An American Playwright Sees the Light

In the fall of last year, I published two posts in this journal that were testaments to the genius of Friedrich Hayek (see On the Genius of Friedrich Hayekpost I and post II). I argued there that progressive education in America in the last decades has shielded the brains of our children from the monumental brilliance of Hayek. Of course it has done no such thing with his contemporary, John Maynard Keynes. Keynes’ big government, tax-borrow-spend, statist philosophy is taught in our schools as if it were the Bible, whereas whenever we adhere to its tenets, we suffer the inevitable miserable consequences: high unemployment, inflation, stagnant economic growth (cf. F. Roosevelt, L. Johnson, J. Carter and B. Obama). In those few instances when our country has followed the light shed by Hayek’s free market, limited government, individual liberty ideas (cf. Coolidge, Reagan), the US economy has exploded with robust growth, economic prosperity, increased government revenues and enhanced charitable contributions. Why we follow the discredited ideas of Keynes and ignore the proven philosophies of Hayek is a mystery that I will leave to another time.

However, on occasion, the light from Hayek’s brilliant mind does shine through to a previously inoculated denier. One such convert who has seen the light is David Mamet, the famous American playwright, who had an epiphanous change of heart within the last decade. This is explained in Mamet’s new book, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture. Not unexpectedly, the playwright writes with great force, clarity and humor. I read his book and felt somewhat like I did when I read Hayek a few decades ago. I must have marked two score pages in Mamet’s book that contained quotes, which were memorable for their wisdom, insight and sensibleness. And so I would have liked to replicate here for the reader’s benefit what I did with Hayek’s work – i.e., compile a substantial compendium of the most penetrating, edifying and forehead-slap inducing paragraphs in the book. Alas, my compendium ran in excess of 2,000 words and Mamet’s publisher informed me that he could not permit that. Thus the reader will have to be satisfied with the standard, if somewhat ill-defined, limit for ‘fair use’ in a book review, namely some hundreds of words.

In order to pare down, I restricted the choice to quotes having to do only with culture – Mamet’s primary emphasis, as his subtitle indicates. Actually, Mamet also writes brilliantly on politics and economics; he has clearly studied Hayek very carefully. But as he is a playwright, the culture is clearly of preeminent importance to him. Of course, Mamet, unlike Hayek, is plowing well trod ground. On the other hand, Mamet writes with more literary style than Hayek – without a commensurate loss in clarity. As you peruse these trenchant quotes, those of you familiar with Hayek’s work will recognize familiar themes and I trust all of you will reach the conclusion that I did – Mamet’s book, like Hayek’s, should be standard fare on high school and college curricula. (Don’t hold your breath though!)

The great wickedness of Liberalism, I saw, was that those who devise the ever new State Utopias, whether crooks or fools, set out to bankrupt not themselves, but others…I saw that I had been living in a state of ignorance, accepting an unexamined illusion and calling it “compassion,” …I saw that to proclaim…beliefs in individual freedom, in individual liberty, and in the inevitable surrender of powers to the State, was, in the general population, difficult, and in the Liberal environment, literally impossible…

So let us enact hate crime laws, as if getting beaten to death were more pleasant if one was not additionally called a greaser. And let us ensure that the Government, to eradicate “hate speech,” will become the arbiter of all speech – the same Government whose very return address on the envelope awakens fear.

And it [liberalism] may indict religion as superstition. But man cannot live without religion, which is to say, without a method for dealing with cosmic mystery and those things ever beyond understanding; so the new religion will not be identified as such. It will be called Multiculturalism, Diversity, Social Justice, Environmentalism, Humanitarianism, and so on. These, individually and conjoined, assert their imperviousness to reason, and present themselves as the greatest good; but as they reject submission either to a superior unknowable essence (God), or to those operations of the universe capable of some understanding (science and self-government), their worship foretells a reversion to savagery.

This is the meaning of Social Justice. It means actions by the State in the name of Justice, which is to say under complete protection and immunity from review. Its end is dictatorship.

That our culture is falling apart is apparent to any impartial observer. But what observer can be impartial? Conservatives are aghast; we are shocked at the actions of the Left, and we are astounded that they do not acknowledge these actions’ results…It is not that they do not care. But that they cannot afford to notice, for comparing their actions to the results would bring about either their ejection from the group (should they voice their doubts) or, should they merely follow their perceptions to their logical conclusions, the psychic trauma incident upon a revision of their worldview.

Curiously, the brightest (or, perhaps, the highest achievers) of our educational system go to the elite universities where intelligent young people are misled into the essential fallacy of Liberalism: that all society and human interaction is susceptible to human reason, and that tradition, patriotism, marriage, and similar institutions are arbitrary, and stand between the individual’s spontaneity and his ability to create a perfect world: that the individual’s reason is supreme, that he is, thus, God

To fix a game for money is called corruption, to fix a game from sentiment is called Liberalism.

We may be inspired to break the laws, discard the customs, and to destroy the culture which allowed us the freedom and leisure to so engage ourselves; and I, growing up in the sixties, thought it a grand idea: to bring about Social Justice…That such actions, whatever their supposed intention, caused havoc and that we who espoused them were responsible for the same, was to me a difficult perception. It still is…The embrace of Conservatism, my own, and that of anyone coming to it in maturity, necessitates a deep and rigorous survey and evaluation of thoughts and actions, and their honest assessment… It means leaving the group…It…is painful to recognize the incredulity and scorn which one encounters from one’s native Group (the Liberals) on announcing a change of philosophy. It is shocking. And it is sobering, for it reveals this truth: that the Left functions, primarily, through its power as a primitive society or religion, dedicated above all to solidarity, and not only to acceptance but to constant promulgation of its principles, however inchoate, as self-evident” and therefore beyond question. But, as Hayek points out, that something is beyond question most often means that its investigation has been forbidden. Why? Because it was untrue.

It is rare to encounter an American “celebrity” who takes a strong political stand on the right. More typically, we are exposed to moronic celebrities like George Clooney, Bill Maher and Susan Sarandon, who spew forth from their limited intellects leftist claptrap, socialist dogma and their fervent belief that they are enlightened and people like Mamet have been corrupted by the devil. Sadly, our biggest celebrity, namely Barack Obama, is equally benighted. I am certain that Mamet’s life among the glitterati has been far less pleasant since he emerged from the liberal closet. I, too, as a conservative academic in the liberal cesspool that passes for higher education in America today, have suffered the indignities of scorn from my enlightened colleagues. Therefore, I admire Mamet for taking such a public stand. The magnificence of his book should serve as a partial reward for his courage.

In fact, another part of his reward has been an enthusiastic embrace by conservatives around the country. His book has been highly favorably reviewed in conservative journals and he has been interviewed on Fox and other conservative venues. Just as a representative sampling, here is a short portion of a review by Steve Laib in The Intellectual Conservative:

The essential substance of The Secret Knowledge is a laser precise dissection of all of the sacred cows of modern liberal politics.  This dissection is performed not through a textbook approach of straightforward topic-by-topic analysis.  Instead the author uses a brilliantly conceived sort of travelogue wandering through the landscape of popular culture and behavior using examples and anecdotes from the usual and unusual sources to explain exactly why the liberal mind operates the way it does, and further, why it is generally impossible to move one toward rational thought…David Mamet’s…work is one of the most fascinating pieces of writing I have ever encountered, not only because of its source and content, but because of the way it is written.  It is truly extraordinary. 

I heartily endorse Laib’s last sentiment. Mamet’s book is extraordinary because the pace is brisk, the scope is amazing, the analysis is penetrating, the skewering of liberal thought is complete and delightful to read, the explanation of conservative philosophy is sharp and convincing, the humor, honesty, introspection and lack of self-aggrandizement is on full display.

I will close by remarking that a reverse endorsement is provided in Mamet’s book. Namely, I believe that his book endorses the sentiments expressed in the concluding paragraph of my second article (referenced above), which briefly summarize Hayek’s brilliant ideas. It reads: “The fundamental truths which Hayek espouses should serve as a guide to conservative politicians and economists, indeed to all people in the nation whose desire for the country is success and prosperity. Clearly, they have guided Mamet. Hayek explains why free markets work better and are more just than collectivist planning. He describes how social values and cultural morals that are developed by communal trial and error are more reliable and humane than behavior dictated by political elites. He argues that social advancement and individual accomplishment are better served by uninhibited competition than by edicts and artificial rules imposed by anointed experts. In order for one to accept the legitimacy of Hayek’s reasoning one must be willing to trust the efficacy of “unseen forces,” invisible hands, seemingly irrational and/or random processes and unprovable theories over and above the desire for order decreed and enforced by leaders and experts. To do so arguably goes against human nature. It requires a difficult leap of faith – not religious faith, but more a faith in the reliability of historical observation, acquired wisdom and the unformulated but immutable laws of human nature. If teachers do not accept this paradigm, their students learn its negative – despite the vast history that shows how accurate Hayek’s formulations for societal and economic organization have proven to be.” Mamet gets it. Let’s hope that his star quality will help others to see the light.
This post also appeared in The Land of the Free at:
and also in The Intellectual Conservative at: