Conquest by Concept: A Novel About the Culture War
Sydney, Australia: Afadex, 2020
Here’s a pleasant surprise for the new year (although published in 2020): a red-pill novel that has a happy ending and comes from Australia to boot!
Duncan Smith is an author and musician “most notable for writing three novels with rock music soundtracks” who has now taken up political fiction. Here’s how the publisher sets us up with the premise:
John Gilbert loves Angie, his far-left Antifa girlfriend. Then he meets Edward Hall, a charismatic right wing figure. Hall makes John question Angie’s politics. Soon, John can no longer tell which side is good or evil.
Caught in a political ‘love triangle’ between the far-left and far-right, John Gilbert faces a choice. Will he stay true to Angie’s passionate progressive values, or can the seductive Edward Hall turn him to the dark side?
The big problem with novels like this is what I like to call the dreaded data dump: the delivery of the desired message without resorting to long chunks of exposition. Smith has several clever ways to get around this. How about having Ange and Hall meet privately, but leave your computer on to tape them surreptitiously? “Telling them could have made them self-conscious — so I didn’t. A tad unethical, but so be it.” All’s fair in fiction writing, after all!
At another point, Hall intends to enlighten Ange about antifa’s true origins and intentions, and hey, he just happens to have written a little essay on that very subject, and it’s right here in his knapsack, so let’s take a look, shall we?
And what would be more in keeping with the twenty-first century than the give and take of Twitter flamewars — is that what the kids still call them?
At an earlier point, needing to set the stage, John simply announces that “At this point, I’m going to give the rest of the chapter to Hall, and not even interrupt with questions. Let him make his case.” It helps that Hall is a pretty effective speaker.
I was particularly taken with his “tale of the four animals” — elephant, ant, horse, and frog — to create a kind of “memory palace” of the Alt Right case. The beautiful wooden horse (see cover) is liberalism, with all its nice ideas: cultural diversity, women’s rights, no to slavery and imperialism. All very nice, but inside the horse are parasites: white ants, aka termites, such as “the idea your nation wants so much cultural diversity that it weakens or supplants its own culture,” or the idea that if “Western nations did some harm in the past . . . those same nations should now harm themselves.” These ants crawl out and burrow away into society’s institutions and even our brains, and eventually become big enough to be the unmentionable “elephants in the room,” before you, like the frog in the pan of water, ever notice.
But it’s not all chin-music and gum-flapping. Smith makes effective use of what we might call typical “Alt Right tropes” — events targeted by antifa, school officials enforcing political correctness in the classroom, parents worried about a potential son-in-law’s job prospects, Twitter mobs turning on their own — to drive the plot forward.
Who among us hasn’t told, or wanted to tell, some po-faced Lefty, “Why don’t you open up your own house to a dozen immigrants, then?” Well, imagine if you said that to your girlfriend, and she went out and invited in some random immigrant and his family.
“So, because some damn Spaniards went to South America hundreds of years ago, I have to let Mateo stay here rent free?”
Angie frowned. “You’ve changed, John. You never used to answer me back.”
“Not until Mateo was here. Look what he’s done to us.”
One section I particularly enjoyed was John’s first teacher-in-training lecture, where his attempts to articulate all the right — i.e., required — anti-male and anti-white phrases keep drifting off into endless “but of course” qualifications and accidental parody of the stilting clichés, resulting in a stern talking-to from his “mentor.” It rivals Jim Dixon’s “Merrie England” public lecture in Lucky Jim:
“Anyway, I think you guys have got some wonderful ideas about inequality. Some real insights into what life was like in the past, compared to today. And you know what they say about the past. The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. That’s a quote. A famous one. Not that I know who said it. Someone from the past, one would suspect, which makes him a foreigner. Or her. It was quite possibly Gertrude Stein, or Virginia Woolf herself. Anyway, the point is, if the past is a foreign country, I suppose that means we’re a nation of immigrants. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”
What in God’s name was I babbling about? None of this was in the carefully scripted notes I’d prepared the day before. ‘Are you alright, Sir?’ asked a girl in the front row.
I peered at her. “Tina, isn’t it? You’ll have to indulge me a little. This is my first class. I feel a bit like Anne Boleyn the day she had her head cut off. Although before or after it was cut off, I don’t know. Probably after, I suspect.”
There was a gasp from the class and a couple of confused laughs. Irvine was staring daggers, and I sensed her weighing up whether or not to intervene and take over the class. To forestall this embarrassment, I suddenly adopted a tone of deadly seriousness.
“And there’s one thing I want to make clear. What King Henry did was appalling. He was an actual murderer, far worse even than Donald Trump, and if there was any justice back then, Henry would have been impeached and then executed. What you boys have got to understand is that violence against women is never OK.”
I held up an admonishing finger to the part of the room where most of the boys were sitting. Then I continued my incoherent tirade.
“Mind you, credit where credit’s due. Did you know that Henry invented divorce? The pope refused to let him divorce his first wife, so Henry invented his own church and made it legal. I suppose that makes him an early feminist, right? His selfishness enabled something that hundreds of years later empowered women to escape the patriarchal bonds of marriage. The Lord works in mysterious ways. As do I when I teach history.’”
I considered grabbing my briefcase and running out of the room. I was sweating heavily and took off my jacket.
Another comic high point occurs when a workshop coordinator tries to teach some schoolboys how to be “real” — i.e., feminized — men:
“What I’m going to do is direct the male gaze at you and stare at your arse. How does that make you feel?”
’‘It makes me feel like you’re a fag, Sir.”
“At the point of climax, you should be focusing on her face.’‘
“Climax on her face! That’s disgusting, Sir! You’re a pervert.”
“Right, that’s it. Get out!”
“Sir, what for?”
“For being a dickhead. Out!”
If I have one main criticism, it’s that there’s not enough “local color.” I wasn’t expecting or wanting another Crocodile Dundee or Yahoo Serious, but both the physical and intellectual atmosphere seem just generically Anglo. I suppose it’s inevitable that almost all the events referenced and ideas and people discussed come from the North American mediasphere — the plot is set in motion by an antifa protest at an event headlined by the Canadians Lauren Southern and Stephan Molyneux — but is there no real Dissident Right ferment down under?
Hall hails from some kind of raucous Anglo settler background, but not much is made of it, which would have helped make him more “charismatic,” as the publisher claims, than he is. Even linguistically, the only Australian word I can find is “rort” — “white guilt’s a rort” –, which my Kindle dictionary tells me is “a fraudulent or dishonest act or practice” and which I think we should all add to our rhetoric.
Smith, judging by his protagonists John and Hall, seems by no means to be a “neo-reactionary” or even much of an “Alt Right” devotee. Far from wanting to repeal the Civil Right Act or women’s suffrage or refight the Civil War (the American references are appropriate due to the aforementioned North American perspective), he accepts the “advances” of civil rights and women’s liberation, but just thinks they’ve gone too far. “The idiot leftists have ruined it for everyone.” Of course, that’s more than enough to be labelled a “fascist” in today’s world. As Hall says:
So, who is the new ‘fascist’ really? He — or she — is a counter revolutionary. He is a rebel against the revolution. He may once have been a leftist himself, but now rejects them. The new “fascist” rejects the excesses of leftist beliefs. He believes in nations and borders. He is pro-Western, pro-European. He rejects white guilt and “whiteness studies.” None of this makes him into the Antifa’s straw fascist. It just makes him sane.
As I said at the start, there’s a happy ending — again, not unlike Lucky Jim — which I won’t give away. Some might find this makes for too sugary a red pill. Two things militate against that knee-jerk response. One, the lesson is not that reading the right monograph or having a conversation with the right person can easily convert someone, but rather that these can serve as important catalysts when combined with personal experience. Since cruel, personal mob attacks are characteristic of the Woke, we can expect lots of conversion experiences like Ange’s as long as our message is out there to be found.
Secondly, I am glad to see that what might be called “dissident fiction” continues to move away — and beyond — the “lone incel with a rifle” that dominated the genre for so long from the beginning. I’m still waiting for the Dissident Right’s Lucky Jim — to say nothing of its Great Gatsby — but Smith may have taken a long step towards it.
* * *
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 In addition to this novel, there’s the novella Marla Okadigbo, which appears in his collection, The Tightarse Tuesday Book Club.
 George Orwell used the same technique in 1984 with excerpts from Goldstein’s forbidden treatise, and even earlier Hermann Hesse interpolated a “Treatise on the Steppenwolf” — supposedly handed out at a carnival — to supplement “Harry Haller’s Records” in Steppenwolf (the first editions had it bound in with a different typeface and paper).
 On the plus side, think of the exotic cuisine! “Indeed Mateo introduced us to a terremoto, a Chilean cocktail made of some kind of fermented wine, pineapple ice cream, and a red cocktail syrup named grenadine. A few of those and we were on the way to being bests friends for life.”
 Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim (1953; Penguin, 1992, with Introduction by David Lodge). “Lucky” Jim Dixon is rather like Smith’s protagonist, but a probationary lecturer at a Welsh college rather than an Australian grade school. To be re-hired for next year, he must impress his senior Professor, who in retrospect seems an archetype of the upper-class woke bastard of post-war England, with a lecture praising his woke ideas of a supposedly socialist paradise in the Middle Ages, just as John must mouth the right anti-white male platitudes to please his female mentor. Of course, when delivered, after a few too many “arty weekends” and too many brandies, Dixon first flubs his clichés, becomes inarticulate, and then seems to have swallowed a red pill in midstream and begins denouncing the snobbery posing as morality: “‘What, finally, is the practical application of all this?’ Dixon said in his normal voice. He felt he was in the grip of some vertigo, hearing himself talking without consciously willing any words. ‘Listen and I’ll tell you. The point about Merrie England is that it was about the most un-Merrie period in our history. It’s only the home-made pottery crowd, the organic husbandry crowd, the recorder-playing crowd, the Esperanto . . .’ He paused and swayed; the heat, the drink, the nervousness, the guilt at last joined forces in him. His head seemed to be swelling and growing lighter at the same time, his body felt as if it were being ground out into its constituent granules; his ears hummed and the sides, top and bottom of his vision were becoming invaded by a smoky, greasy darkness. Chairs scraped at either side of him, a hand caught at his shoulder and made him stumble. With Welch’s arm round his shoulders he sank to his knees, half-hearing the Principal’s voice saying above a tumult. ‘. . . from finishing his lecture through sudden indisposition. I’m sure you’re all . . .’” You can watch it here. Interestingly, John’s mentor has the habit of disconcerting him by calling him “Sir” even in private, just like one of Dixon’s more dangerously clever graduate students.
 Amis himself could be an archetype or forerunner of the Dissident Right author, moving from the easy post-war British Left to the Tory Right as the Left began its cultural war; see Lucky Jim’s Politics (London: Conservative Political Centre, 1968), described as “A follow up to his 1967 article in The Sunday Telegraph entitled ‘Why Lucky Jim turned right: confessions of an ex-radical’. The work is based on a lecture delivered at the 1967 Conservative Party Conference National Summer School held at Christ Church, Oxford and discusses modern day politics as a contemporary ‘Lucky Jim’ might do.”
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