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Perhaps wait for the paperback.
on July 25, 2011
Let's be honest. If you actually buy the hardcover edition of a book like this, it's probably because you assume you'll agree with it. I bought it. Like Mamet, I would once have considered myself a liberal, but have had it brought irresistibly to my attention that conservatism makes more sense. Well, that's what I say now. Should any of us ever be so secure in our world view that we deny the possibility of change?
Let's continue being honest. If we subscribe to world view "A", then there will always be a fascination in reading confessionals by apostates from opposing world view "B". How did they become convinced that we were right, and they were wrong? I had read Mamet's Village Voice article from a few years back in which he "came out" as a conservative, and I wanted more.
So, approaching this book with a predisposition to like it, and agree with it, I was mildly disappointed. Most of the conventional Right vs Left talking points are here, principally the blinkered self righteousness of the modern Left, its intolerance of other views, and its inability to look at the world as it actually is. There was relatively little actually to disagree with. Perhaps where Mamet lost me was in conflating conservatism with an acknowledgement of "the Divine". It's not clear how conventionally religious he actually is, but he frequently cites the Torah, is proud of his Jewish heritage, and a "centrist" Rabbi helped guide him on his political journey. He is distrustful of non-believers, as most conservatives are. Atheist and agnostic conservatives have their own struggles with acceptance, but I am straying too far from a review of this book.
I never felt, reading it, that I had been intellectually challenged, made to look at things in a different way. Instead, it was covering the ground that most conservatives have been over in forming their beliefs. It is important to Mamet, because he is talking out the changes in the way he sees human reality, but does it have anything new for the rest of us, anything that we haven't gotten from other political writing? For me, it doesn't.
The writing is not bad, exactly, this is a great playwright, after all. Perhaps his style is not well suited to an argument at this length. Dipping in at any one point, one can find striking observations, very well put. Reading the whole thing cover to cover, there is a lot of repetition, and a sense that he didn't really think about the structure of the book as a whole.
There are factual claims which, even if true, could stand with elaboration. If a female airline passenger's argument with a stewardess really led to her getting a 3 month sentence for terrorism, perhaps he could have given us some names or other details that would allow us to check the facts for ourselves. There are other dubious claims that could have used some documentation, and in some cases he simply gets it wrong. Although it's not central to any point that he's making, he seems to think that the cheating by the 1919 Chicago "Black Sox" was directed to unfairly winning a World Series rather than throwing it to the other team.
He could have used his footnotes to cite sources. Instead, he uses them for lengthy rambling asides which seriously derail his main discussion if one reads them, but which we don't want to skip for fear of missing something important.
Like me, he is concerned with, and bothered by, the antisemitism which has pervaded modern liberal attitudes. I agree with most of what he says, without feeling that he has said it in a way which deserves particular attention.
Perhaps the most interesting parts were those which discussed his own background, his parents, his struggles with school, his children. He makes some interesting points about the attachment of modern reform Jews to liberalism and to the Democratic party, particularly how the traditional Jewish passion for justice has become disconnected, in its American setting, from an understanding of its connection to law.
In short, I doubt there is much here to make a committed liberal change his mind, apart from the fact that the author was once a liberal himself, and has only recently crossed over to the other side. For the conservative, there is little new here, no new facts or talking points, no "aha" moments. Not a waste of time, but far from being a must read.