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Various schools of the Right attempted to accommodate him only to find themselves obliged, eventually, to recognize that he was an inveterate and incorrigible maverick. Conversely, the demands for intellectual consistency with the oldest tradition that Kendall sought to impose upon other conservatives culled out many, if not most, of those with whom he could otherwise have formed common cause. Against the Right-file libertarians, he advanced a classical emphasis on strong government opposed to their ideal of government limited by the rights of the individual. Against free-enterprise enthusiasts, he taught ancient doctrines of the planned moderate economy, and, even after he renounced his early Keynsianism, he could not see that private property should be given the inviolability of moral sanction. Against the pure monarchists, or pure partisans of aristocracy further to the right, Kendall seemed heretically inclined in favor of popular government. He offended the sensibilities of the latest Athenian Academy by acknowledging the authority of Revelation, while his reverence for classical political theory caused Catholic conservatives to entertain doubts about the depth of his piety. His opposition to an egalitarian view of society endeared him to some proponents (notably Southern) of the hierarchical community, while his insistence upon rational criteria of discrimination diminished his potential following in that quarter. One of Kendall's more Aristotelian habits was his tendency of pursuing political arguments to a point where no identifiable partisan could claim the position as his own.
    -John E. Alvis, The Evolution of Willmore Kendall's Political Thought, Willmore Kendall: Maverick of American Conservatives

As I drove across France, I was well aware of the Kendall legend. He had been a young Rhodes Scholar, a disciple of Leo Strauss, and had early written an important book on John Locke and majority-rule theory. Taken on with tenure in the Government Department at Yale, he had been a powerful influence on some of the best students there, including Bill Buckley. Kendall prepared his lectures with great care, writing them out in full in green ink. But he was institutionally intolerable. Dwight MacDonald described him as Òa wild Yale don, of extreme, eccentric, and very abstract views, who could get a conversation into the shouting stage faster than anyone within memory.Ó

That is at once accurate and impressionistic. KendallÕs views were anything but abstract, and, far from being extreme or eccentric, I believe they explicate the central American political tradition. But that was the sunny side. In the academy, he did pick fights of ferocious temperature. Within days of his arrival at Yale, he had to go to one of those tame affairs where a colleague, this time the chairman of his department, delivers a small paper on something or other. When the professor finished, Kendall immediately tore what he had said to shreds. His style of argument was to force matters back to first principles where he could be devastating. The ivy must have shriveled on the walls of that Yale building.

Before long, he was on evil terms with everyone in his department. He was a good friend and neighbor of the renowned literary critic Cleanth Brooks, but after a while he treated Brooks as an enemy too. Before long, in pure self-defense, Yale was giving Kendall every other year off with pay, so that the other members of his department might calm their nerves. He was given to understand that he would never be promoted to full professor. On one of his leaves, he phoned the President of Yale from Madrid. Drunk, he said something like this: ÒYou sonofabitch, I know you hate my guts. Well, IÕll tell you what IÕm going to do. You can buy back my tenure for $25,000.Ó In the 1950s, that was a lot of money. Yale telegraphed it. He was immediately taken up by Stanford. After all, his publication record was outstanding, and he was a great teacher. He was heading for tenure when a drunken driving escapade soured that university on him. He moved on to the University of Dallas.

Kendall had also been a senior editor of National Review and a brilliant journalist there, but he was no longer on speaking terms with Bill Buckley, having resigned over some slight. It was said that at National Review he was never on speaking terms with more than one editor, and that the identity of this individual constantly changed. There is still a leather couch at National Review, known as ÒThe Willmoore Kendall Memorial Couch,Ó on which he had been surprised after hours in flagrante with a secretary. ÒCouldnÕt he have gone to a hotel?,Ó Buckley wondered. While I was driving to Paris, he had two marriages going through the annulment process in Rome, a first in the history of that ancient church. A difficult man, obviously, but touched by genius.
-The "deliberate sense" of Willmoore Kendall (Jeffrey Hart, March 2002, New Criterion)

When one realizes that the two assessments above come from two men who are favorably disposed to Willmore Kendall--Mr. Hart a former colleague at National Review, Mr. Alvis a former student at the University of Dallas--one gets some sense of just what a troublesome man he must have been to reckon with, especially misplaced, as he was, in the Yale Political Science Department of the 1950s. But to read Willmoore Kendall is to encounter a first rate mind wrestling with the hardest issue confronting conservatives who value American democracy: are there, and can there be, any real restraints on the majority. As Mr. Hart says, he was "touched by genius." This book then--and Mr. Hart's essay, which unfortunately isn't included--serves as a welcome corrective to the too easy caricature and, hopefully, can help to restore Mr. Kendall's central place in the history of American conservative thought.

The lead-off essay, The Place of Willmoore Kendall in American Conservatism, by George H. Nash, does a particularly good job at the latter task:
Kendall's "essence" stated quite succinctly. To a degree unique among conservatives of his era, he believed in the fundamental virtue, and capacity for self-government. of the American people. And he conceived his mission to be the intelligent defense of the institutions and constitutional morality through which, since 1787, the American people had manifested their impulse toward self-government. Unlike those conservatives who thought of themselves as a forlorn, antimajoritarian remnant in danger of being consigned to the ash heap of history, Kendall fearlessly and confidently insisted that conservatives had not been routed, and need not be routed, if only they could acquire the right mentors.


[K]endall, if he were here, might point to three accomplishments for which conservatives should remember him. First, he helped to Americanize contemporary conservatism by pointing conservatives back to their own past -- above all, to the founding documents and arrangements of their polity. He did so, moreover, in a manner and idiom that remain fresh and arresting a generation later. Second, he helped to politicize the conservative movement: that is, he taught it to "keep its eye" on Congress and on the health of the American system. (There was more at stake, in other words, than day-to-day public policy questions and economics.) Third, he bequeathed to conservatives a conception of politics as a battleground between a "liberal revolution" and a conservative "resistance." It was a struggle requiring "doctrine" and "strategy." Kendall's military metaphors may seem unsettling, but for him the issues to be decided were profound: the open society (we might say "diversity") versus orthodoxy; philosophical relativism (and all its consequences) versus the truth embodied in the Western tradition; and government by deliberate sense of the people's representatives. acting under God, versus government by plebiscitary passions or manipulative minorities.
George W. Carey, Kendall's co-author on The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition , contributes the essay Willmoore Kendall and the Doctrine of Majority Rule, which traces the changes, subtle and drastic, and the continuities in his majoritarianism:
Kendall's majoritarianism, throughout all phases of its development, rests on the proposition that a viable and lasting majority-rule system is possible only when the need or desire on the part of individuals to maintain their unity is sufficiently strong; that is, when their bonds to one another are strong enough to overcome whatever disappointments or set backs they may suffer as members of outvoted minorities. In his later writings, he stresses that these bonds also operate to restrain majorities from setting forth and adopting measures that "test" the loyalty of minorities to the system or from pushing measures that would strain relationships and weaken ties between individuals. Genuine communities, in other words, provide the foundations for the kind of majority rule that Kendall had in mind; in such communities, majorities would show forbearance when possible, the citizens would seek unanimity through free and full discussion, but, short of such unanimity, would willingly and in good faith settle for decisions of the greater number.
This gets us close to the core of why Kendall remains so important. It's easy to confuse his majoritarianism and use it improperly for the proposition that whatever the majority decides to do it is entitled to do. This is unfortunately all that remains of democratic theory in many circles, even to the point of sanctioning illiberal democracy. Kendall though has set preconditions on majority rule, that it occur within a community of generally shared interests and take great care not to trample minorities whose particular positions on a given matter remain consistent with those of the community broadly, even though they are over-ruled in the instance.

Editor John Murley's own contribution, On the "Calhounism" of Willmoore Kendall, offers a stirring defense against Harry V. Jaffa's obsessive accusations that the "Kendall thesis" necessarily offers support for Calhoun's argument that slavery was consistent with the principles of the Constitution:
Harry V. Jaffa's work has focused on the principle of equality as the natural-right foundation for consent of the governed and rule by the majority. Willmoore Kendall's work focused on the problems associated with the misuse of equality, and the effect of that misuse on majority rule , and the consent of the governed. This is a difference of focus, but it is not a difference that includes support for John C. Calhoun or a defense of slavery. Kendall's emphasis on the conditions necessary for decent majority rule was drawn from the author of the Declaration of Independence, who warned in his First Inaugural:

All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.

The history of slavery in America demonstrated the truth of Jefferson's warning that consent of the governed expressed through majority rule could be problematic. Kendall thought the problematic nature of majority rule was not solved by the Declaration of Independence, but by the Constitution and the constitutional ethos supplied by The Federalist Papers. Jaffa has long echoed Thomas Jefferson's insistence that consent of the governed must be "just or enlightened consent" -- that is, consent which recognizes its legitimacy in the common equality of man. However, for Kendall, just or enlightened consent is easier wished for than obtained, and auxiliary precautions that contribute to deliberation in Congress are required to help in that quest. Government of, by, and for the people, meant for Kendall, looking to the deliberative assembly, the home of the "republican principle," against the claims of plebiscitary, prerogative-based presidency.
This emphasis on the deliberative republic is central to Professor Hart's New Criterion essay too:
There was an orthodox American political tradition, Willmoore thought, and a constant challenge to ÒderailÓ it by plebiscites or newly proclaimed Òrights.Ó The Constitution designed in Philadelphia was a virtually sacred utterance to him, and its basis was established in its very brief preamble, the most important words of which were the first three: We the people. Government by Òwe the peopleÓ has been the American goal, the gift to the world symbolized by the light the Statue of Liberty holds aloft. The preamble next sets forth six general goals of the new government. The term ÒrightsÓ is never mentioned.

Everything that follows, that is, almost the entire Constitution as ratified and amended, constitutes a mechanism for achieving the six goals of the preamble. It is striking that the six goals are syntactically equal. Which of the six goals takes precedence at a given juncture depends on ÒdiscussionÓ by the government set forth in the Constitution. It is a Òdeliberate senseÓ theory of government, ÒsenseÓ emerging through Òdeliberation.Ó

This mechanism of self-government was, as I say, sacred territory to Willmoore. He had been a man of the left until he had gone to Spain as a journalist during the civil war and had seen there a variety of ideologies alien to America, that is, to the Constitution. These included royalism, Communism, fascism, anarchism. His understanding was that the ratified Constitution represented a permanent agreement on the orthodox American form of representative government.
It's one of the great oddities of modern political thought that the Preamble is largely ignored when it so obviously sets the parameters within which our system should be understood: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." These are the aspirations that can serve to bind us together as a community. Remove them and the Constitution becomes nothing but a kind of rule book for a game that has no ultimate purpose, where any direction for the country is allowed, so long as the rules are followed, even a direction antithetical to the stated purposes of Founding, as set forth in the Preamble.

Two more essays--The Evolution of Willmoore Kendall's Political Thought by the book's other co-editor, John E. Alvis, and George Anastaplo's Willmoore Kendall and Leo Strauss--trace the influence of Leo Strauss, who's been much in the news these days as the founder of neoconservatism, on Kendall. As Mr. Alvis writes, Kendall's earliest advocacy of majoritarianism was in fact almost "values-free" and insisted on "maintaining clear distinctions between the purposes of political life and the form of political regimes." But, as we've already seen above, Kendall strayed pretty far from his original views and some significant portion of the credit for shaping his later views must go to Leo Strauss (though Mr. Alvis also considers the effect Eric Voegelin had on Kendall):
[S]trauss suggested how classical philosophy could aid a thinker who was beginning to be painfully cognizant of the insufficiency of "value-free" political science for understanding modern regimes, or for understanding politics simply. Strauss's Natural Right and History and, later, his Thoughts on Machiavelli, taught Kendall to see the modern political enterprise as a continuing effort to establish a revolutionary view of human nature and its destiny. This effort could be conceived as a concerted revolt by modern political philosophy against the established tradition developed by Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Aquinas. The revolt aimed to supplement the ancient understanding of man as rational with the view that man is bound by his appetites and, consonant with this lowering of its human estimate, envisioned a reductionist prospect for human community to be realized by the new contract model of the political regime. From his study of Strauss, Kendall must necessarily have seen the need to enlarge the range of his majoritarian theory so as to accommodate Strauss's analysis of all modern theories of consent, whether Lockean and liberal or Hobbesian and absolutist. He must have realized, furthermore, that to establish worthy credentials for democracy, more would be required than an argument which rested upon a prejudice in its favor now universal but quite parochial when considered historically. From Strauss, Kendall could have learned that his majoritarian premises were not only less than self-evident, but, at least from the perspective of an esteemable tradition of great political thinkers, quite evidently false. To meet the objections of premodern anti-democratic theorists, Kendall was obliged to take seriously the entire range of ethical considerations entertained by the Great Tradition.
Mr. Alvis further notes how remarkable it was that Kendall even allowed such influence to occur:
Having once begun this task of critical self-examination, Kendall followed wherever the argument led until he came to a position that was virtually a renunciation of his early thought. Such a drastic realignment in political fundamentals is a familiar enough phenomenon among younger disciples of Voegelin and Strauss. Their students learn to emulate their masters' respect for Plato, Aristotle, and the philosophers of antiquity in general. However, Kendall is, to my knowledge, the outstanding, and perhaps the only, example of a mature thinker established in his profession who undertook a thoroughgoing revision of his point of view as a result of his exposure to the efforts of Strauss and Voegelin to reform the discipline.
Those of us who'd begun the book with only the caricature view of the impossible to deal with Kendall and who believe along with John Jay Chapman, "Give a professor a false thesis in early life, and he will teach it till he dies. He has no way of correcting it"-must be particularly surprised by this open-mindedness and willingness to evolve his own views in light of his peers' theories.

If at this point we're ready to reconsider Kendall somewhat, it is the final section of the book that forces the matter. It consists of a pretty extensive, though sadly not complete, collection of the letters exchanged by Kendall and Strauss. The correspondence begins cautiously enough, in 1949, with Strauss requesting a few articles, but takes off in 1956, upon Strauss's writing to Kendall at National Review, where he worked for one of his old students and CIA recruits, William F. Buckley, Jr. Strauss complains about a recent essay on Israel that seems to have been at least anti-Zionist -- Strauss even says "anti-Jewish" -- and inconsistent with conservative principles: "A conservative, I take it, is a man who believes that 'everything good is heritage.' I know of no country today in which this belief is stronger and less lethargic than in Israel." Kendall not only responds with agreement and with grave doubts about his own willingness to stay at a magazine with which he's come to disagree, but proceeds to get Strauss's letter printed as an essay in National Review. There follows a fascinating and friendly, if sometimes infrequent, series of notes in which the two seemingly compete to be deferential and complimentary. An entire sequence of the letters frets over how the two should address one another and whether certain salutations are too familiar or, alternatively, too formal. Though there's less discussion of their respective views than one might have hoped, it nonetheless affords great pleasure to see the two men grope towards friendship and proselytize for each other--Strauss helping to get Kendall essays published in America and Kendall translating Strauss into Spanish and getting his works published in Europe. There's also discomfort, even poignancy, in letters that tiptoe around Kendall's employment difficulties and incidents involving alcohol. If nothing else, throughout the book but especially here, Kendall is transformed from a mere character to a man of complex character. Combined with the essays that demonstrate the continued relevance of his political philosophy to today's debates, the book makes one wish he were better known, especially on the Right, which owes him much.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Book-related and General Links:

   -ESSAY: Deep in the thought of Texas (Don Erler, February 13, 2003, Dallas Fort-Worth Star Telegram)
    -REVIEW: of Willmoore Kendall: Maverick of American Conservatives, John Alvis and John Murley, editors. (Steven Lenzner, Policy Review)     -The Willmoore Kendall Site
    -ARCHIVES : "willmoore kendall" (Find Articles)
    -ESSAY : The "deliberate sense" of Willimoore Kendall  (Jeffrey Hart, March 02, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY : The True American Tradition (Wesley Allen Riddle, Liberty Haven)
    -ESSAY : Conservatism in the US: 1976 to the Present (ROBERT HEINEMAN)
    -ESSAY : White House on wrong side of GAO suit (Mark Tapscott, February 2, 2002, Townhall)
    -ESSAY : Rewired Editor Tackles Teaching! (William F. Buckley Jr., December 1997, Yale Alumni Magazine)
    -ESSAY : Defining Conservatism Downward (Joe Sobran, January 3, 2002)
    -ESSAY : The Apotheosis of the Lie (Joe Sobran)
    -ESSAY : The Trouble With Enemies :Taking their beliefs seriously ishard. Condemning them even harder. (SAM TANENHAUS, October 19, 2001, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY : A Conservative Declaration (Michael Bordelon, Liberty Haven)
    -ESSAY : The Pied Pipers of Neoconservatism (John F. McManus, August 13, 2001, New American)
    -PROFILE : William F. Buckley Jr. : A friend of one of the country's leading conservatives looks at WFB's career as a writer and editor, his
public life and the time he spent as an undercover CIA agent.  (Chris Weinkopf, Sept. 3, 1999, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of  The Myth Of American Individualism: The Protestant Origins of American Political Thought. By Barry Alan Shain (Eugene D.
Genovese, First Things)

    -Leo Strauss Page (Clifford A. Bates, Jr)
    -ESSAY: Straussed out (Loren E. Lomasky, November 1998, Reason)
    -ESSAY: The Philosopher: The late Leo Strauss has emerged as the thinker of the moment in Washington, but his ideas remain mysterious. Was he an ardent opponent of tyranny, or an apologist for the abuse of power? (Jeet Heer, 5/11/2003, Boston Globe)
    -ESSAY: The ideological forebears of Washington's "neo-conservatives" (Stefan Steinberg, 26 March 2003, World Socialist Web Site)
    -REVIEW: of Leo Strauss and the American Right by Shadia B. Drury (James F. Ward, American Political Science Review)
   -REVIEW: of The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism: An Introduction to the Thought of Leo Strauss, edited by Thomas L. Pangle (Charles R. Kesler, Claremont: Writings)
    -REVIEW : of  Leo Strauss and the American Right by Shadia B. Drury (Loren E. Lomasky, Reason)
    -REVIEW : of  Leo Strauss and the American Right by Shadia B. Drury (James F. Ward, American Political Science Review)

   -ARCHIVES: Internet Sites that address Aristotle's Political Philosophy

   -CLASS NOTES: Stan Oakes's Notes from Leo Paul de Alvarez's Aristotle's Politics class Teachers