The Film Director is David Mamet, also the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and author of many books of essays, most recently the crackling Conservative-Libertarian manifesto: The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture (Sentinel 2011).
The Noble Savage, so argues Mamet persuasively, is the mythological hero of the American Left, the peace-loving tribesman whose Eden it is the charge of the State to regain. And when it does—
There will be no more pollution, for we will vote to stop our polluting ways; there will be no more war, as all sovereign States will be subsumed into a large tribe of the mutually understanding (cf. the United Nations), there will be no more Poverty, because the Earth Holds Enough for All, and lacks only that Wise Leadership which will see to its Just Distribution (a dictator). And all that stands between this utopia and our present state of stupid error are the Conservatives, who believe only in Greed (Chapter 18).
Mamet’s trenchant critique of the Left, its religious devotion to the State, and its devolution (daily, before our very eyes) into dictatorship, makes for compulsive reading. If the argument is between Leftist Statism and the Conservative-Libertarianism of Mamet, a political philosophy that prizes individual responsibility and the free market above State control, then Mamet surely deserves to win it. But the question that compels me in thinking through Mamet’s argument is what the territory might look like after his argument is won. Let us say (per impossibile) that we are governed by a State that moderates its passions and adheres to the principles of the U.S. Constitution. Let us say that we live in a polity where individuals are now possessed of the character requisite to exercise virtuous choice. What should be done with all this freedom?
Mamet says that the essence of freedom is choice. This is false. The essence of freedom is choice formed in the truth. For if I can make all the choices I want, but all they do is pamper my appetites, then how can I be said to be truly free? I am not free. I am an adolescent out of control.
When it comes to the plying of trade in the market, the truth to which freedom most needs to conform is the fact that the economy needs to be directed to the home (our English word “economy” is derived from the Greek word for “household,” oikos). This means more than the garnering of wages (though that’s obviously a start). It also means ensuring that the work being done serves, rather than undermines, the common good of the family. This is the heart of the economic theory that G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc termed Distributism.
Which is not (it needs always be said) “re-distribution” of wealth. Indeed, it needs to be said that (at least in my view) the circumscribing of the free market within the common good of the family is not a State concern at all. It is, rather, a cultural concern—which means an artifact of a certain sort of community.
The family, however, is not the only community within which free enterprise needs be circumscribed. There are also the communities generated by the practices of various crafts and professions. Mamet himself gives us a snapshot of one, from his own experience directing films:
…a director (I speak as one who has directed ten features, and quite a bit of television), is exposed to something of which the actors and writers may not have taken notice: the genius of America, and the American system of Free Enterprise.
The director sees, on the set, one or two hundred people of all walks of life, races, incomes, political persuasions and religions, and ages, men and women, involved, indeed dedicated to doing their jobs as well as possible (indeed the ethos of the film set could, without overstatement, be described as “doing it better than it’s ever been done), in aid of the mutual endeavor (the film). Each brings not only his or her particular expertise and craft, but an understanding of and dedication to the culture of filmmaking: work hard, pitch in, never complain, admire and reward accomplishment” (Chapter 19).
What Mamet describes here is something more than Free Enterprise. Free Enterprise can be exercised selling cheap toys Made in China. No, what Mamet describes here is Free Enterprise circumscribed by human devotion to a common good (making the film) that could never be realized apart from such cooperative activity. Such a common good is a very special kind of thing, requiring the very special type of community and culture that Mamet is so glad to find on movie sets.
But this kind of community and cultures does not come into being by Conservative-Libertarianism alone. Nor is it to be found in the shanty-town Social Justice of the “Occupy” movement.
A different, a deeper, philosophy of the human person, of what it means for human beings to flourish, is needed.