Leading article: Liberal interpretation

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The Independent Online

There are many aspects of popular culture that merit the description "brain-dead", but the plays and scripts of David Mamet are not among them. The penetrating, exciting and humane literary output from this Chicago-born Jewish writer over the years has been a standing rebuke to those who argue that American showbusiness is too dumbed down to produce anything of lasting value. So it is, inevitably, slightly disconcerting to read Mr Mamet, in an article in New York's Village Voice, denouncing his past as a "brain-dead liberal".

But perhaps a little has been lost in translation here. The American concept of the "liberal" is rather different from that understood by much of the rest of the world. In the United States it is used to refer to anyone congenitally in favour of a greater role for the state in society and opposed to the private sector; leftists, in other words. As Mr Mamet characterises the mindset in his essay, it attracts those who dislike corporations, the military, and other such institutions on ideological grounds.

In Britain, on the other hand, the term "liberal" refers, more commonly, to those who are open to new ideas and oppose dogmatism from whichever end of the political spectrum it arises. It describes those who instinctively resist the attempts of anyone, be it corporations or governments, to meddle in private life. In fact, in this sense, "brain-dead liberal" is an oxymoron.

This newspaper is proud to associate itself with liberalism. And we would hazard that (in the non-American sense of the word of course) Mr Mamet would still be, too.

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