Playwright and screenwriter David Mamet has a confession to make: he doesn’t like NPR. He also has discovered that government solutions tend to make matters worse than better. Mamet has also discovered that America isn’t the root of all evil in the world. In fact, rather than see corporations and capitalism as evils, he now understands that life is a marketplace, and that the United States understands that better than any other nation.
Uh-oh. Mamet has become — gasp! — a conservative! Or, at the least, he has dumped “brain-dead” liberalism:
Do I speak as a member of the “privileged class”? If you will—but classes in the United States are mobile, not static, which is the Marxist view. That is: Immigrants came and continue to come here penniless and can (and do) become rich; the nerd makes a trillion dollars; the single mother, penniless and ignorant of English, sends her two sons to college (my grandmother). On the other hand, the rich and the children of the rich can go belly-up; the hegemony of the railroads is appropriated by the airlines, that of the networks by the Internet; and the individual may and probably will change status more than once within his lifetime.
What about the role of government? 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. …
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.
“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.
This essay surprised me somewhat, both in content and in style. Mamet has a particular voice, as anyone who has seen his plays or watched his movies can attest. Characters speak in almost minimalist phrases in movies such as Heist, House of Games, and Glengarry Glen Ross. Mamet in this essay waxes at length, using digressions that he would almost never tolerate from his characters — and it has a charm all its own.
Readers will certainly recall the maxim that anyone not a liberal at age 20 has no heart, and not a conservative at age 40 has no brain. That may apply here to Mamet, but his conversion goes beyond that. As he explains, he finally stopped grinding his teeth at conservatives and took the time to listen. He recalls the efforts of his rabbi to explain the duty that people have to give other people the benefit of argument, and Mamet finally responded to it. He found that his growing dissatisfaction with the liberal straitjacket was confirmed by authors such as Sowell and Friedman, among others.
In other words, he opened his mind to new ideas as a conscious decision. In doing so, he found that his reservations about his previous political philosophy were well-founded.
One has to wonder what this will mean for Mamet professionally. He has been a success in Hollywood, and he will certainly not hurt for work, but will he suffer a backlash for his conversion? Will the theater punish him for his new perspective, and will he find it as easy to stage plays that reflect it? (via The Anchoress, who has more thoughts)
Addendum: If you want to see one Mamet film above all others, I’d recommend either Heist or House of Games. Both of them feature excellent casts, and both are tightly-written, taut thrillers with high stakes and no fluff. House may be the most disturbing film I have ever seen, not because of the level of violence, but because of its reality, and the depiction of how easily a person can corrupt themselves and feel good about it.