David Mamet, the playwright and screenwriter, is among my favorite writers. (My other favorite to pull off that particular daily double is Tom Stoppard.)
In 2008, Mamet wrote a piece at the Village Voice entitled “Why I Am No Longer a ‘Brain-Dead Liberal’.” In it, he described the beginning of his journey away from conventional liberal beliefs.
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.
I’d observed that lust, greed, envy, sloth, and their pals are giving the world a good run for its money, but that nonetheless, people in general seem to get from day to day; and that we in the United States get from day to day under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances—that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired—in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it.
Today, of course, to view America as a pretty darn good place to live, and boy howdy aren’t we lucky that we do, is to the Left heresy.
In 2011, Mamet wrote a book entitled The Secret Knowledge in which he shared in his inimitable way where his intellectual journey had taken him in the intervening three years. The book was a collection of essays and in them Mamet summed up his effort to reconcile what, as Leftists do, had been assumed to be default and correct political views with what he observed.
This is the essence of Leftist thought. It is a devolution from reason to “belief”, in an effort to stave off a feeling of powerlessness. And if government is Good, it is a logical elaboration that more government power is Better. But the opposite is apparent both to anyone who has ever had to deal with Government, and, I think, to any dispassionate observer.
It is in sympathy with the first and in the hope of enlarging the second group that I have written this book.
This year Mamet published Recessional: The Death of Free Speech and the Cost of a Free Lunch. Like The Secret Knowledge. It too is a collection of essays, many of which had appeared in the National Review. Many were written during the times when Covid policies ravaged what the disease had left untouched. Mamet recalls observing “a family of four, on mountain bikes, at five thousand feet, climbing an empty road in northern Nevada, all wearing masks.”
Here are a couple examples of his insights.
But the question occurs to me again: Why are Jews liberals? And I have come to a new answer. I used to think we voted for Democrats out of a millennial biblical occupation with justice, compassion and generosity. I no longer think so.
J.S. Mill wrote that give a man a choice of two tasks, one that will bring him renumeration if he works at it and the other that will pay him regardless of his effort, he will choose the second, take the free money, and employ his energy seeking additional benefits. We see Mill’s observation at work in welfare, unemployment, and other government subsidies. No amount of oversight will keep a recipient from taking the stipend and then finding a way to improve his lot off the books
Similarly, we Jews have two political choices: conservatism, counseling individual initiative; and liberalism, promoting statism, which is to say passivity and government support. But we Jews do not need help or direction in embracing self-reliance; it’s been all we’ve had for two thousand years. It’s our party trick. We’ve always been on our own.
Liberalism was attractive because it offered Jews something we did not have and for which we’ve always longed: the promise of inclusion, which is to say anonymity.
And this sister thought,
Observe that every conservative who employs the preface “This may not be politically correct but” is not only acknowledging but aiding the forces of thought control. These forces do not need to be acknowledged, and whether or not they are opposed, they must not be strengthened.
Napoleon said that if we want to know our opponent’s fears, we need merely observe that with which he seeks to terrify us. Leftists are terrified of exclusion from the mob and see, everywhere, the exclusion’s cost. Imprisonment, vituperation, bankruptcy of conservative opponents, the severity of their punishments fit not to the degree of their deviation (to the Left there are no degrees) but to their persistence, having been threatened and warned, in any deviation.
He recognizes the ugly face of Leftism because he lived it. There could be no better prophet. (For a typical reaction to Mamet’s apostasy, see here. Someone needs to change their sheets.)
And so, like King Lear, the liberal Left “decided” to grant “some” of the power they supposedly had to more “worthy” recipients – that is, those from whom it had been supposedly stolen.
But, again as with Lear, we see that the generous assignment of some of one’s power inevitably inspires its recipients to usurp the rest. Hitler ran a bluff on France in 1940, and the Bolsheviks could’ve been stopped in the suburbs of Moscow by a squad of police (see Minneapolis). King Lear thought himself generous and was beggared by those to whom he bequeathed his power.
Now our country is being eviscerated by the Marxist Left. Each battle they win emboldens them to escalate their activities: shaming becomes blacklisting; picketing becomes destruction; demonstrations become riots. Just as with taxes, all they want is all we got, and who could stop them? Enter Donald Trump.
He looked at the Left and informed us that he knew them of old: they were the same thugs, thieves, cheats and whores with whom he’d been doing business all his life. He was formed by the construction industry.
The Left wet the bed.