Monday, March 24, 2008

One More Convert For the Cause

Another former "progressive" has admitted the error of his ways. Playwright David Mamet wrote an essay for the Village Voice entitled, Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal' in which he admits that his Utopian view of "progressivism" cannot be squared with his real life observations about human nature and government.

While writing a play about a conservative president and his "brain-dead liberal" speech writer, Mamet experienced a sort of political epiphany.

Mamet describes his former political orientation: "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."

The underlying assumption of this view, Mamet realized, is that "everything is always wrong." "But in my life, a brief review revealed, everything was not always wrong, and neither was nor is always wrong in the community in which I live, or in my country."

The assumption that "everything is always wrong," Mamet realized, could not be squared with that other tenet of liberalism -- that people are "basically good at heart."

And, I wondered, how could I have spent decades thinking that I thought everything was always wrong at the same time that I thought I thought that people were basically good at heart? Which was it? I began to question what I actually thought and found that I do not think that people are basically good at heart; indeed, that view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years. I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine, and that this, indeed, is not only a fit subject, but the only subject, of drama.

Mamet notes that his observation of human nature as a playwright comports with the view of the Founding Fathers:

For the Constitution, rather than suggesting that all behave in a godlike manner, recognizes that, to the contrary, people are swine and will take any opportunity to subvert any agreement in order to pursue what they consider to be their proper interests.

Thus the need for separation of powers and federalism.

After discovering that his old world view didn't work, Mamet realizes that he distrusts government generally. Not just George W. Bush -- whom he "considered a monster" -- but JFK, "a president whom I revered."

Bush got us into Iraq, JFK into Vietnam. Bush stole the election in Florida; Kennedy stole his in Chicago. Bush outed a CIA agent; Kennedy left hundreds of them to die in the surf at the Bay of Pigs. Bush lied about his military service; Kennedy accepted a Pulitzer Prize for a book written by Ted Sorenson. Bush was in bed with the Saudis, Kennedy with the Mafia. Oh.

Mamet's newly realistic assessment of human nature causes him to reassess institutions such as the military, corporations and even the jury. These groups that he previously had considered inherently evil, it turns out are just "working groups" of ordinary people, not infalible but able to to produce a good result much of the time. Indeed, America itself is not nearly so bad as the rest of the world likes to pretend, Mamet concludes.

Mamet then starts reading conservative writers Thomas Sowell, Paul Johnson and Milton Friedman, and is stunned to find "I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism."

This conversion from youthful radical to mid-life conservative now puts Mamet in the company of such literary greats as Kingsley Amis, William Wordsworth and Fyodor Dostoevsky.

What a pity that we don't see the beautiful people of Hollywood undergoing a similar transformation. To be sure, most of these people transform themselves in mid-life. Mamet's metamorphosis, however, was deeper than Botox. Let's hope it is also longer-lasting.

1 comment:

Steve Magruder said...

But Mamet makes another poor assumption -- equating liberalism with thinking that "everything is always wrong." This is poppycock.

I am a liberal, but I don't think that all corporations are evil (just a few of them). And I don't think that all wealthy individuals are evil (just a few of them). And I don't think all wars are fought on false grounds (only Iraq). There does indeed exist optimistic liberalism.

Yes, liberals do tend to want to regulate business more than conservatives, but it's never to constrain commerce (that most of us enjoy), but rather to constrain the bad actors, those who would do actual harm to the overall business climate, the environment, their customers, their communities, or their shareholders.