Willmoore Kendall

Willmoore Kendall was one of the great political scientists of the postwar era, and has been back on our minds lately for a number of reasons. As a heterodox champion of Joe McCarthy in the 1950s, a critic of the place of John Locke in American political thought, and a defender of majoritarian deliberation, his provocative ideas are making a comeback in the age of nationalist populism.

Kendall died at the too early age of 58 way back in 1967, following a brilliant if somewhat erratic and always controversial academic career. In addition to his scholarship, he worked as a journalist in Spain during the civil war in the 1930s (this is where he acquired his anti-communism), a CIA spy, and even wrote a book about baseball, as well as helping to found National Review magazine in 1955.

At the time of his death, Kendall left behind an unfinished book that touched off a controversy that is still raging today, entitled The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition. The greatest critic of that book was Harry Jaffa, who took hard after the book when it appeared posthumously in the early 1970s. (Ed Erler offers a reprise of Jaffa’s argument here.)  Yet Jaffa and Kendall were warm friends. They used to have long telephone conversations in the middle of the night—that was back when long-distance rates were very expensive up until 11 pm. I’ve several recordings of Jaffa in the early 1970s referring to Kendall as “my good friend,” and as “the greatest teacher of political philosophy of his generation.”

There’s a brand-new edition of one of Kendall’s key books, The Conservative Affirmation, edited and introduced by Dan McCarthy, currently the editor of Modern Age, and a well-known, self-identified “paleo-conservative.” What’s a paleo-conservative, you ask? Stan Evans joked that a Paleo-conservative is “a conservative who has been mugged by a neoconservative,” and I’ll go with that.

We wander the whole waterfront beyond Kendall in our recent conversation. Settle in for a fun time.

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