David Walsh at the WSWS writes: American playwright, screenwriter and film director David Mamet recently announced his conversion to "conservative" political and economic principles. In an article published in New York City's Village Voice March 11, Mamet writes that "I took the liberal view for many decades, but I believe I have changed my mind."
He explains that he has embraced the views of Milton Friedman, the late free marketer and consultant to the Chilean military dictatorship, and ultra-right-wing columnist Thomas Sowell (whom Mamet describes, apparently in all seriousness, as "our greatest contemporary philosopher").
One's first response is that it comes as something of a surprise to learn that Mamet until recently continued to consider himself, however vaguely, to be on the political left. The writer's morbidity and misanthropy, his vehement support for the Israeli regime and related views, have seemed to make him more naturally a figure of the right.
That first response, however, is impressionistic. There is no reason to doubt Mamet's sincerity in describing himself as a liberal for "many decades," and, indeed, his best work held up certain aspects of American society to angry satirical criticism—its cut-throat commercialism, its worship of money and success, its philistinism, the general grubbiness of it all.
Objective social conditions and the climate they generate are critical factors in an artist's development. It is possible to fight against the stream with all one's might, but a truly powerful current has a way of wearing one down over time. Perhaps without even being conscious of it, one finds oneself floating in the opposite direction.
The 1980s and 1990s were very difficult decades for artistic creation in the US, particularly in film and theater. One only has to consider the limited number of truly insightful and enduring works. A filthy political and intellectual atmosphere prevailed, which endorsed ruthless individualism, the allegedly life-giving powers of the free market, and the accumulation of wealth as the mark of personal worth and related degraded values. The demise of the Soviet Union, the collapse of the social protest movements in the US and the hollowing out of liberalism under figures like Clinton, all of this made an impression. What did the artists see and experience? Apparently triumphant reaction, massive wealth accumulation, the decline of a left-wing critique of class society and the rise of retrograde "identity politics" and so forth.
Could Mamet withstand this process? He was not beginning from a position of great intellectual or ideological strength. His talent, while genuine, was not rooted in a broad or deep understanding of society or feeling for suffering humanity. His anger, also genuine, was not directed against the latter's foundations, but against some of its more repulsive and, one must say, even obvious symptoms. Moreover, and this is no small matter, there was no political or social alternative to be seen or immediately sensed on the horizon. In these circumstances, the element of protest in his writing, so to speak, proved brittle and short-lived.
Mamet, as his piece in the Village Voice suggests, has undergone a moral collapse. The values of the "marketplace," which he once despised, he now avows. While humankind presents itself to him as essentially foul, large corporations inspire his admiration. His former hatred of corporations, Mamet realizes, "was but the flip side of my hunger for those goods and services they provide and without which we could not live." The military, which he distrusted in his youth, he recognizes, "was then and is now made up of those men and women who actually risk their lives to protect the rest of us from a very hostile world." He feels generally content with things in America, with its "wonderful and privileged circumstances."
Mamet has succumbed to political and social reaction. He has given up. Does he really believe the stupid, superficial things he says? One doesn't know. In any case, as Trotsky noted, a sure way to become something is to pretend to be it long enough. What work of artistic value can Mamet possibly produce from now on?