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Book Review: The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture by David Mamet

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David Mamet shocked and angered the liberal Hollywood/Broadway writing establishment when he converted from a “brain-dead liberal” to an ardent conservative. An op-ed by Mamet published in 2008 in the Village Voice, described, unashamedly, why and how he abandoned his liberal ideology for conservatism. Mamet admits that, while he thought and spoke like a liberal, he lived like a conservative; creating a product, marketing and selling it, and thus, becoming successful, in a free-market/capitalist system.

Mamet’s bestselling book, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture, is a probing and conscientious exposition of his personal journey from the Left to the Right side of political thought and action. He has divided this trek into concise yet penetrating chapters beginning with “The Political Impulse.” This chapter is a delineation of the evolving social and personal conditions that caused him to question his own liberalism-the absence of logic in the rhetoric and actions of the Left; for example, the Democrat Party’s willingness to give the benefit-of-the-doubt to Islamic terrorists while falsely accusing Israel of atrocities that never happened.

David Mamet is a giant the American stage and the movie screen. He won a Pulitzer prize for his play Glengarry Glen Ross, which was later produced as an independent film. His other credits include The Untouchables, Speed the Plow, and American Buffalo. It was through the process of writing a political play, and the subsequent backlash from critics on the Left because it was not “liberal” enough, that Mamet came to the realization that the liberalism he had embraced for decades was not about compassion and justice, but rather power and control.  

The Secret Knowledge is a paean to America. It is also an indictment of the addiction to liberalism by popular culture, and the artists and politicians who pretend to embrace individuality and personal freedom. Mamet exposes them as living in absolute conformity to a set of liberal rules and groupthink, and despising freedom when others are free to think thoughts that are different than theirs.

In chapter 3, “Culture, School Shootings,The Audience, and the Elevator,” Mamet articulates the genesis and purpose of “culture” as a framework in which humans can function according to a set of agreed-upon rules — the rule of law — having the liberty to work towards individual success and family solidarity while fostering the health of the civilization. In what is classical conservative discourse, Mamet has defined why the mechanisms of conservative thought and a democratic form of government are good and natural to the perpetuation of man, while liberalism, its contradictions, fantastical expectations, socialist utopian goals, and the notion that justice can be selectively administered based upon past injustices, defy the very nature of humanity and are, therefore, destructive to humans and their civilizations. 

David Mamet is an eloquent spokesman for conservative practicality vs. liberal theory. The first being a formula based on millennia of trial and error that functions within the human inclination toward freedom and self-determination, the latter working only in the abstract; good-sounding ideas that, when put into practice, require coercion, brainwashing, and the subjugation of individuality and crushing of the impulse to maintain and increase the works of one’s own hands.

One interesting aspect of The Secret Knowledge is Mamet’s frontal assault on those whom he calls the “Liberal young.”  They are taught, he says, “to shun work.”  In chapter 5, Lost Horizon,” he goes on to elucidate why he believes so many who fall victim to a “liberal arts” education not only become leftists, embracing socialism and the nanny-state, but how, by living lives which are subject to little or no risk — since they are supported by trust funds and generous parents — within the competitive free market, come to abhor that very system. “They, like Marx and his beneficiaries, the French, find it an exercise both odious (speaking of work) and superfluous. How could the young think otherwise, as they spend their four to six or seven years in pursuit of a Liberal Arts Education whose content, let alone whose purpose, no one seems quite able to describe.”

Mamet, though a prolific writer and occasional professor, rejects the title of academic. In The Secret Knowledge, his contempt for the entrenched liberal indoctrination culture of American colleges and universities is apparent. Mamet draws upon personal anecdotes as a basis for his depressing assessment of the state of liberal arts education. 

The Secret Knowledge will certainly make liberals uncomfortable. Others, not sufficiently acquainted with unequivocal honesty may squirm as well. But the heart of this book is one that has been enlarged through what is most succinctly defined as a political transformation.

David Mamet has always loved America, and now as a conservative, is unafraid to say so. Mamet recounts with affection the stories of his Ashkenazi immigrant grandparents, their privations and successes as they strived to live the dream of America. He recalls his childhood and early employment in Chicago; the jobs he worked as a young man to support himself, the self-sufficiency which he learned as he made his own way in a competitive and risky world.  

In chapter 37, “Late Revelations,” Mamet speaks openly about his regret of having avoided serving in the military during the Vietnam war. It’s not an attempt on his part to find absolution from his readers, but an expression of shame and the loss of an opportunity to serve the country he dearly loves.

The spirit that emerges through the erudite and candid chapters in The Secret Knowledge is one of patriotism. Mamet is clearly a writer of great skill and intellect, but the power in this book is its love; the love of America and her history, the love of family, religion, traditions and the things that define human civilization as a thing unique and resilient, and finally, Mamet’s love of the American culture. Also evident is the fear that his beloved culture is being systematically dismantled by the very ideology that he once embraced.

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About Marjorie Haun

  • http://www.lunch.com/DrJosephSMaresca Dr Joseph S Maresca

    The custodians of American culture are the American people themselves. From the keepers of ancient colonial furniture to Shawnee Indian artifacts to the letters of the noted writer Frederick Douglass to existing models of the Wright Brothers etc, all are a part of preserving American culture for posterity.