Book review - “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of America’s Culture” by David Mamet

One of America’s most prominent playwrights, David Mamet created a major splash when his conversion from Liberalism to Conservatism became well-known in 2008, thanks to a piece he wrote for the Village Voice entitled, “Why I Am No Longer a Brain-dead Liberal.”
The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of America’s Culture” is Mamet’s provocative assessment of the damage Liberalism is doing to America, as well as Mamet’s account of his conversion from Liberalism to Conservatism.

The details of Mamet’s conversion – in some ways it was more of a realization than a conversion - are scattered across the book. Mamet was in his 60s when he began to look closely more closely at his beliefs. He read Friedrich Hayak’s “The Road to Serfdom.” He came to realize that he lived as a conservative to survive, supporting his family without relying on anyone else. Two friends from his synagogue introduced him to works by other conservative writers, including Milton Friedman, Shelby Steele, and Thomas Sowell. Jon Voight gave him “Witness” by Whitaker Chambers. Mamet was thus exposed to political and cultural ideas he had never encountered before, and the ideas made sense to him.
Many of the chapters in this book are essentially essays on Mamet’s views on feminism, global warming, Israel, school shootings, multiculturalism, higher education, and life lessons from growing up in Chicago.

As a former Leftist, Mamet is well-suited to describe the Left’s insecurities and dysfunctions. In Chapter 21 he points out Liberals can’t afford to notice their policies hurt the country. If they voice any doubt about Liberalism they risk getting expelled from the herd. Further, Liberals have contempt for anyone who doesn’t accept Liberal dogma. Mamet experienced scorn from Leftists after his conversion. Their common reaction to him was, don’t you care? Reasonable people might have different opinions on the best ways to address social problems, but the Liberal impulse is to call into question the character of non-liberals. “Selfish!” “Greedy!” “Racist!” So how do they cope with the obvious failures of the Obama presidency (high unemployment, high deficits, acrimonious race relations, millions more on government aid than under Bush, etc., etc.)? The herd supplies the explanation: it’s the Opposition’s fault.
A recurring theme is Mamet’s conviction that Liberals don’t recognize basic realities of life, like where wealth comes from. Mamet makes that case brilliantly. “The great fault of my generation is not ingratitude but incomprehension,” Mamet writes in chapter 35. He tells the story of his young daughter who had an heiress as a schoolmate. The two friends were talking about bedtimes when the heiress said before bed every night she opened the small refrigerator in her room and took out her usual snack: berries and yogurt dipped in honey. When asked who put the snack in the refrigerator, the heiress paused for awhile, and then said, “I don’t know.”
So it is with Liberals. It never occurs to them someone puts the snack in the refrigerator, someone takes a risk on the schemes which become the automobile, the airplane, the new medicine, the business that hires workers. So instead of supporting exploration and exploiting resources, Liberals restrict oil drilling, demand banks make loans to people who can’t repay them, and lay extra burdens on wealth creators.
Mamet pulls no punches. His writing is bold, even strident on occasion. I found it a wonderful book, and I’m glad I read it. 

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