The Enduring Importance of Willmoore Kendall
Once upon a time in America, conservatives celebrated Congress as the last best hope to preserve the authentic traditions of republican government. As recently as the 1960s, it was “conservative” to look to the first branch of government as the indispensable bulwark against the Imperial Presidency, Supreme Court activism, plebiscitary democracy, and federal social engineering programs. As long as the American people also looked to Congress to play this defensive role, the political system would remain intact.
No postwar conservative was more optimistically wedded to this perspective than Willmoore Kendall (1909-1967). Kendall, a defender of majority-rule (with some qualifications), particularly stood out among conservatives of his time as a fervent believer in the good sense of his fellow Americans to elect the “best men” to office. Americans were at least capable of being the “virtuous people,” who would insist that Congress preserve the traditions of the Founding. The principal evidence to which Kendall referred here was The Federalist, a text that he treated as political scripture for Americans. Kendall insisted that the Federalist provides the best possible interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. In his 1965 essay, “How to read ‘The Federalist,’” (which can be conveniently found along with his other major political essays in Willmoore Kendall Contra Mundum, edited by Nellie D. Kendall, University Press, 1994), Kendall explained why this great work of political philosophy laid out what conservatives ought to be busy conserving: a particularly aristocratic version of majority-rule. “Publius,” the famed pseudonymous author of The Federalist, teaches