In his analysis of the Socrates of the Apology, Willmoore Kendall was hinting strongly at the probability that the contemporary John Stuart Mill-Karl Popper school in the United States is using the argument of the purist open society as an instrument or weapon to unhinge the existing orthodoxy, not for the alleged purpose of then ushering  in the wholly limitless open society, but rather, after having dislodged the existing politeia of American society, the dissidents will institute their own orthodoxy, which is antithetical on fundamental points to basic values of the American tradition.[60] In brief, as viewed by Kendall, there are in contemporary America two fundamentally different orthodoxies, one liberal and one conservative, competing for dominance.[61] The contemporary liberal orthodoxy traces its history to Abraham Lincoln’s heretical position on the Declaration of Independence, while the meaning and spirit of the conservative orthodoxy is expressed in The Federalist, which document Kendall considered the finest expression of the essence of the American political tradition.Kendall asserted that the fundamental and distinguishing mark of the modern American liberal is his ardent desire for an egalitarian society.[62] This liberal genre seeks not merely a society based upon political equality, but in addition, this “commitment to equality means that government should assume the role of advancing equality by pursuing policies designed to make ‘all men equal’ socially, economically, and politically,” and Kendall concluded, “There is, then, so far as one can learn, no reasonably definite stopping point for liberal egalitarianism...“[63] It was Kendall’s position that Lincoln wrenched the equality clause—”all men are created equal”—from the Declaration of Independence and gave it this egalitarian meaning, which has been seized upon by the contemporary liberal. This symbol of equality, argued Kendall, was not that intended by the drafters of the Declaration. Kendall elaborated:

What does it [i.e., the equality clause] mean? Our best guess is that the clause simply asserts the proposition that all peoples who identify themselves as one—that is, those who identify themselves as a society, nation, or state for action in history—are equal to others who have likewise identified themselves… The Declaration asserts that Americans are equal to, say, the British and French…. Specifically, the drafters of the Declaration are maintaining that the Americans are equal to the British and are, therefore, as free as the British to establish a form of government [of their own choosing].[64] 

In Kendall’s interpretation, the equality symbol of the authors of the Declaration is an equality-of-societies symbol employed for the purpose of justifying separation by the American colonies. The Lincolnian heresy lies in “internalizing” the symbol, and thereby perverting it into a symbol for domestic egalitarianism and leveling.[65]

Moreover, argued Kendall, the legacy of the Lincolnian heresy gives birth to the modern liberal concept that it is the responsibility of the central national government to promote leveling, and in particular, it is the solemn duty of the President to lead the attack. It is a succession of strong Presidents, each looking more deeply into the ultimate meaning of an American tradition rooted in leveling, which will launch the nation on a continuing series of missions.[66] These missions will entail marshaling majoritarian mandates for the long-term purpose of bringing us finally to the perfected egalitarian society. Those opposing the egalitarian New Jerusalem will have to be labeled for what they are—selfish recalcitrants and obstructionists, and with the unrelenting pressure of exposure and “education” their resistance can be overcome.

An integral part of liberal egalitarianism is unshakable confidence in majoritarianism. Majoritarianism is integral to a leveling philosophy, for it itself is rooted in the concept of political equality—one-man, one-vote. As Kendall viewed it, in modern liberal hands an additional corollary has been added to the majoritarian concept which demands the abolition of all obstacles to the instant expression of the majority will. In specific terms of the American experience, this means the elimination of the seniority system, the filibuster, staggered elections, the amending process, non-programmed political parties, and in general, anything that inhibits instant expression of majority preferences.[67] In fine, liberal ideology seeks to establish a system based upon plebiscitary mandates, and it is a cardinal tenet of liberal ideology that if the majority will can be unshackled, it will vote in an egalitarian society. Thus, in Kendall’s analysis, all liberal thinking ultimately returns to the touchstone of leveling.[68]

Kendall concluded in 1966 he was “dead wrong” in his 1941 conclusion in John Locke and The Doctrine of Majority-Rule that the Framers were concerned about inalienable, abstract, natural rights.[69] It is in Kendall’s analysis of the political thinking of the Framers of the American Constitution that we find his final articulation of the meaning of American conservatism. His last and major work, The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition, which he co-authored with his close friend, George W. Carey, is the single best expression we have of Kendall’s ideas on the Framers. In reading all of Kendall’s works, it is clear that this book is the culmination of years of reading, reflection, and thought.

Kendall argued that it is not in abstract, natural rights wrenched out of the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights in which one finds the core of American political thought as envisioned by the Framers; rather, it is to the Preamble and The Federalist that one must look. From Kendall’s perspective, the Preamble is the “finest statement of purpose” of the American experiment.[70] Instead of speaking of Rights, Equality, Power, and Demands, the Preamble speaks of union, justice, tranquillity, the common defense, the general welfare, and the blessings of liberty.[71] As Publius said of the Preamble in The Federalist: “Here is a better recognition of popular rights, than volumes of those aphorisms which make the principal figure in several of our State bills of rights, and which would sound much better in a treatise of ethics than in a constitution of government.”[72]

How are the goals of the Preamble to be achieved? As Kendall analyzed the intention of the Framers, they are to be attained by self-government. In the eloquent words of Publius: “The fabric of American empire ought to rest on the solid basis of THE CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE. The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that pure, original fountain of all legitimate authority.”[73] Or, as Publius reminded us in another context, it is essential to remember “that honorable determination which animates every votary of freedom, to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.“[74] Taking his cue from Publius, Kendall wrote in the year of his death: “[W]hat I do take sides on is the thesis of the Federalist Papers, namely: That America’s mission in the world is to prove to the world that self-government—that is, government by the people through a representative assembly which, by definition, calls the plays—is possible.”[75]

It is then from careful textual analysis of The Federalist, that Kendall extracted the basic symbols of the American political tradition, which over and against contemporary liberalism, is the conservative tradition, and the principal competitor of the modern liberal orthodoxy. As indicated, the goals are symbolized  in the Preamble, and are to be achieved through self-government. The supreme symbol that Kendall extracted out of The Federalist is that showing in what manner we are to achieve self-rule. As Kendall read Publius, self-government is to be achieved by “the deliberate sense of a virtuous people.”[76] Publius spoke of “the cool and deliberate sense of the community,” of the importance of “reflection and choice,” and of the “fullest and most mature deliberation.”[77]

It is then the deliberative process which is the supreme symbol of The Federalist. The end product of the deliberative process is consensus on how best to deal with concrete problems at specific points in history in order to achieve, in the words of Publius, “the safety and happiness of society [which] are the objects at which all political institutions aim….”[78]

In achieving consensus on how to maintain “the safety and happiness of society” through the deliberative process, Publius deplores utopian visions rooted in such doctrinaire abstractions as Rights, Equality, and Mandates. In eschewing utopian schemes, Publius cautioned:

Have we not already seen enough of the fallacy and extravagance of those idle theories which have amused us with promises of an exemption from the imperfections, weaknesses, and evils incident to society in every shape? Is it not time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age and to adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct that we, as well as the other inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue?

Where is the standard of perfection to be found? Who will undertake to unite the discordant opinions of a whole community, in the same judgment of it; and to prevail upon one conceited projector to renounce his infallible criterion for the fallible criterion of his more conceited neighbor?

I never expect to see a perfect work from imperfect man. The result of the deliberations of all collective bodies must necessarily be a compound, as well of the errors and prejudices, as of the good sense and wisdom, of the individuals of whom they are composed… [A] common bond of amity and union, must as necessarily be a compromise of as many dissimilar interests and inclinations. How can perfection spring from such materials?[79]

According to Kendall, the very pen name of Publius is a product of the deliberative process. Kendall considered the controversy concerning who wrote which Federalist paper a “red herring,” and it demonstrated that modern scholarship had missed the point of The Federalist, for the significant point is that Hamilton, Madison, and Jay were not seeking to force their pet theories of government on one another, and on the country as a whole; rather, they were attempting to achieve a consensus of viewpoints through the deliberative process which would contribute to “the safety and happiness of society.”[80] In brief, they were creating the supreme symbol of the American political tradition.

Kendall noted that the deliberative process, as developed by Publius, is characterized by discussion, not debate. The latter conjures up visions of Rights, Demands, Mandates, and winning or losing, while discussion connotes, in Kendall’s words, “a cooperative quest for common premises from which discourse can begin, and…a cooperative striving not for triumph over an opponent, but for truth.”[81] In the tradition of Publius, Kendall concluded:

I do not like debates—if by a debate we mean the confrontation of two diametrically opposed positions, the trading and parrying of argument and the chalking up of points, in the fashion in which prize-fighters trade and parry blows and chalk up points. I strongly believe that such debates merely confuse issues, that their prevalence in our time is a frightening symptom of a world-wide breakdown of the discussion process, and most important of all, that our only hope lies in rediscovering the art and ethic of discussion as distinguished from debate.[82]

Kendall contended that Publius preferred discussion over elections, for the same reasons he preferred it over debate. Elections, which unfortunately have become “the central ritual of American politics,” elicit visions of bitter debates, confrontations between squared-off political antagonists, winners and losers, not-to-be-denied mandates, and the heavy-hand of abstract majoritarianism.[83] In contrast, discussion suggests deliberation, accommodation, moderation, harmony, consensus, and the long-term pursuit of those elusive first principles essential to the well-ordered society.

In seeking consensus through the deliberative process, Publius does not lust after unanimity, because in his words, “To have required the unanimous ratification of the thirteen States, would have subjected the essential interests of the whole to the caprice or corruption of a single member. It would have marked a want of foresight in the convention, which our own experience would  have rendered inexcusable.”[84] In addition, Publius added, “And the history of every political establishment in which this principle [of unanimity] has prevailed, is a history of impotence, perplexity, and disorder.”[85] Hence, unanimity is rejected as unattainable, impractical, unworkable, and in a word—utopian.

Similarly, in Kendall’s interpretation, Publius rejected majoritarianism as antithetical to the deliberative process. In contrast to the deliberative process, which fosters discussion, accommodation, and consensus, the philosophy of majoritarianism demands a losing minority. This minority has lost the “debate” and the “election;” now it must submit to the “mandate” of “majority rule.” Such theories do violence to the deliberative process as conceived by Publius. “Pockets of irredentism” will arise if the majority forces its mandate upon the minority. That is, if the minority is intensely opposed to the mandate, it will dig in its heels, and it will dream of reclaiming its lost cause. In the political theories of Publius and Kendall, this undermines the well-ordered commonwealth, for it contributes to the ripping and tearing of the social fabric. The deliberative process prevents “pockets of irredentism” from forming by stressing at every stage of discussion the importance of adjustment, accommodation, assimilation, and consensus.[86]

Moreover, as interpreted by Kendall, Publius opposed majoritarianism because it is abstract and inflexible; therefore, it has no theoretical capacity to deal with the real and fluid problems of “intensity.” Under traditional majoritarian theory, there is an assumed uniformity of commitment on the part of the majority and the minority; there is a presumed equality of conviction. But often, the real world of majority-minority relations is otherwise: In a given situation, the majority may not feel intensely committed to its position, whereas the minority may feel quite intent—or the reverse could be true. In any case, as traditionally conceived, majoritarian theory has no capacity for accommodating that kind of situation; it can only add up raw figures to fifty per cent plus one, and then enforce its mandate. As a consequence, majoritarianism can think only in one-dimensional, quantitative terms, while the real world of majority-minority relations must deal with the multifaceted problems presented by the intensity factor. Only the deliberative process, with its suppleness and flexibility, can accommodate and ameliorate the intensity problem, and thereby avoid pockets of irredentism, which those persons, along with Publius, committed to the well-ordered society wish to avoid.[87]

As the deliberative process of Publius eschews unanimity and majoritarianism, it also rejects minoritarianism. Specifically, minorities flaunting Rights and Demands are not allowed to badger and coerce society as a whole. If the majority cannot run roughshod over the minority (and in Publius’s view it cannot), certainly the reverse is not tolerable either. The minority can expect a sympathetic and reasonable hearing for its position, but that having been achieved, it can not go on ad nauseam in an attempt to intimidate society into submission through obnoxious and offensive methods. Minoritarian coercion, similar to majoritarianism and resulting irredentism, will tear the social tissue by putting men at each other’s throats, and such a condition is antithetical to the theoretical underpinnings of Publius’s consensus-seeking deliberative process. Kendall stated concisely Publius’s position:

What I do take sides on is government by consensus, which, I repeat, requires of minorities demanding drastic change that they bide their time until they have pleaded their case successfully before the bar of public—not merely majority—opinion…. They must…cool their heels in the ante-room of our basic law until they are admitted to the inner sanctum by a consensus.[88]

In Kendall’s analysis, the differences between the American liberal and conservative orthodoxies (let it be remembered that every society has a matrix of values called an “orthodoxy”) are fundamental. The conservative orthodoxy, rooted in The Federalist, is predicated on the notion that the American people will seek their “safety and happiness” through self-government, which means, in the eyes of Publius, consensus achieved through the deliberative process. In contrast, the liberal orthodoxy, anchored in the Lincolnian distortion of the Declaration of Independence, seeks egalitarianism and leveling through mobilized majoritarian mandates. Publius, said Kendall, had nothing to do with Equality as the final end of political society. Indeed, Publius nowhere even suggested (the Preamble would have been a fitting place to do so), let alone demanded, that leveling be the ultimate political value. Publius and American conservatives even reject the concept of “equality of opportunity.” Why this rejection? In Kendall’s inimitable style:

The equality of opportunity goal, they would say, is unrealistic, impossible to achieve, utopian—and because utopian, dangerous. In order to equalize opportunity in any meaningful way you have, first of all—as clearheaded political philosophers have always seen—to neutralize that great carrier and perpetuator of unequal opportunity, the family, and you can do that, really do it, only by abolishing the family, which we will not let you do because that would be wrong.[89]

To those nurtured in the tradition of Publius, equality means “leaving people free to equalize their own  opportunities to the extent that they have the ability, the energy, and the determination to do it.”[90]

Similarly, the tradition of Publius rejects the egalitarian implications of the liberal’s “open-society” interpretation of the Bill of Rights, and in particular of the First Amendment. As previously noted, Kendall took issue with the Mill-Popper school, which contends for the equality of ideas, and thus lays the basic theoretical foundation for the unlimited “open society.” That strain of thought need not be re-examined; however, what is worthy of emphasis at this juncture is that Kendall pointed out that Publius never proposed or intended for the Bill of Rights to be interpreted and applied as the contemporary liberal orthodoxy has done. In fine, Publius never intended the Bill of Rights to serve as an egalitarian springboard for the proponents of the “open society.” Kendall (in collaboration with George W. Carey) concluded, “We can only conclude as follows concerning the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment: Their adoption did not alter the mainstream of the American tradition which, as the Preamble and The Federalist would have it, comes down to rule by the deliberate sense of the community.”[91] What did Publius intend by the First Amendment? He intended, argued Kendall, to give each state within its jurisdiction a monopoly on regulating matters encompassed within the Amendment.[92] That is, Publius never intended for the Supreme Court to impose a national standard on all of the states, and he certainly would be shocked to see that development as it has unfolded in this century. More importantly, Kendall reasoned, the whole thrust of the Madisonian argument for the Bill of Rights was to “bring aboard the Masonite irredentist.”[93] This goes to the supreme symbol of The Federalist—the symbol of the deliberative process. Madison meant that if the Masonites felt strongly on the importance of the Bill of Rights—strong enough to create a pocket of irredentism—then Madison, in the spirit of Publius, argued for accommodation. In sum, Madison never intended by the addition of a Bill of Rights to supersede “the deliberate sense of the community;” rather, he meant to support it by accommodating a minority, and modern liberalism, by wrenching the Bill of Rights out of context and bringing it into the service of egalitarianism, has again weakened the supreme symbol—the deliberative process—of the American political tradition.

This essay is the third of a four-part series; the first may be found here and the second here. It is republished with gracious permission from Political Science Reviewer (Fall 1973).

The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.


[60] Frederick D. Wilhelmsen and Willmoore  Kendall, “Cicero and The Politics of The Public Orthodoxy,” The Intercollegiate Review, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Winter, 1968-69), p.98.

[61] Willmoore Kendall and George W. Carey, The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition (Baton Rouge, L.A.: Louisiana State University Press, 1970), pp.94-95.

[62] Willmoore Kendall and George W. Carey, eds., Liberalism Versus Conservatism (Princeton, N.J.: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1966), pp.66-74.

[63] Kendall and Carey, The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition, p.94; Kendall and Carey, eds., Liberalism Versus Conservativism, p.68.

[64] Kendall and Carey, The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition,  p.155.

[65] Ibid., p.156.

[66] Kendall’s favorite example of this liberal position on the presidency was Clinton Rossiter’s The American Presidency (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., 1956). See his review of this work in Willmoore Kendall, The Conservative Affirmation (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1963), p.159.

[67] Kendall and Carey, eds., Liberalism Versus Conservativism, p.69.

[68] Kendall said that the original and classic expression of twentieth-century liberal majoritarianism is J. Allen Smith’s The Spirit of American Government (Cambridge, M.A.: Harvard University Press, 1965), which was first published in 1912. Kendall found latter-day expressions of liberal majoritarianism in such writers as: James MacGregor Burns, The Deadlock of Democracy: Four Party Politics in America (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1967); Currin Shields, Democracy and Catholicism in America (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1958); and David Spitz, Democracy and the Challenge to Power (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958). For Kendall’s reviews of the latter two works, see Willmoore Kendall, The Conservative Affirmation, pp.149, 143. For Kendall’s review of Burns’s work, see Nellie D. Kendall, ed., op. cit., p.282.

[69] Nellie D. Kendall, ed., op. cit., p.426.

[70] Kendall and Carey, The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition, p.99. Also see Nellie D. Kendall, ed., op. cit., p.311.

[71] Nellie D. Kendall, ed., op. cit., pp.370-371.

[72] From Federalist 84.

[73] From Federalist 22.

[74] From Federalist 39.

[75] Nellie D. Kendall, ed., op. cit., p.468.

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

[77] From Federalist 63, 1,  37.

[78] From Federalist 43.

[79] From Federalist 6, 65, 85. In the second citation, italics in the original; in the third citation, italics added.

[80] Nellie D. Kendall, ed., op. cit., pp.408-411.

[81] Willmoore Kendall and Mulford Q. Sibley, War and the Use of Force (Cambridge, M.A.: Andover-Harvard Library, 1959), p.5.

[82] Ibid.

[83] For representative statements of Kendall’s attitude on elections, see Nellie D. Kendall, ed., op. cit., p.221, n.40; p.225.

[84] From Federalist 43.

[85] From Federalist 75.

[86] For Kendall’s position on irredentism, see Nellie D. Kendall, ed., ob. cit., pp.369, 374, 388, n.7; p.502.

[87] For Kendall’s analysis of the intensity problem, see Ibid., pp.469-506.

[88] Ibid., pp.468, 379.

[89] Ibid., p.579.

[9o] Ibid., p.580.

[91] Kendall and Carey, The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition, p.136. For evidence from The Federalist supporting this conclusion, see Federalist 25 (in  particular, concluding two paragraphs), 26, 84.

[92] Nellie D. Kendall, ed., op. cit., pp.297, 323.

[93] Ibid., p.374.

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