The Nation's Only Anti-Liberal Playwright?
Terry Teachout ponders David Mamet's conversion to a "libertarian-flavored conservatism." And, yes, Mamet's drift away from right-thinking liberalism does give his plays a kind of grit and realism lacking in, say, the ideological propaganda of a Kushner:
“As a child of the 60’s,” he wrote in the Village Voice, “I accepted as an article of faith ... that people are generally good at heart.” It was this credo that he specifically repudiated in that same essay:
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.
But that people can behave like swine means they have a choice. It seems to me that that choice is what underlies great drama. Shakespeare is not grim; and his realism is leavened with great humor and hope. Teachout believes that Mamte's visceral and crude defense of everything Israel informs this worldview:
The battles in which Mamet's characters are engaged, as one of them remarks in American Buffalo, the most archetypical (and artful) of his portraits of American life, are zero-sum games in which only one player can win: 'it's kickass or kissass, Don, and I'd be lying if I told you any different.'... The only difference between Mamet then and Mamet now is that he has decided that government intervention can do little or nothing to ameliorate the effects of these struggles, and that men do better to work out their differences through the operation of free markets."
Except, one supposes, for war. And it is Mamet's contradiction between a libertarian trust in leaving people alone and a super-Zionist belief in the forever war that makes him so interesting a writer.