kendallIt is clear that Publius’s deliberative process, with its emphasis upon accommodation, harmony, and consensus, is antithetical to the conflict-oriented majoritarianism of the egalitarians. As a corollary proposition, it is essential to note that as a result of the supreme symbol of the deliberative process, the followers of Publius, with Willmoore Kendall as their guide, will resist those fundamental institutional changes demanded by the levelers. To illustrate, Publius and his political descendants are negative on the modern liberal conception of the presidency. In one of his classic pieces, Kendall reasoned that in American national politics we have “Two Majorities”: the presidential and the congressional.[94] The former majority, as noted, is rooted in the Lincolnian heresy, and is the focal point of liberal leveling, while the later majority is a product of the conservative tradition as expressed in The Federalist. Because of the size of the presidential constituency, and because of the presidency’s remoteness from local realities and concretes, presidential politics, Kendall argued, lends itself to a campaign style wedded to generalities and idealism. In contrast, members of Congress represent comparatively small constituencies, which forces them to deal with specifics, and to eschew the quixotism of presidential politics. Consistent with the emphasis upon the deliberative process solving specific case-by-case policy questions, the tradition of Publius considers the Congress as the pre-eminent branch. In Kendall’s words: “The plain language of the Constitution tells us unambiguously that Congress…is supreme, and just can’t help being supreme because the Constitution places in its hands weapons with which, when and if it chooses to use them, it can completely dominate the other two branches.”[95] Kendall reasoned that Congress, is “the very heart of the system,” and although it has the power to emasculate the other two branches, it restrains itself from doing so because of Publius’s “constitutional morality” with the emphasis on harmony and accommodation, and the rejection of harsh and brittle conceptions of Powers and Rights, which invariably play havoc with the development of sound social tissue.[96]

the federalistLikewise, Publius and his contemporary admirers will reject out of hand the liberal call for programmed political parties.[97] Liberal theoreticians have considered the “doctrine of responsible party government” as an indispensable institution to facilitate the realization of Equality through majoritarian mandates. In restructuring our two-party system, the liberal ideologists would create a “liberal” and “conservative” party. The new parties would be centralized and disciplined, and they would offer the electorate a clear-cut choice on matters of philosophy and policy. In liberal thinking, it is anticipated (erroneously, of course, in Kendall’s view) that when the American people are confronted with these dramatic choices, they will overwhelmingly pick those candidates favoring liberal egalitarianism.[98] Hence, under the “doctrine of responsible party government” one of our major parties would become the vehicle for harnessing and implementing liberal egalitarian mandates. In liberal thought, the current decentralized and “undisciplined” parties are “irresponsible” because they serve as institutional obstacles to the realization of liberal leveling. In drawing his nourishment from Publius, Kendall wrote, “Contemporary theories of party discipline and responsibility represent…the most comprehensive and systematic possible assault upon the Madisonian system [meaning, of course, the system of Publius].”[99] The concept of programmed political parties does violence to that supreme symbol of the deliberative process. With his emphasis on accommodation, harmony, and the promotion of consensus, Publius would be repelled by an institutional change whose admitted purpose is to create sharp cleavages and to pit the majority against the minority. To structure an institution for the avowed purpose of promoting division, and thereby deliberately tearing the social fabric, is the ultimate affront to Publius, and to his latter-day disciple, Willmoore Kendall.[100]

Nor would Kendall’s Publius be pleased with the assertive egalitarian role of the modern Supreme Court. Indeed, the modern activist Court has short-circuited the deliberative process and frequently acts in conscious opposition to it. [101] From Kendall’s vantage point, the modern liberal has perverted the doctrine of judicial review as articulated by Publius. Concerning judicial review, Publius wrote:

The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited Constitution. By a limited Constitution, I understand one which contains certain specified exceptions to the legislative authority; such, for instance, as that it shall pass no bills of attainder, no ex-post facto laws, and the like. Limitations of this kind can be preserved in practice no other way than through the medium of courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void.[102]

malletIt is clear from this quotation, and from a careful textual analysis of all of Federalist 78, that Publius intended the Court, in its capacity of exercising judicial review, to have a modest role of declaring void only those acts of Congress (for example, as Publius stated, bills of attainder and ex-post-facto laws) clearly “contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution.” Moreover, Publius expressly noted that the Court will have “neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment,” and “The courts must declare the sense of the law; and if they should be disposed to exercise WILL instead of JUDGMENT, the consequence would equally be the substitution of their pleasure to that of the legislative body.” Publius expressly warned on the need “to avoid an arbitrary discretion in the courts,” and he explained:

Nor does this conclusion by any means suppose a superiority of the judicial to the legislative power. It only supposes that the power of the people is superior to both; and that where the will of the legislature, declared in its statutes, stands in opposition to that of the people, declared in the Constitution [a product of ‘the deliberate sense of the community’], the judges ought to be governed by the latter rather than the former.[104]

In sum, Publius returns us to the touchstone of the supreme symbol—the deliberative process, and his position on judicial review can only be understood in that context. Unequivocally, no one can extract from The Federalist a conception of the role of the Supreme Court which would justify the egalitarian excursions and excesses of the modern Court, where in fact the Court has launched into areas manifestly beyond the scope envisioned by Publius, and where in fact “WILL” has been substituted for “JUDGMENT.”

The constitutional morality of The Federalist, resting on “the deliberate sense of the community,” would not sustain such harsh impositions of judicial “WILL” as the reapportionment decisions, which are based on the “arbitrary discretion in the courts” and are in clear defiance of “the deliberate sense of a virtuous people.”[105]


john lockeAs Kendall read The Federalist, the supreme symbols of the American tradition are “rule by the deliberate sense of a virtuous people.”[106] It will not suffice merely to have the deliberative process, for a process alone cannot guarantee a moral and just result. In order to ensure the integrity of policy decisions, it is essential that “virtue” be the basic component of a people employing the deliberative process. Commencing with John Locke and the Doctrine of Majority-Rule, Kendall expressed an enduring concern for the moral quality of society. Kendall lamented in John Locke and the Doctrine of Majority-Rule that “the capital weakness of Locke’s Second Treatise was Locke’s failure to address himself explicitly to the problem of how we are to ensure “rational and just” decisions by the majority.[107] Similarly, Kendall considered the principal defect of The Federalist to be its failure to explore this crucial problem of how to keep the people virtuous in order to guarantee the integrity and justice of those decisions made through the deliberative process.[108] In sum, if the public orthodoxy is lacking in virtue, the deliberative process cannot produce a virtuous result.

With profound relief, Kendall proclaimed that this “missing section” of The Federalist, a section dealing with how to keep the people virtuous, is provided in Richard Weaver’s final book, Visions of Order.[109] Kendall spared no superlative in his praise of this work. Visions of Order, he wrote, must be placed upon the shelf beside The Federalist, and as with The Federalist, it must have conferred on it “the political equivalent of biblical status.”[110] Moreover, Kendall firmly instructed, “Then go read—nay, live with—the book, until you have made its contents your own. It will prepare you, as no other book, not even The Federalist will prepare you, for your future encounters with the protagonists of the Liberal Revolution, above all by teaching you how to drive the debate to a deeper level than that on which our present spokesmen are engaging the Liberals.”[111] Kendall was a man who took his political philosophy seriously; consequently, when he praises a book as the summa—and he does that with Visions of Order—close analysis is in order. To understand this book is to understand Willmoore Kendall’s commitment as a political philosopher to the great tradition of the study of politics, to that search for the moral, the good, and the just in things political. Kendall is unequivocal: If men believed as Richard Weaver did, the people would indeed be virtuous, and the end product of the deliberative process would thereby itself be virtuous. Like Publius and Kendall, Weaver is anti-egalitarian, and this attitude pervades the entire book. Illustrative is the following insight offered by Weaver:

Democracy [that is, political equality] is not a pattern for all existence any more than a form of economic activity is a substitute for the whole of diving…. When democracy is taken from its proper place and is allowed to fill the entire horizon, it produces an envious hatred not only of all distinction but even of all difference…. The fanatical democrat insists upon making [men] equal in all departments, regardless of the type of activity and vocation. It is of course the essence of fanaticism to seize upon some fragment of truth or value and to regard it as the exclusive object of man’s striving. So democracy, a valuable but limited political concept, has been elevated by some into a creed as comprehensive as a religion or a philosophy, already at the cost of widespread subversion. [112]

visions of orderKendall would agree with Weaver that cultural quality involves more than the consulting of opinions and [the] counting of votes,” and he would concur that “[c]ulture is thus by nature aristocratic, for it is a means of discriminating between what counts for much and what counts for little….”[113]

In addition, Kendall and Weaver were one in agreeing that the canker of egalitarianism was traceable to the quest for the secular utopia. In Weaver’s words, the utopians are those who think that human nature and history can be laid aside” and that “equality must reign, ruat caelum!”[114] Utopians, Weaver cautioned, are forever “postulating an equalitarian natural man as the grand end of all endeavor.”[115] Finally, Weaver warned of the utopian visions “dreamed up by romantic enthusiasts, political fanatics, and unreflective acolytes of positive science.”[116]

When we turn to those alternatives Weaver offered to utopianism and egalitarianism, we see emerging those subtle, but profound themes which so attracted and fascinated Kendall. Weaver turned to the great tradition of politics, to those fundamental and enduring principles which he perceives as being rooted in the structure of being and reality. Pervasive in Weaver’s analysis was the classical concept from the great tradition of politics which instructs us that in establishing societies and honing out civilization, it is essential we maintain a sense of proportion, balance, harmony, and tone. “Function,” signifying change, and “status,” suggesting position, form, memory, tradition, and permanence, must be held in balance. Where function exists without status, there is generated a momentum of mindless change, which wrenches and undermines those qualitative things so indispensable to a society worthy of the name “civilized” or “virtuous.” Similarly, where status exists without function, there is the risk of stagnation and sterility, and thereby a fatal blow is struck against civilization, for it is deprived of those essential elements of dynamism and creativity.

Birth of Venus

Birth of Venus

Likewise, in Weaver’s analysis, it is imperative that an equilibrium is maintained between “dialectic” and “rhetoric.” Where dialectic denotes reason, the abstract, and dialogue—Socrates is a dialectician, rhetoric refers to a sense of the unspoken, the felt, the intuitive; and the organic. Dialectic alone will distort reality and magnify alleged virtues and vices, and it will lead to the arid world of the logician and geometer, while rhetoric in isolation will lead to excessive reliance upon the given and the mystical, and society loses the capacity to continually re-examine in a rational method its own basic premises. Similarly, there must be a proportioned relationship between “aesthetics” and “ethics.” Aesthetics refers to that sensitivity to created beauty, which without an ethical basis can degenerate into the banal and frivolous at best, and possibly into the sordid and debased. In contrast, ethics, suggesting a commitment to moral principles, without the balancing effect of aesthetics, is in danger of running aground upon the bleakness and harshness of puritanism, and consequently of erupting into fanaticism.

In addition to these themes reflecting the classical concern for proportion, balance, harmony, and tone, which contribute to the virtue of the populace, and thereby to the integrity of the deliberative process, Weaver added religion as the ultimate foundation for a virtuous society. With uncommon eloquence, Weaver wrote:

The Greeks could out-argue the Christians and the Romans could subject them to their government, but there was in Christianity an ethical respect for the person which triumphed over these formalizations. Neither the beauty of Greek culture nor the grandeur of the Roman state system was the complete answer to what people wanted in their lives as a whole….

But the road away from idolatry remains the same as before; it lies in respect for the struggling dignity of man and for his orientation toward something higher than himself which he has not created.[117]

In full accord with Weaver, Kendall (through George W. Carey) in the final paragraph of his last book stated:

The false myths produce the fanatics amongst us. They are misrepresentations and distortions of the American political tradition and its basic symbols which are, let us remind you, the representative assembly deliberating under God; the virtuous people virtuous because deeply religious and thus committed to the process of searching for the transcendent Truth. And these are, we believe, symbols we can be proud of without going before a fall.[118]

At another point, in this his major and final work, Kendall asked:

What is to keep the virtuous people virtuous? The question is as old as Greek philosophy, and Greek philosophy offered, on one level at least, the decisive answer: The people will be virtuous only to the extent that the souls of its individual components are rightly ordered…. [119]

godKendall cautioned against the error “of forgetting that the truth of the soul and the truth of society are transcendent truths, and that the function of the symbols is to express the relations between political society and God.”[120] Failure to understand that basic proposition “represents a very fundamental derailment [of the American political tradition] and the most dangerous one.”[121]

The religious dimension is the ultimate guarantee of a virtuous people, for in Kendall’s words:

But where the public orthodoxy is guaranteed by transcendence, by the Word of God, then the truths of the soul and of society, the first principles of the politeia and of metaphysics (that is, the very being of both), are theoretically guaranteed. Beyond this guarantee, which can be had only as a gift and as a blessing, there is no other for any human society born upon this earth.[122]

signing of the declarationIn Kendall’s view, as noted, the tradition of modern American utopianism commenced by wrenching the equality symbol from the Declaration of Independence and perverting that symbol into an instrument for constructing the egalitarian New Jerusalem. This tradition is secular in its philosophical foundations. It has no conception of “sin,” “evil,” and “tragedy,” nor does it concede the imperfectability of the human condition; rather, it argues that human nature is wholly malleable and that the perfected good life is attainable through institutional and environmental manipulation. Driven on by this mind’s eye view of the perfected egalitarian utopia, this tradition becomes restive, anxious, and on occasion fanatical, when society seems impervious and indifferent to its hortatory, and when its Tower of Babel begins to reveal cracks and imperfections. When confronted with the failure to obtain instantly the worldly City of Man, instead of reappraising the soundness of their secularism and their view of the nature of man, the exponents of the utopian tradition double their efforts and attribute their continued failures to the ignorance of the populace (“more education is needed”), to the sinister machinations of reactionaries and recalcitrants (“greater political organization and effort is needed”), and to the general failure of society to appreciate the clarity of insight and vision of egalitarian utopianism.

From Kendall’s perspective, the tradition of Publius, as enhanced by Weaver, draws its nourishment from strikingly different roots. As opposed to the secularism of the egalitarian utopians, this tradition is undeniably religious in temper. Unlike the secularist, the follower of this tradition is impressed (indeed, awed) with the wonder of creation and the mystery of being. He appreciates the relevance of such concepts as “original sin,” “evil” and the “tragic sense of life.” With St. Augustine, he understands that “pride” is the ineradicable canker contributing to the imperfectability of the human condition in this earthly sojourn. He loves and reveres man as the creature and child of God, yet he has no illusions about the erection of a worldly utopia, for basic human nature precludes it—Man is not God, and the infinite complexity of life, thought; and matter—the handiwork of God—will not yield to the iron cast molds of uniformity—the handiwork of man—which the egalitarians seek to impose.

surrender at yorktownMoreover, by inoculating against utopianism, this religious temper produces a continuing political mood of moderation, restraint, conciliation, civility, and thereby contributes immeasurably to the deliberative process, and the pursuit of consensus, which are, according to Kendall, the foundation materials of the American political tradition. Where, in its zeal to create now the Worldly Paradise, the secular egalitarian tradition sometimes sees its petulance and impatience erupt into a shrill fanaticism, the other tradition—the tradition of Publius and Weaver, by rejecting the reconstruction of society from wholly new cloth, holds steady on course with confidence in the capacity of society for self-government through “the deliberate sense of the community,” which community is composed of a “virtuous people”—a people virtuous because religious.

The conservatism of Willmoore Kendall is grounded in the deliberative process, as expounded by Publius in The Federalist, and in that concept of a “virtuous people,” as articulated by Richard Weaver in Visions of Order. It is wide of the mark to conceive of Kendall’s conservatism in terms of the conventional contemporary labels: “Traditionalist,” “Libertarian,” or whatever. His conservatism is an American conservatism, and more significantly, Kendall contends it is the American political tradition. From Kendall’s vantage point, it is the egalitarian utopians, whether they travel under the name of liberal or radical, who are the “outsiders”; it is they who are waging war against the tradition of Publius and the values of Weaver in order to subvert the American tradition to the man-made idol of Equality.

In Conclusion

readThe lasting significance of Kendall lies not in whether one accepts or rejects his revisionist theories; that would cast the issue in too narrow of a mold. Indeed, in view of Kendall’s own methods as a political philosopher, he would expect—demand—that his theories be carefully examined and tested. Rather, Kendall’s basic contribution is in demonstrating the technique of critical analysis: that desire to read, and read carefully, to question, to rethink, and to challenge. We are to read the ancients and the moderns; in fact, we are to pour over them. We are to try to understand them as they understood themselves; then we are to evaluate critically their major premises. No one is too sacred to escape examination and challenge: not even Mill, Publius, Locke, and Socrates. This emphasis upon careful textual analysis, upon critical evaluation of method and value, is the enduring contribution of Willmoore Kendall, and it is a needed antidote to a profession which in our time too often seems to have succumbed to the narrowness of positivism and the dogmatism of ideology.

This essay is the fourth in a four-part series; the first may be found here, the second here, and the third hereBooks on the topic of this essay may be purchased from The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Republished with gracious permission from The Political Science Reviewer (Fall 1973).


[94] Nellie D. Kendall, ed., Willmoore Kendall Contra Mundum (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1971), pp. 202-227.

[95] Kendall and Carey, The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition, p. 139.

[96] Nellie D. Kendall, ed., op. cit., p. 465; Kendall and Carey, The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition, pp. 140-142.

Some may contend that the liberal is changing his position on the utility and virtue of a powerful, assertive presidency, and thereby has upended Kendall’s thesis. More time and evidence will be needed before any firm conclusions can be made; however, I suspect Kendall’s thesis will remain intact. The test will come with the election of the next liberal President. If that occurs, it is difficult to imagine liberals not reverting to their traditional commitment to a powerful presidency. I would attribute their current wavering on that commitment as primarily a passing liberal reaction to the “conservative” Nixon Administration. In any case, while it lasts, it is amusing to observe the liberal, who has lauded the emergence of the powerful, modern presidency from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson through Lyndon Johnson, now lecture the nation on the virtues of the classical doctrine of separation of powers.

[97] See Austin Ranney and Willmoore Kendall, Democracy and the American Party System (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, Inc., 1956), pp. 514-533.

[98] Because of the commitment to the spirit of Publius, Kendall stated there are “no raging seas” of egalitarianism in the American experience “to hold back.” Nellie D. Kendall, ed., op. cit., pp. 108, 600.

[99] Kendall and Carey, eds., Liberalism Versus Conservatismp. 400.

[100] Ranney and Kendall, op. cit., passim.

[101] On the surface, it might appear that liberal support of an activist, elitist Court is inconsistent with liberal commitment to mass public majoritarianism; however, the inconsistency is only apparent, not real, for there is the liberal assumption the Court will determine in its superior wisdom that which is best for the majority. True, that is not the same thing as traditionally conceived majority rule; nevertheless, it is close enough for the liberal mind when it is remembered, as Kendall contended, the ultimate liberal value is Equality, and as long as the Court serves that end it will be excused from breaches of lesser corollaries of liberal ideology, such as purist notions of public majoritarianism.

[102] From Federalist 78. Italics added.

[1o3] Ibid.

[104] Ibid.

[105] Kendall and Carey, The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition, p. 105.

[106] Ibid.

[107] Willmoore Kendall, John Locke and the Doctrine of Majority-Rule, p. 135.

[108] Nellie D. Kendall, ed., op. cit., pp. 399-400.

[109] Richard M. Weaver, Visions of Order (Baton Rouge, LA.: Louisiana State University Press, 1964). For Kendall’s discussion of Weaver, see Nellie D. Kendall, ed., op. cit., pp. 386-402.

[110] Nellie D. Kendall, ed., op. cit., p. 393.

[111] Ibid., pp. 400-401.

[112] Weaver, op. cit., pp. 14-15.

[113] Ibid., pp. 14, 12.

[114] Ibid., pp. 105, 130.

[115] Ibid., p. 131. For a witty illustration of Kendall’s anti-utopianism, see Nellie D. Kendall, ed., op. cit., pp. 625-626.

[116] Weaver, op. cit., p. 115.

[117] Ibid., pp. 88, 91.

[118] Kendall and Carey, The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition, p. 154.

[119] Ibid., p. 58.

[120] Ibid., pp. 144-145.

[121] Ibid., p. 145.

[122] Wilhelmsen and Kendall, op. cit., p. 100.

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