13 Mar 2008

Responding to David Mamet

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JayReding has a thoughtful response to David Mamet’s admission of becoming conservative and ceasing to be a “brain-dead liberal.”

Mamet hits on the fundamental difference between liberalism and conservatism as political philosophies in 21st Century America. Liberalism is an ideology that seeks perfection: we have to give everyone healthcare, we have to end poverty, we have to make everyone in the world “respect” us, we have to stop all semblances of racism. Those are the imperatives of liberalism. On their own, and as abstract goals, there’s nothing wrong with them at all. Who wouldn’t want to end poverty? Who wouldn’t want to see a world without racism, war, oppression or dominance?

Where liberals fail to understand conservatism is that they seem to think that conservatism stands for the proposition that war, racism and poverty are all fine and we shouldn’t care about them. That facile misunderstanding is why liberals never really seem to be able to engage with conservatives on a fundamentally deep level, and why liberals tend to ascribe all sorts of sinister motivations to conservatives.

Mamet, however, hints at the real basis for conservatism. We can’t cure war. We can’t end all poverty. We can’t make people into angels when they are not. The fundamental principle of conservatism can be roughly summed up into this: “sometimes life just sucks.” Even if we could fix the problems that create war, poverty, racism and injustice to do so would be to have a society robbed of free will—because the root of all these problems are found in human nature itself. That’s why Mamet rightly describes conservatism as the “tragic” view of human nature and liberalism as the “perfectionist” view of human nature. Conservatives recognize that there is no permanent solution for the ills of mankind—there are only advances which can ameliorate our conditions. We can’t create heaven on earth, we can only fumble around as best we can.

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.


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