I wonder if Ed West remembers our meeting. It being somehow quintessentially both very English and, as such events that attract both the fringe Right and the ‘acceptable Right’, rather clandestine and bizarre. It took place, as things often do in England, in a pub. Frankly I hadn’t known what to expect, my time in London was almost at an end but an opportunity had cropped up to meet some anon’s from Twitter and so there I was. It was an odd crowd; autistic libertarians, toffs, history buffs and then Ed West. What I remember of talking to Mr. West was that he was quite quiet and rather earnest. We discussed Moldbug and Steve Sailer, and at one point I found myself explaining the tenants of Neoreaction (to which I was more closely aligned at the time) to the historian Tom Holland who had invaded the conversation.
This minor event is really the most exposure I had to someone from the mainstream Conservative movement, but I left impressed with Mr. West. He clearly read widely and as a British journalist daring to name Steve Sailer in his column at the Telegraph – was either brave or foolhardy. I’d also been exposed to Mr. West’s previous book ‘The Diversity Illusion‘ which is one of those books you can’t quite believe someone wrote and got away with. Sadly, I found ‘The Diversity Illusion‘ so incredibly depressing I couldn’t force myself to finish it and coincidentally, it was also around the time I had delved into researching the demographic nightmare of London via official statistics myself. When I saw he had a new book coming out about the history of conservatism, I placed an order.
‘Small Men On The Wrong Side Of History: The Decline, Fall And Unlikely Return Of Conservativism‘ in hardback is a decent sized tome of a book. Perfect quarantine reading. The book, ostensibly, is an enjoyable mix of personal memoir and political history lesson about why conservatives have been forever failing. This book is far more than that. Amidst the themes West tackles there is a core question of what makes one a ‘conservative’? This is something that often the Dissident Right seems to have largely avoided answering. After all, we’re all here making edgelord observations and ‘Revolting Against the Modern World’ right? And yet, this does remain an open question. Those of us who have been around a while have clearly seen the failure of the ‘big tent’ approach. Many have come to realize there are many splits: between wignats, Catholic traditionalists, Bronze Age chads, PineBro eco-fascists, NRx theorists. Is there at the core a conservative personality type? (West, like others before him draws upon Oakeshott’s excellent essay ‘On Being Conservative’)
This book would be particularly enjoyed by anyone interested in the failings of the ‘eternal Anglo’ as West charts largely the UK and American Right’s mistakes and the inexorable surge of Cthulu swimming leftward in both those locales. Clearly West is a fellow traveler in many regards, and his careful observations of how the Right has floundered into bizarre areas of ‘conservative identity’ such as loud and fast cars trumpeting quiet streets where children can play is a good example of the nuance he displays. The book brims with many wry observations, although an American audience may find some of the self-deprecation tiresome after too long. There are a few moments where the book is a bit lacking. Nationalism feels conspicuously absent, whereas both Scott Alexander and Curtis Yarvin merit multiple mentions each. It also struck me as somewhat unusual for a book largely about British conservativism and ‘the Right’ to fail to address the BNP and currents that saw their limited success (although in his previous book on diversity he did). Perhaps though that absence is part of the wider story. Nationalism was not exclusively home to those on the Right until relatively recently. The acceleration of wokeness, which West succinctly deals with, has made Clinton era immigration policies seem fascistic by modern standards.
This book is not a short one, it spans a wide range of topics, so much so to call out minor areas that are overlooked feels petty. There are numerous pages where I stopped to snap a quick photograph of a well worded paragraph describing the history or state of things far better than I could have. West is an honest writer, what makes him so likeable to people like us is his depiction of living a life in enemy territory. His entire social circle are left liberals, indeed that is what society is now. For those of us who hold even more radically conservative ideas, we truly sympathize. After all, even our fellow rightists will throw us under the bus, smirking at us from behind their eye patch as we lose our jobs and homeland. That being said I was left wondering in a few places – is West a true believer for example? He doesn’t address his Catholicism and Church attendance in much depth. Likewise he steers away from some aspects of controversy; race and immigration feel somewhat overlooked. It is clear through many comments however that he is familiar with the general trajectory the Dissident Right has taken in recent years, even if his natural focus must be on the mainstream dialectic.
His writing on the religious nature of the progressive project is a recurring theme and a strong point. He manages to do so in a way that is not insulting to Christians yet he is at pains to emphasize the impact of the metaphysical ideas underpinning Christianity once they become divorced from the Divine. Original Sin has been replaced with the doctrine of White Guilt. West also does not shy from observations on how corrupted by leftist dogma Catholicism has, yet takes umbrage at their continued opposition to homosexuality. There are certainly areas where he will not dare to tread and in doing so does himself a slight disservice. The relationship between normalizing homosexual relations and Drag Queen Story Hour is not coincidental. There are other areas many might take issue with, yet the point of the book is not to convince you of a position. It is a narrative tale structured around the beliefs and experiences of West himself.
West’s closing chapters are naturally what linger with you. They are some of the more self-reflective of the book, and at this point as a reader you ‘know’ him. His own evolution of feeling towards events such as Brexit and the all consuming notion of ‘total politics’ are thoughtful. He also observes a debate between Tucker and Shapiro, noting that he finds himself firmly in Tucker’s camp. Shapiro’s economic Rightism is outdated, dead, and decidedly not conservative. His final chapter speaks movingly to what a great many of us hope for: of a less political future. There is also the idea of hope: that ultimate victory of the small c-conservative is written in the birth rates of liberals and conservatives. Ultimately I would recommend this book to any Sun reader, though with the caveat that they understand West’s focus lingers on the British and American experience in that order. Books such as this are valuable – they act as a grounding force and remind us of where we come from, both the good and the bad. The accumulated losses of the past deserve attention. We can’t afford to make the same mistakes again.