Of course, what is of interest to us here is not Mamet's politics per se, but the foundation on which he says his politics is based: the tragic world view.
The tragic world view is central to dramatic writing.
"That's the essence of drama," Mr. Mamet says. "Anyone can write: And then we realized that Lithuanians are people too and we're all happier now. Who cares?" Tragedy is devastating, he says, precisely because it's about "people trying to do the best they can and ending up destroying each other.
"So it wasn't a great shift to adopt the tragic view, and it's much healthier," he says. "Rather than saying, as the liberals do, 'Everything's always wrong, there's nothing that's not wrong, there's something bad bad bad—there's a bad thing in the world and it's probably called the Jews,'" he says sardonically. "And if it's not called the Jews for the moment, it's their fiendish slave second-hand smoke. Or transfats. Or global warming. Or the Y2K. Or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. And something must be done!'"
It's the last part—the temptation to believe that everything can be fixed—that Mr. Mamet thinks is the fatal error.
Mamet no doubt points to why so much art today is bad and boring. If you do not have the tragic view of life, you can write neither tragedies nor comedies (correctly described by Carol Burnett as "tragedy, plus time"). There is no drama without a problem -- and the drama is likely to be boring if it is easily solved. Why? For one, it's completely unrealistic.
Look at some of Shakespeare's comedies. They typically end in marriage. Yet, you are left with some uneasiness. Are these matches really going to work out over the long haul? Probably not. The problems are temporarily resolved, but you know that there are deeper problems that cannot help but emerge. Othello could have been a great comedy if Shakespeare had concentrated on the lead up to the marriage -- and stopped precisely at the marriage. Rather, we got what happened afterward.
In the tragic world view you understand that you cannot know what the results of your actions will be. There are unforeseen and unforeseeable consequences. Great drama investigates these very things. Othello is swayed only because of the chance dropping of his wife's handkerchief. A seeming small thing that has great significance with the right(wrong) words. And yet there are those who do not understand this, who think that their intentions are all that matter, damn the consequences. Or, they do not see or understand that there can be any consequences other than those they intended. It is naivete combined with willful blindness -- they are naive to believe it, and willfully blind to the consequences of their actions.
Is it any wonder, then, that the further left a person turns, the more ill-humored they become? Janeane Garafalo used to be one of my favorite comediennes. Now she's about as unfunny as one can imagine. On the other hand, Chris Rock, who many imagine must be a political liberal, in fact embodies this tragic world view. In this sense, Rock is deeply "conservative" (really, classically liberal, as conservatives don't really embody the tragic world view, but believe with the right policies we can all be made good -- just in a different way than the left). He will be funny only so long as he continues to have the tragic view of life.
All of the great artists have the tragic view of life. They must if they are going to produce anything worth reading, hearing, and/or viewing. In the end, the only thing that matters for an artist is, as Mamet says, "is can you put the asses in the seats and can you keep the asses in the seats. That's not me, that's Aristotle. I've forgotten the Greek for it." The first step in doing this is by embracing the tragic view of life. It is the driving force behind economic growth, it is the driving force behind human action, it is the driving force behind all great art.