked up!
It so happens that I’m reading a book on Shakespeare, and he was actually one quite conservative fellow. He lived in Elizabethan England, after all, and was quite religious. Back then, depending on which government happened to be in power, the wrong religion could cost a person their head, or maybe charred flesh. After all this, he still became Shakespeare! Miraculously, those creative juices were somehow not all locked up by his religion or his “conservative” views.
In fact, ideologically rigid best describes what passes for modern liberalism. Have they even changed a fundamental position in the last 40 years? [They’re the true conservatives, as I’ve written elsewhere.—Ed.] And everyone across the political and cultural spectrum would agree that there is an awful lot of crap and political cant in the movies, books, TV shows, music, art, etc., produced by supposedly flexible and open-minded liberals.
This is what the British leftist and many others on the left (and a bunch on the right, too!) just don’t understand: except for totalitarian points of view, ideological predispositions or assumptions have very little to do with the quality of one’s art. Great artists, no matter the medium, are great observers of the human condition. They refuse to make their art a propaganda vehicle for their political agenda, to fit it into a mold that reality just won’t fit.
Mamet, a great observer, finally saw reality for what it is, and he decided he needed to leave his “brain-dead” liberalism behind. We should be happy for him, and for ourselves.