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David Mamet's Progress

The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture

By David Mamet

Published by Sentinel (June 2, 2011)

Reviewed by Roger L. Simon

With all the talk of Hollywood liberalism -- the endless leftist blather from Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, the cozying up to Castro and Chavez by Oliver Stone and Danny Glover, the jejune Iranian peace-making by Annette Bening and Alfre Woodard, etc., etc -- it’s fascinating that the two leading playwrights in the English language (the smart guys) -- Tom Stoppard and David Mamet -- identify as conservative/libertarians.

For Stoppard -- born in Communist Czechoslovakia -- this was natural, but for Mamet -- a Chicago Jewish child of the sixties -- it was a considerably longer slog. As he relates in his superb new book The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture, “I had never knowingly talked with nor read the works of a Conservative before moving to Los Angeles, some eight years ago.”

Mamet certainly made up for lost time. Barely ten pages into his book, you know this man has read, and thoroughly digested, the major conservative works of our and recent times, from Friedrich Hayek to Milton Friedman and on to Thomas Sowell and Shelby Steele. And he is able to explicate and elaborate on them as well as anybody.

Not that the playwright’s political transformation is such a surprise. In 2008, he wrote an op-ed for The Village Voice (of all confrontational places), "Why I Am No Longer a ‘Brain-Dead’ Liberal." That article was somewhat more tentative than its title, which may have been added for dramatic effect by the newspaper's editors.

Not so The Secret Knowledge. Mamet has come a ways in three years from a chrysalis bewildered and astonished by his new found views to an author writing in white heat. The new book is a full-throated intellectual attack on liberalism in almost all its aspects from someone who was there, a former leftwing intellectual of prominence, a Pulitzer Prize winner even (and one who deserved it, unlike the New York Times’ Walter Duranty).