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Stoppard and Mamet

The Wall Street Journal points out that, on the same day David Mamet published his “Why I Am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal” piece in the Village Voice, another great playwright, Tom Stoppard, was publishing similar thoughts in the Times of London.

Stoppard, who comes from a family of Jewish emigres from Czechoslovakia, writes:

In 1968 I was living the good life with my first wife and first baby in our first house on the swell of my first play and was beginning to be noted by my peers as someone who was politically dubious.
… I was already conscious of a feeling in myself which detached me from the prevailing spirit of rebellion when bliss was it in that dawn to be alive but to be young was to be where it’s at.
The feeling I refer to was embarrassment. I was embarrassed by the slogans and postures of rebellion in a society which, in London as in Paris, had moved on since Wordsworth was young and which seemed to me to be the least worst system into which one might have been born – the open liberal democracy whose very essence was the toleration of dissent.
I had not been born into it. You don’t need to be a qualified psychologist to work out that in England in 1968, 22 years after I arrived, I was much more disposed to champion my adoptive country than to find fault with it. For all I knew to the contrary, if my father had survived the war (he was killed in the Far East) he would have taken his family back to my birthplace in Czechoslovakia in 1946 and I would have grown up under the communist dictatorship which followed two years later.

“Embarrassment” is exactly right. Later in the column, he quotes himself quoting Alexander Herzen in The Coast of Utopia:

They invented personal liberty without having any theories about it. They value liberty because it’s liberty.

This is very old hat for conservatives, of course, the confusion of liberty with license and the rejection of flawed liberal societies for the utopian promises of totalitarian politics. But it’s remarkable to see these ideas getting such an airing from the likes of Mamet and Stoppard. In this dreary campaign season, wouldn’t it have been something to hear Barack Obama give a speech about liberty instead of a speech about the private insensitivity of his grandmother? Wouldn’t it have been something if Michelle Obama, who claimed to never have been proud of her country until her husband’s recent success, had instead written: “I was much more disposed to champion my country than to find fault with it”?


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