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Willmoore Kendall and the Deliberate Sense of the Community

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The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition by Willmoore
Kendall and George Carey (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic
University of America Press, 1995).

The Conservative Affirmation by Willmoore Kendall (Chicago:
Henry Regnery Company, 1963).

John Locke and the Doctrine of Majority-Rule by Willmoore
Kendall (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1965).

Despite Willmoore Kendall's (1909–1967) status as a leading
figure in the early conservative movement and a preeminent
political theorist, his work has fallen into relative obscurity. This
neglect is attributable in part to the nature of his scholarly output.
The bulk of Kendall's production consists of essays and reviews.
Apart from John Locke and the Doctrine of Majority Rule,1
Kendall's only book-length projects were The Conservative Affirmation2
(itself a collection of thematically related essays) and The
Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition,3 adapted from
a series of his lectures, co-authored with George Carey and
published posthumously. Kendall also served as a founding editor
of National Review, to which he contributed many essays. In
addition, he was an enthusiastic writer of letters, an activity that
consumed a great deal of his time.4

Additionally, Kendall's thought is not easily categorized and
does not sit comfortably at home even among his fellow conservatives.
Kendall rejected free-market absolutism, the Tory traditionalism
of Russell Kirk, and those who he found to be excessively
apprehensive of the state. Unlike conservatives of a more
pessimistic or aristocratic bent, Kendall at heart was steadfastly
optimistic about the basic virtue of the American people and their
capacity for self-government. This confidence stayed with Kendall
as his scholarly investigations took him from left to right, and
from the value-neutral constructions of modern political science
to a political philosophy grounded in classical conceptions of
justice and morality.

Central to Kendall's writings throughout his career was his
suspicion of institutional arrangements that place governmental
decision-making regarding the rights of individuals outside of the
power of majorities to mediate and regulate. This can be seen in
Kendall's first major work, John Locke and the Doctrine of Majority
Rule,5 which was immediately recognized as an important reassessment
of Locke's thought and secured Kendall's reputation as
a leading political theorist.

In John Locke Kendall seeks to address what he sees as the
inadequacies of the current state of scholarship on the issue of
majority rule, which Kendall sees as "the central problem in
modern politics and of modern political theory.""6 He intends to
study the problem through a ""series of monographs"" focusing on
the development of thought on majority rule, of which John Locke
is the first (regrettably, it was also to be the last).

Despite the centrality of the problem of majority-rule to
political theory, it is has been heretofore dealt with only peripherally,
Kendall argues. One reason for this is that, ""since 1789 (or
thereabouts),"" theorists did not deal with political and economic
questions as separate concepts, identifying democracy ""now with
capitalism and now with socialism, and men unhesitatingly take it
for granted that majority-rule is merely another expression for the
economic emancipation of the poor.""7 Another is the historical
determinism of thinkers such as Marx, Hegel, and Spengler and
their followers, who posit the inevitability of political and social
developments. In doing so, they ""reduce the issue at stake
between the defenders and opponents of majority-rule to a mere
triviality.""8 Yet another obstacle to the theoretical treatment of
majority rule is those who believe in the possibility of discovering
immutable and just laws (or Law), for whom the discovery and
enactment of such laws, rather than question of rule by majorities
versus minorities, being of central concern. This idea runs from
Plato and Aristotle through the natural-law theorists of the
Middle Ages to modern constitutionalists.

Finally, confusion regarding key terms and concepts poses an
obstacle to effective study of the issue. ""Although 'majority-rule,'
'principle of majority-rule,' 'majority principle,' etc. have for a
long time been familiar to students of politics and sociology, no
attempt has been made to define them with scientific precision.""9
Thus, writers who employ those phrases may be describing ""(a)
the rule by which . . . organized bodies are committed to decisions
by majority-vote, (b) the theory according to which political
power should be vested in the numerical majority of the 'people,'
[or] (c) the form of government by which the defenders of (b)
would like to see adopted wherever it does not yet exist, and
continued wherever it does exist."" Kendall seeks to add clarity to
the subject by defining terms such as ""doctrine of majority-rule""
and ""the majority principle,"" and by investigating the relationships
between these and other associated concepts.

Kendall offers the following definitions: ""majority principle""
describes the rule by which majorities exercise power in a given
group. ""Majority-rule"" is the state of affairs that prevails when a
the majority principle holds sway in a political society, and the
""doctrine of majority-rule"" a theory regarding the normative
status of such a state of affairs. And the apologists for the doctrine
of majority rule are ""majority-rule democrats.""

Majority-rule democrats are not only proponents of the
majority-principle's application to political society, they also
necessarily advocate ""formal political equality, formal popular
sovereignty, techniques for discovering the . . . popular will, [and]
reception of majority-decisions as the equivalent of . . . unanimous

Kendall chose John Locke as the starting point of his study
because Locke's theory represented, for various reasons, ""the
earliest moment at which [the doctrine of majority-rule] can be
shown to have assumed the form"" in which Kendall presents it.11

While John Locke is rightly considered to be a pioneering
expositor of the proposition that individuals have certain inherent,
indefeasible natural rights that exist prior to the state,
Kendall's reading of Locke uncovers other crucial themes of
Locke's thought and reassesses Locke's teaching on the nature of
rights. Most importantly, Kendall finds Locke's view of natural
rights (along with coordinate duties) to be essentially instrumentalist,
with their proper object being to further the collective good
of society. In fact, Locke's view of political society is strikingly
collectivist; his ideas have more in common with Rousseau (whose
teaching Kendall admired) than modern exponents of an individualist
view of rights and an atomistic conception of society.

Nevertheless, Locke did find duties and rights individuals owe
to one another to be ""enjoined by what he calls variously the law
of God, the law of reason, and the law of nature.""12 However,
Kendall sees a source of Locke's apparent ""confusion"" in Locke's
conception of the law of nature and finds that Locke is working
under various contradictory premises. For example, while natural
law is held to be immutable and absolute, Locke seems to argue
elsewhere that its content can change according to circumstances
and be amended by agreement. ""[D]id Locke really mean that the
majority has a right to (e.g.) maintain in power a government
which oppresses or treats unjustly the 'rest'? Did he really believe
that it is the fact of majority support which makes right in

Furthermore, Kendall finds that for Locke the sovereignty of
the community is not restricted to a limited sphere of action, as
a more orthodox reading of Locke would have it. Indeed, Locke
posits ""unlimited sovereignty,""14 where ""even the individual's
right to life is valid only to the extent that it is compatible with the
good . . . of his community,""15 and the individual ""owes to the
commonwealth . . . a duty of obedience which is absolute and
perpetual.""16 Moreover, the sovereignty of the majority is coextensive
with the sovereignty of the community.

Yet, Locke ""did believe in the existence of objective moral
standards.""17 How can this be reconciled with a theory that
perpetually subjects minorities to the rule of majorities whose
scope of action is seemingly unlimited?

Kendall proffers a solution to these apparent contradictions:
that an unstated assumption underlay Locke's thought, which
rendered the seemingly contradictory strands in that thought
intelligible. Locke's latent premise, according to Kendall, is his
assumption that the majority is rational and just:

If Locke had written across the top of the first page of the Second
Treatise the words, ""All theoretical demonstrations included in
the following argument are predicated upon the assumption that
the chances are at least 50+ out of 100 that the average man is
rational and just,"" . . . most of the difficulties to which we have
directed attention above would automatically disappear.18

John Locke and the Doctrine of Majority Rule is perhaps Kendall's
most difficult work to read. The complicated construction of his
argument is made necessary, perhaps, by its reliance on a close
study of the text in question, but remains needlessly opaque.
Perhaps most frustrating to the less-educated reader is Kendall's
frequent use of untranslated and often lengthy quotations in
Latin, Italian, French, and German. Kendall's writing is at its
strongest in his later works, such as The Conservative Affirmation,
in which he employs a more flowing, conversational prose style,
liberally peppered with Midwestern idiom.

The Conservative Affirmation19 is a collection of related essays
gathered by Kendall himself. It represents Kendall's exploration
of the central defining characteristics of American conservatism.
In the introduction and first chapter, he explores and rejects
various prevailing definitions of American conservatism. For
instance, he rejected the contention of libertarians such as
Ludwig von Mises and Ayn Rand that the ""dividing line"" between
conservatism and liberalism can be described in economic terms,
with the ""virtuous"" placing their faith ""in the free market, in free
markets, in individualism,"" and opposed to ""collectivism"" and
""our enemy the state.""20 Nor should it be defined as ""mistrust of
political authority,""21 anti-Communism, or defined according to
the belief in ""a God-centered universe.""22 On the contrary:
""Attempts to resolve the religious-society-secular-Constitution
in either the one direction or the other, are not only divisive, but
contrary to the American tradition itself.""23

For Kendall, liberalism represents a ""full-scale revolution""
against America's political tradition, and conservatism is best
understood as a defense against the liberal onslaught. The revolutionaries
and defenders are divided by a central question: ""Is the
destiny of America the Liberal Revolution, or is it the destiny
envisaged for it by the Founders of our Republic?""24 The aim of
this ""revolution"" is to transform America's regime from a representative
republic into a plebiscitary democracy, and to remake
society according to ""the egalitarian principle,"" which holds that
men are to be made equal. ""Indeed,"" Kendall writes,
""[conservatism's] objection to Liberal proposals for the 'reform'
of our political system is precisely this: Those proposals would (by
eliminating deliberation) render impossible the expression of that
deliberate sense—or, for that matter, any sense that would be,
properly speaking, that of the community.""25

Willmoore Kendall's definition of conservatism, then, is
inseparable from his conception of America's founding (and
continuing) political tradition: that of a virtuous people governing
itself through deliberative institutions. While liberals have selfconsciously
organized themselves in an overarching struggle to
overthrow America's social and constitutional order, conservatives,
according to Kendall, are often only are dimly aware of the
struggle they are in. (Kendall would presumably approve of the
self-conscious political strategy of the conservative movement
today, if not its aims and doctrines.)

Kendall explores this struggle in more detail in the chapter
""The Two Majorities in American Politics,""26 perhaps the most
significant essay in The Conservative Affirmation. He explores the
persistent tensions between Congress and the presidency and the
""two numerical majorities"" of the same American electorate that
put them in office. The legislature is ""'nervous' about internal
security""27 (e.g., the House Un-American Activities Committee)
and ""adheres unabashedly to the 'pork barrel' practices for which
it is so often denounced.""28 Additionally, it is protectionist,
suspicious of foreign aid, fails to act in accordance with ""enlightened
opinion among intellectuals"" with regards to civil rights, and
approaches foreign affairs based on considerations of expediency
rather than high principle.


In contrast, the executive, is committed to, for example,
foreign aid regardless of its relevance to national-security objectives,
idealism in its foreign polity, ""world government,""29 egalitarianism,
and free trade, and seeks to ""bring our immigration
legislation under, so to speak, the all-men-are-created equal
clause of the Declaration of Independence.""30 With regards to the
reform of the American political system, the executive ""tends to
favor each and every component of the current program (the
product of what is generally regarded as enlightened opinion . . .)
for transforming the American political system into a plebiscitary
political system, capable of producing and carrying through
popular mandates.""31 In this regard, it supports the elimination of
""undemocratic"" features of the political system, such as the
filibuster and the electoral college system.

The differences between the legislative and executive, in
general, ""bear very nearly indeed upon the central destiny of the
United States—on the kind of society it is going to become ('open'
or relatively 'closed,' . . . 'welfare state' or a 'capitalist' society);
[and] on the form of the government the United States is to

The root of the differences in the natures of the legislative and
executive, according to Kendall, is that the executive is elected by
a national plebiscitary process that has been ""'engrafted' onto our
political system: it was not intended by the Framers.""33 In
presidential campaigns, in order to appeal to a majority of voters
in a vast electorate concerned with myriad complex issues,
candidates of both parties are forced to speak platitudes and
generalities, and when elected must endeavor to fulfill mandates
based on high-minded rhetoric. Congress, on the other hand, is
chosen according to the structure described in The Federalist,
wherein smaller communities elect representatives based on their
perceived virtues rather than ""issues."" The choice of a representative
is influenced by the complex hierarchical structures of their
constituencies and the elected representative must be cognizant
of them when in office. Members of Congress accordingly are ""far
more dedicated to the 'status quo'"" than the candidate that same
community helps elect to the presidency. Additionally, the local
political discussion process is necessarily more rooted in the
concrete problems and interests that are relevant to the community,
and their representatives deliberate with such considerations
in mind.34 The executive's idealistic hopes are therefore
often dashed on the rocks of congressional intransigence. Kendall
identifies conservatism with the Constitutional order and the
congressional majority, resisting the ""liberal,"" egalitarian executive,
with its plebiscitary majorities.

In the chapter ""The Social Contract: The Ultimate Issue
between Liberalism and Conservatism,"" Kendall broadens the
scope of his study by examining the place of conservatism within
the larger story of political philosophy. Here, the influence of
Straussian teaching, which Kendall had encountered at a relatively
late stage in his career, comes into full display. Kendall
views the social contract philosophers as representing a revolutionary
break with the ""Great Tradition"" of political philosophy
that began with the classical thought of Plato and Aristotle. The
classical philosophers viewed society as ""natural to man,""35 and
man as having an innate ""duty to subordinate himself to justice,""
which is discovered through reason, rather than determined by
convention.36 The contractarians—Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau
—broke with the classical tradition by placing consent and
agreement at the center of political thought, thus discarding
concern with justice, duty, and the proper aims of human life and
society. (Locke's role here has been recast in light of Kendall's
Straussian narrative of the history of political thought.) The
contractarian philosophy lives on in modern thought and political
practice, which is rooted in ""the natural right of self-preservation,
which is to say, only self-interest.""37 Moreover, modern
contractarians view the American founding as an expression of
Lockean philosophy, and thus cast themselves as the protectors
of the American political tradition: ""In America, of course, these
struggles are struggles between Conservatives and Liberals:
Conservative affirmation and Liberal denial, Conservative faith
in the growing Great Tradition . . . and Liberal relativism.""38

Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of Kendall's thought
was his willingness throughout his career to honestly subject his
own thought to the test of other thinkers, and accordingly revise
his own thinking if he found it to be wanting. To call Kendall's ego
healthy would be an understatement.39 Nevertheless, Kendall's
thinking was transformed by his encounter with the teaching of
Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin to the extent that he re-oriented his
own scholarly work in response to their writing. In fact, Kendall
adopted a remarkably deferential posture in his relationship with
Strauss at a time when Kendall was probably the more renowned
scholar in academic circles and among the public.40 An aspect of
Kendall's thought that underwent significant change was his view
of was his transformation from the political scientist, a proponent
of localism and plebiscitary democracy, and the skeptic of
Madisonian constitutionalism, to the student of political philosophy,
scholar (and defender) of America's founding institutions,
and enthusiastic proponent of The Federalist. The full course of
the evolution of Kendall's thought can be seen in the collection
Willmoore Kendall Contra Mundum.41

Contra Mundum gathers Kendall's most significant previously
published essays, and also includes several unpublished
speeches, essays, and book chapters. The included works, whose
original publication dates range from 1939 to 1968, span Kendall's
career. The essays contained in Contra Mundum provide useful
insight into the evolution of Kendall's thought as well as the full
range of his scholarly interest. Included are early works such as
""The Preservation of Democracy in America,"" in which Kendall's
early enthusiasm for plebiscitary democracy and his distrust of
American constitutionalism are on display. Essays such as
""Prolegomena to Any Future Work on Majority Rule"" show his
consistent opposition to the idea that the freedom of action of
democratic government should be institutionally constrained in
the name of protecting individual rights. And Kendall's exploration
of the Madisonian republic and The Federalist can be found
in ""How to Read 'The Federalist,'"" ""The 'Intensity' Problem and
Democratic Theory,"" and ""The Two Majorities,"" which also
appears in The Conservative Affirmation. In ""The 'Open Society'
and Its Fallacies"" Kendall criticizes the view that unlimited
freedom of expression should be society's supreme purpose, and
in ""The Bill of Rights and American Freedom"" he traces the
origins of the First Amendment and freedom of speech in
America. Also included are three chapters from the unfinished
Sages of Conservatism, in which Kendall assesses and criticizes the
work of Russell Kirk (""The Benevolent Sage of Mecosta""), Clinton
Rossiter (""The Part-Time Sage of Ithaca""), and John Courtney
Murray (""The True Sage of Woodstock""). Contra Mundum also
includes many other significant essays, all of which it would be
impossible to discuss here.

Kendall's early writing was marked by a profound cynicism
about the American constitutional system and the possibility of
self-rule over an extended republic. This can be seen most clearly
in his 1939 essay ""On The Preservation of Democracy in

The Kendall of '39 adopts what he sees as Rousseau's ""enthusiasm
for the city-state"" as holding out the only possibility for
""government based on the general will"" rather than ""government
based upon force.""43 For the ""general will"" to exist, it is necessary
that the polity ""possess a moi commun, a sense of common destiny
sufficiently intense to bind them to each other in what we today
would call a genuine group or community.""44 Without such a
sense of shared purpose, democracy—which Kendall defined as
""a form of political organization which lodges absolute power in
the numerical majority of the adult population of the area which
the organization is expected to serve""45—is not a viable method of
governance. ""[A] mere aggregate of individuals, brought together
by chance or by compulsion,"" will not do.46 However, Kendall
suggests, the United States under the Constitution is precisely

As Kendall argues for the necessity of deeply felt bonds of
community for majority rule, he makes a point that would become
a principal theme in his writing throughout his career: that ""if
democracy involves majority-rule, it involves also acceptance by
the minority of all decisions behind which a majority can be
rallied.""48 Otherwise, the government is one of force, rather than
persuasion, with the minority acquiescing to majority decisions
because, in the face of the majority's ""overwhelming force,"" it has
no choice.

In the 1939 Kendall's view, such a situation can only arise at
the local level and extend outward if at all. However, the possibility
of a ""democratic movement"" arising in America is forestalled
as a result of our ""undemocratic constitution,""49which resulted in
a political system in which the possibility of democracy at the local
level is forestalled by the placing of the real political control over
towns and cities in the hands of ""the larger political unit of which
they form a part—that is, by the state.""50

To explain how this dismal state of affairs arose despite the
""genius for self-government"" Americans had shown in the years
leading up to the drafting of the Constitution, Kendall—echoing
progressive historians—offers an interpretation of the Founding
that sees the architects of the Constitution as propertied oligarchs
furthering a conspiratorial scheme to destroy democracy
in order to forestall local self-government and consolidate national
policymaking in the hands of elites. It is ironic, then, that
Kendall's arguments regarding the necessity of consensusbuilding,
goodwill among political actors, and the necessity for
the minority's acquiescence in majority decisions closely echo the
imperatives of The Federalist's ""constitutional morality"" that
Kendall himself would later describe so lucidly.

In Kendall's early skepticism of America's constitutional
government, as George Carey notes, he ""comes close to accepting
an Anti-Federalist line that a true republic . . . is only possible over
a small territory with a relatively small population and few
interests.""51 Additionally, Kendall seems to be speaking in the
positivist language of ""contemporary political scientists,"" who, as
John E. Alvis describes it, ""often speak as though they believe that
what men think is the mere 'epiphenomenon' of what they do,"" for
example, arguing that ""the long debates in the summer of 1787
were not thoughtful activities pursuant to framing a just constitution
. . . but clever exercises in constructing a basis in law for the
various economic interests of the Framers.""52

The essay ""Prolegomena to Any Future Work on Majority
Rule,"" written in 1949,53 illuminates another aspect of Kendall's
majoritarianism that would remain a consistent theme of his
thought: his opposition to institutional constraints on the action
of the majority that would restrain the scope of permitted
decision-making, thus placing certain critical issues, particularly
those involving ""rights,"" outside of the purview of democratic

In ""Prolegomena,"" Kendall seeks to rebut the argument (as
put forward by political scientist Herbert McClosky) that certain
political decisions should be held to be outside the purview of
legitimate democratic decision-making. He focuses particularly
on ""the political rights traditionally associated with democratic
thought and practice,"" such as the rights to speech, assembly,
association, and participation in the political process.54 These
checks on democratic action are necessary, the argument goes, in
order to ensure the perpetuation of democratic government: the
majority must be enjoined from taking action that would be
destructive of majority rule itself, through destroying the very
freedom by which majorities are achieved.

To this argument, Kendall responded first, that it makes little
sense to place ""a unique and exclusive value to the preservation of
majority rule,"" while allowing the majority free rein in other
critical areas, such as rights to property or freedom of religion.
More importantly, though, is the problem that setting such formal
restrictions on the sovereign power creates additional unanswered
questions, such as, ""Who decides whether the standard [of
legitimacy] is being respected? Who adapts the standard to
changing circumstances? The majoritarian's answer to both these
questions is: The majority.""55 McClosky's answer is unstated and
Kendall leaves it at that. But one suspects that if not the majority,
an undemocratic institution such as the Supreme Court would
have to step into the standard-setting role.

While Kendall recognized that a majority-rule regime could
surrender its legitimacy by its actions, he nonetheless realized
that ""democracy can commit suicide,""56 and if it wishes to do so,
no institutional check on its actions can stop it. However, he hints
at greater dangers of antidemocratic governance that lie in such
institutional checks than any that lie in their absence.

For Kendall, the ability of a community to make such judgments
regarding the issues most crucial to the continued vitality
of self-government should not be banished from the purview of
democratic decision; on the contrary, such decisions are crucial
to majority-rule government:

one of the things a community has to decide and keep on
deciding in order to function as a community is the question:
What kind of collective action shall be regarded as ultra vires?
A community, that is to say, makes its own standard as it goes
along; it will presumably be well-advised to adopt, for this
purpose as for other purposes, the ""best"" of the methods available
to it.57

Preventing the community from ""making its own standard""
only neutralizes the mechanisms of self-government when it
confronts the problems that are the most critical to the political
community, and the most difficult to resolve, where the judgment
of the democratic process is needed most.

For example, when the community is confronted with political
movements that have the potential of destroying democratic rule:

one wonders why the obligation to do nothing to prevent
[majorities from] being free-arrived-at thus hogs the footlights at
the expense of the obligation to take positive action to assure their
being freely-arrived-at? Why, for example, should the Communist
movement, which as McClosky recognizes looks precisely to
future prevention of majorities being freely-arrived-at, not enjoy
anyhow equal status with permitting all individuals, including
presumably the Communists, to speak and publish, and so

A ""rule of legitimacy"" can place such a dilemma, whose
resolution is critical to the regime's survival as well as its nature,
outside of the purview of the democratic process. For this reason,
""it is democracy's inherent capacity to commit suicide that makes
the question of where it is to lodge the power to decide life-anddeath
matters so very urgent—which is why those of us whose bets
are on majority rule hold that these matters, above all others,
must be decided by majority rule procedures. . . .""59

A curious feature of ""Prolegomena"" is that Kendall adheres to
the model of the positivist political scientist while at the same time
presenting his unflagging defense of communities' robust selfgovernment.
This seems to betray a not-so-hidden conviction that
such arrangements amount to a positive good, a good which
cannot be severed from the normative ""value-judgments"" that
such societies pursue through their governments. Thus Kendall's
obvious prejudice towards certain human arrangements as simply
better than others coexists uneasily with such strange formulations
as the following:

Sound methodology . . . calls for rigorous separation between the
problem of the method of making community decisions . . . and
the problem of the standard of legitimacy . . . [political theory]
must choose . . . which method is indicated on this or that valuepremise
or set of value-premises . . . (on whose validity it has, qua
political theory, no means of pronouncing) . . . The majoritarian
is the man who finds the majority principle more congenial to his
values than any other, but his finding on this point is, or should
be, value-free.""60

And so on. Kendall refrained from making such distinctions
in his later writings, perhaps as a result of his late-career encounter
with the work of Eric Voegelin and Leo Strauss, or simply from
a greater appreciation for classical philosophy.

Nevertheless, from Kendall's earliest writing, his thought was
animated by his conviction of the central importance of community,
good will, and shared norms to the viability of selfgovernment.
He also consistently argued against institutional
checks to delimit the majority-rule government's legitimate sphere
of action. These themes would carry through to Kendall's later
writing on the founding, The Federalist, and the American constitutional
order. However, his views on the American constitutional
system would change dramatically. Kendall's former deep
cynicism about the nature and purposes of the extended republic
of The Federalist gave way to a profound appreciation of the
Constitutional system's unique solution to the problem of selfrule
over an extended republic.

To the later Kendall, an understanding of The Federalist was
essential to understanding not only the constitution, but also the
essential character of American self-rule. In the essay ""How to
Read 'The Federalist,'""61 Kendall and his co-author George
Carey62 make the case for the singular importance of The Federalist
to the serious student of the American constitutionalism.
The essay provides a corrective to the view that The Federalist is
merely a loose collection of propagandistic newspaper editorials
intended to secure ratification of the Constitution, and therefore
worthy of study principally for historical purposes. On the contrary,
Kendall argues: ""The Federalist is a 'must' for anyone who
seeks an 'intellectual' understanding of our tradition and of the
political system under which we have governed ourselves, happily
and well some of us would say, for nigh onto two hundred years.""63

To the charge that the fact that the division of authorship of
The Federalist between three authors detracts from its importance
as a unified work, Kendall answers that in fact this misses
the point—assigning authorship of each paper to Jay, Madison, or
Hamilton misapprehends the nature the project, which was
intended to be read and understood as the work of a single author,

This is so first, simply because a consciousness of the authorship
of a particular paper would distract from its argument. By
treating the papers as the work of a single author, the reader ""will
be able to approach each individual paper, as the original readers
could, without his opinions concerning the author getting 'between'
him and the argument.""65 More crucially, the authors were
writing not as themselves but as Publius, making the project of The
Federalist ""a re-enactment, in miniature, of the miracle of the
Philadelphia convention itself.""66 The convention produced a
Constitution that no one present wholeheartedly wanted, yet
everyone supported it without reservation. So did the authors of
The Federalist shelve their personal viewpoints, writing as one to
illuminate the Constitution's philosophy. Therefore the authorship
of The Federalist reflected the shaping of the Constitution,
which in turn reflected the operation of the constitutional government
that was the object of The Federalist's argument.

To the argument that The Federalist was simply propaganda
intended to secure the ratification of the Constitution, Kendall
responds first, that certainly, The Federalist is ""polemical"" in the
sense that ""it is the affirmative 'side' of a 'debate' (between the
opponents and critics of the proposed new Constitution),""67 but
in fact, the ""ratification of the Constitution was . . . already 'in the
bag'"" at the time of The Federalist's publication. To be sure, the
Constitution's supporters may have hoped to secure its passage in
Virginia and New York and The Federalist was ""nominally addressed
to the People of New York,""68 but the arguments of The
Federalist were addressed ""to the American people as a whole""
with the purpose of ""[making] sure that the peoples of the several
states, in ratifying, fully understood what exactly they were
committing themselves to, what exactly they were doing.""69 Additionally,
Publius lays down ""an ethos as to how public discussion,
worthy of gentlemen, should be conducted by a sober, intelligent,
and intellectually honest self-governing people.""70 Therefore, the
nature of The Federalist is ""pedagogical"" rather than propagandistic.

Moreover, those pedagogical purposes of The Federalist
amounted to more than simply instructing the electorate on the
machinery of the Constitution as it was written: The Federalist put
forward but one ""of the numerous alternative 'readings' of the
Constitution, but precisely the one which we, for good reason. . .,
are in the habit of 'seeing' in it.""72 Because of the success of
Publius's venture, our understanding of the Constitution is inseparable
from the particular interpretation of the Constitution
that The Federalist promulgated. For example, Kendall notes the
Constitution ""does not provide 'judicial review' . . . but also does
not exclude the possibility of it.""73 Also, nothing in the Constitution
prohibits Congress from ruthlessly enforcing its supremacy,
forcing the other branches to submit to its will through its use of
its funding or impeachment powers, for instance. Nevertheless,
the norms set out in The Federalist have become inseparable from
our assumptions of what the Constitution requires. Therefore,
Kendall goes so far as to suggest that ""the Philadelphia Constitution
and what we might fairly call ""The Federalist Constitution""
can be distinguished, and ""that it is under the latter . . . that we
have lived and governed ourselves since 1789.""74

Kendall describes the operation of The Federalist's model of
government and defends it from its critics in ""The 'Intensity'
Problem and Democratic Theory."" In that essay, also written with
George Carey, Kendall's specific aim is to address the problem of
democratic governance over a large, heterogeneous population.
In particular, he outlines The Federalist's solution to ""the intensity
problem"": the dilemma of whether and how a government of
majority rule addresses the situation where the preference of an
apathetic or marginally interested majority conflict with the
wishes of an intensely interested minority. To state the problem
differently, the question is whether the ""individual preferences of
members of the community . . . [should ] be merely counted, or
both counted and weighed.""75 More generally, though, many of
the observations Kendall makes in this essay could operate as
defenses of the Madisonian extended republic against the criticisms
of Kendall's earlier ""Prolegomena.""

The problem is that ""populistic"" or plebiscitary democracy
cannot account for intensity: ""For a theorist of populistic democracy
even to flirt with the idea of giving the minority its way is to
appeal to 'values' . . . and this he cannot do because the theory has
cut itself off, once and forever, ab initio, from such considerations.""
(Here, it seems as if the older Kendall could be writing in
response to the Kendall of 1949 who wrote ""Prolegomena."") ""If
it is justice we are interested in,"" he continues, ""or stability . . . then
we had best . . . build from the first moment with those goods in

Kendall argues that in order to survive a majority-rule system
must foster a ""general atmosphere of willing cooperation and
'good feeling'"" by integrating ""the majority-principle"" with ""the
unanimity-principle"" in such a way that the majority makes its
decisions ""in such fashion that those decisions elicit what amounts
to unanimous, or virtually unanimous, support or acquiescence.""77

Accordingly, to account for the problem of intensity, a political
system must provide a mechanism for its constituent groups and
individuals to have the information necessary to anticipate one
another's reactions. If they can do so, then all of the members of
the society will have accurate information, which is necessary for
furthering the cooperative decision-making atmosphere that is in
all parties' self-interest. Without such accurate information, they
are liable to take ""action . . . that will prove self-defeating, and that
might lead to the breakdown of the system itself.""78

The ""weighing"" of the intensity of preferences takes place not
through some formal mechanism but by each participant in the
system, who must have the personal knowledge, experience, and
rapport with the other participants necessary to weigh their likely

So far, none of these points has conflicted with the arguments
Kendall made in ""Prolegomena"" regarding the necessity of community
and consensus for functional democratic governance.
However, Kendall had come to appreciate how The Federalist's
design allows for such a consensus-based process of governance
over a large, heterogeneous republic.

A close-knit community requires little institutional machinery
to ""facilitate mutual knowledge and understanding.""79 However,
""the more 'diverse' or 'heterogeneous' the political society,
the greater need for elaborate and complex 'machinery' to facilitate
mutual knowledge and understanding of the kind here in
question.""80 This complex constitutional machinery encourages
deliberation that affords ample opportunity for consensusmaking.
Similarly, the various checks in the Madisonian system
make action based on slim majorities difficult, and so further
encourages consensus.81 Additionally, the function of the electorate,
in choosing representatives, is to select the best (wise,
virtuous) decision-makers rather than to weigh and choose among
policy alternatives. Further, the norms of the decision-making
process—The Federalist's ""constitutional morality""—encourages
constitutional actors to act wisely, and discourages ""ignoring the
feelings of losers in elections.""82


Kendall's belief in the necessity of society's defense of its
shared basic assumptions and norms and comes to the forefront
in his essay ""The 'Open Society' and Its Fallacies,"" included in
Willmoore Kendall Contra Mundum and also published in The
Conservative Affirmation as ""Conservatism and the 'Open Society.'""
Here, Kendall attacks the doctrine John Stuart Mill announces
in the essay On Liberty, that ""there ought to exist the
fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical
conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered,""
and Karl Popper's development of this idea in The Open Society
and Its Enemies.83 Kendall's concern is that the doctrine of the
open society elevates freedom of speech and expression from one
of the goods that a society will seek to advance to ""society's
ultimate standard of order.""84 In such a society, all questions must
be treated as open questions in public, including in public schools
and universities. For example, even if all members of the society
espouse a particular religion or church, in the public sphere each
must nevertheless ""treat all religions and churches as equal.""85
The community is denied any capacity to promote any ""public
truth"" or ""orthodoxy.""86 Therefore, ""[t]he open society confers
'freedom' upon its members, but does so at the cost of its own
freedom as a society.""87

Mill's proposal, Kendall argues, rests on the ""false conception""
that assumes that ""society is . . . a debating club devoted
above all to the pursuit of truth.""88 In fact, society is devoted to
a number of goods, including ""the living of the truth they believe
themselves to embody already, and the communication of that
truth . . . to further generations . . . these are preconditions to the
pursuit of truth.""89

In fact, a society built on Mill's precepts will fragment into
increasingly bitter divisions, leading ultimately to ""violence and
civil war,"" with the community unable to impede the process by
""giving preferred status to certain opinions . . . for by definition
it places a premium upon dispersion by inviting irresponsible
speculation and irresponsible utterance.""90 The paradigmatic
historical example of the open society, Kendall warns, is Weimar

Kendall contends that the Mill-Popper open society would
paradoxically become intolerant towards those who disagree with
its precepts. Such a society, ""dedicated to a national religion of
skepticism,"" must silence the person who ""challenges the very
foundations of skeptical society.""91

But did America not proclaim the open society to be its
founding ideal with the enactment of the First Amendment?
Kendall addresses this question in the essay ""The Bill of Rights
and American Freedom.""92 Preliminarily, Kendall notes that the
Philadelphia Convention that drafted the Constitution unanimously
voted down a proposal to include ""a declaration or bill of
the natural rights of man.""93 Kendall also runs through the
arguments against a Bill of Rights that were offered in The
Federalist and offers additional anti–Bill-of-Rights arguments of
his own.

A central question, then, is what James Madison, Federalist
and chief author of the Constitution, was ""up to"" when he drafted
the Bill of Rights and convinced his congressional colleagues to
enact it.

Kendall answers by taking us through the time of the adoption
of the Bill of Rights. After the ratification of the Constitution,
Madison sought to bring those who opposed its passage into the
consensus by enacting a bill of rights. He took as his starting point
the ""recommendatory amendments"" set forward from the Virginia
convention.94 But he stripped from them the language of natural
rights, and replaces them with straightforward ""rules of law.""95 For
example, the Virginia draft of what would become the First
Amendment originally read, in part: ""That the people have a right
to freedom of speech, and of writing and publishing their sentiments,
but the freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of
liberty and ought not be violated.""96 The passage becomes: ""Congress
shall make no law . . . abridging freedom of speech, or of the
press."" The grandiloquent declaration of an abstract right is gone,
and the people, through Congress, are left to determine for
themselves the particulars of the ""freedom of speech"" through the
Constitution's deliberative process. Moreover, the specific directive
to Congress leaves the abridgement of rights ""as a
monopoly of the State governments.""97 Therefore, Madison has
defused the First Amendment's potential to fundamentally alter
the nature of the state that the Constitution established.

Furthermore, Kendall dismisses the possibility that Madison
or his congressional colleagues contemplated that the provisions
in the Bill of Rights would be enforced by the judiciary: had that
been the case, the record would show debate and controversy its
enactment, when in fact there was virtually none.

Kendall's final published work, The Basic Symbols of the
American Political Tradition,98 is based on a series of lectures
Kendall delivered in 1964, which were expanded developed as a
book by its co-author, George Carey.99 In Basic Symbols, Kendall
looks beyond The Federalist and the founding to trace the
development of America's political society to its earliest formative
stages and examines the impact of moral and religious
aspiration on its governing institutions. While the Kendall of The
Conservative Affirmation had placed the American founding
within a Straussian template that conceived of the founding
institutions as emerging from a ""Great Tradition"" now under
attack from latter-day positivists, the Kendall of Basic Symbols
analyzes the American republic in terms of Eric Voegelin's
conception of the core ""symbols"" that express a political society's

To chart the development of the American political tradition,
Kendall employs Voegelin's conception of symbols as the hermeneutic
method by which he examines the important documents of
America's development during the colonial and revolutionary
periods. According to Voegelin, in order to gain a meaningful
understanding of any political society, it is first necessary to study
that society's self-understanding. To do so, it is critical to examine
the symbols and myths by which a people represents and interprets
itself. These symbols are the mechanism through which a
society conceives its ""place in the constitution of being and of its
role in history.""100 The symbols relate to each other and are
sometimes in tension with one another. As a society develops and
matures, its system of symbols also develops and new symbols are
formed from the old through a process of differentiation.

A political community's self-understanding necessarily expresses
a relationship to transcendent truth, ""even if only the
negative relationship of denial.""101 Moreover, ""[i]n Western
Civilization basic symbolizations tend to be variants of the
original symbolization of the Judaeo-Christian religious tradition:
variants . . . of the tale according to which a founder, Moses,
leads the people out of the realm of darkness, Egypt, into the
desert . . . toward a Promised Land.""102Kendall's project is to
examine the roots of America's political tradition in light of this
basic symbolization and show how it has been willfully and widely
misunderstood in the years following the Civil War.

Basic Symbols is perhaps Kendall's most forthright challenge
to the notion that American's founding creed is based on egalitarianism
and the protection of individual rights. Kendall presents his
project as a corrective to an ""official literature"" that grossly
misapprehends the nature of the American political tradition. In
doing so he also wades into the debate over the meaning and
significance of the Declaration of Independence.103 This official
literature holds that our political tradition begins with the Founding
Fathers' drafting of the Declaration of Independence, which
set forth our ideals as a nation: the equality of all men, and our
possession of sacred, inalienable rights that cannot be abridged by
the government.

The Declaration also, the official literature teaches us, signaled
our emergence as a unified nation.104 The structure of our
government was then set down in the Constitution, in which the
supposed fundamental ideals of the founding were curiously
absent: progressive historians would teach that its aim was to
further the economic interests of the landowning class. Finally,
the Bill of Rights was enacted, adding to the Constitution a
commitment to equality and individual rights that Congress could
not abridge, thus bringing the Constitution in line with the ideals
set forth in the Declaration.

Kendall contends that this narrative, although now cherished
as a national myth, was actually invented after the fact and is
contradicted by the historical record. Rather, he argues, the
""defining principles and practices central to the political tradition
of the Founding Fathers"" were ""those associated with a selfgovernment
by a virtuous people deliberating under God.""

In order to chart the development of the American political
tradition, Kendall closely examines public documents ""that have
at least the look of ventures in self-interpretation by a political
society.""105 This allows us to trace the development of our
political society's symbols from the earliest settlements through
the adoption of the Constitution. Specifically, Kendall examines
the Mayflower Compact, the General Orders of Connecticut, the
Body of Liberties of Massachusetts Bay, and the Virginia Declaration of Rights.106 In them, we see the development of ""the
supreme symbols of the American tradition, that is . . . the symbols
of a virtuous people through deliberative processes striving to
achieve and advance their declared purposes which involve, inter
alia, better ordering with justice.""107 Related are the symbols of
the consent of the people, the supremacy of their deliberative
body and its commitment to act for the general good of society,
and the submission of society to a higher law.

Kendall begins his analysis with the Mayflower Compact,
where these symbols begin their development. The Compact
begins with a ""traditional Christian invocation: 'In the name of
God'""108—an oath is being taken. In the next section the signers
identify themselves and state the purposes of their undertaking
(e.g., glory of God, advancement of the Christian faith). A body
politic is then created by oath (""solemnly . . . covenant and
combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick"").

Finally: ""for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance
of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact . . . such
just and equal Laws . . . as shall be thought most meet and
convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we
promise all due submission and obedience.""109

One apparent symbol is the glorification of God. Additionally,
the ""supreme 'values' of this system,"" Kendall argues, are ""justice
and general good.""110 Finally, the language ""laws thought to be just
and equal"" and the very solemnity of the unanimous adoption of
the document under an oath suggest deliberation and consensus.
Importantly, individual rights do not come into the equation, but
it may be implied that individuals may derive rights through the
community's commitment to make ""just and equal laws,"" through
deliberation, in furtherance of justice and the general good.

Moving to the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, we see
the ""Mayflower symbols"" in ""differentiated form.""111 Most importantly,
the ""better ordering"" and ""enact, constitute, and frame
. . . just and equal laws"" symbols have differentiated into the
symbols of a written constitution with a supreme legislature.
There is no longer any mention of ""just and equal laws,"" and no
symbols differentiate in the direction of individual rights.

The Massachusetts Body of Liberties, enacted two years
later, introduces the symbol of ""liberties, immunities, and privileges
. . . due to every man,"" which seems to approximate our
contemporary understanding of individual rights.112 However,
the document states that the freedoms are ""due to every man in
his place and proportion""—suggesting that the drafters are
concerned with justice rather than equality.113 Also, the liberties
are either guarantees against courts or executive officials, or
those that are guaranteed against the General Court (the legislature).
The rights that would constrain the legislature contain
""escape clauses,"" e.g., ""unless . . . grounded by some act of the
Generall Court [legislature].""

This raises the question of why certain rights would be spelled
out if these rights did not legally constrain the legislature. The
answer lies in the relationship between the symbols of the virtuous
people, bound by consent, deliberating in subordination to transcendent
truth. The people of Massachusetts, who have attained
the habit of self-government, are entrusting their rights to the
legislature—placing their rights in their own hands, in a sense, and
thus implicitly asserting their right to self-government (through
their legislature).114

The legislature, though ""supreme,"" does not rule by whim.
The Body of Liberties was enacted by a people binding itself
together into a body politic dedicated to the glorification of God.
In doing so, they commit themselves to being ""'servants' of
humanity, civility, and Christianity, and as such servants, accept
their call of humanity, civility, and Christianity.""115 As a deliberative
body, the legislature is bound, therefore, to draw upon ""the
great tradition of Western man's thought about the humane and
civil . . . appeal[ing] . . . to the transcendent truth of the soul and
society as continuously explored . . . through the experience of
philosophy and religion.""116

The need to solve complex problems causes the symbol of the
legislature to be further differentiated. The commitment of the
legislature requires well-thought-out measures for choosing representatives.
A good ""machinery through which representatives
are chosen . . . will channel the virtue of the virtuous people, their
subordination to a higher law, into the decisions arrived at,
through deliberation, by the virtuous people's representatives.""117

Although individuals unquestionably have rights, individual
rights have not yet been expressed as an essential symbol of the
American tradition, Kendall contends. Instead, the central symbols
are the supreme legislature and the ""higher law that the
supreme legislature must apply to day-to-day problems."" This is
because, first, the common or general good was seen to be the
primary concern, and second, because the legislature, through its
deliberations and with the consent of the people, was seen as the
best and most appropriate institution to deal with these problems.

Moving ahead almost 150 years to 1776, just before the
Declaration of Independence was enacted, the Virginia Bill of
Rights was passed. It declared that all men, being ""by nature
equally free and independent,"" have ""inherent rights.""119 Nevertheless,
Kendall argues against any Lockean influence, and asserts
that the document most centrally asserts the right of the
people to govern itself. He notes that the rights ""are rights that
pertain not to all men, not to individuals, but to the ""good people
of Virginia,"" and pertain to them precisely as ""the basis and
foundation of government.""120

He also shows that a close reading of the individual rights the
document lists shows that, as with the Massachusetts Body of
Liberties, none of them are individual rights that can be wielded
against the legislature: they are either common-law rights of
procedure or provisions that express the right of people to govern
themselves through democratic processes—thus reinforcing the
symbols of deliberation and the legislature.121
Kendall next sets out to demonstrate that the Declaration of
Independence is also (if read correctly) fully consistent with the
main symbols of the American tradition, while at the same time
cautioning that it should not be viewed as the principal founding
document of the nation. According to the official literature, the
Declaration's second paragraph sets forth our basic national
commitment to equality and liberty: ""We hold these truths selfevident,
that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by
their Creator with certain inalienable Rights.""122 However, Kendall
argues that the inclusion of the phrase ""all men are created equal""
did not signify that we, as a nation, had adopted an egalitarian
ethic as a binding national commitment. He argues that read as a
whole, the Declaration reinforces the symbols of self-government
through deliberative processes,123 and that it is inappropriate to
""wrench from it a single proposition and make that our supreme
commitment."" Moreover, the Declaration, as a document with a
limited purpose, is not a constitutional document; it is a unanimous
declaration, by independent states, of their intentions to
break their bonds with Britain.124 It follows, then, that we cannot
infer national commitments from a document that was created
before the states had self-consciously formed themselves into a
union—which didn't happen until the adoption of the Constitution
in 1789.

The commitments set out in the preamble to the Constitution,
unlike those of the Declaration, do establish a ""new political
order,""125 Yet they do so in a manner that is fully consistent with
America's native symbols.126 Study of the preamble is now neglected,
yet it ""still serves as our finest statement of purpose.""127
The language of the preamble places the source and ends of
government with the people, rather than deriving them from
abstract, theoretical notions of natural rights:

To say that ""We the People"" do ordain and establish a government
""in Order to"" promote desired ends is quite different from
saying, as does the Declaration, that ""Governments are instituted
among Men"" to secure certain ""rights."" The words of the
Preamble tell us that men, ""We the People,"" are instituting
government in order to promote purposes or ends to which ""We
the People"" subscribe . . . . [T]he Preamble suggests that this
entire process is not predestined: Rather it is a matter of
deliberate choice… the people . . . have a ""right"" to establish their
own ends or purposes when constituting a government, not ends
derived from a source other than the people.128

An understanding of the symbols of the American tradition is
also relevant to The Federalist and the structural provisions of the
Constitution. When we think of the core design of the Constitution,
we bring with us certain assumptions, such as the idea that
the branches are separate and equal. Kendall maintains that when
reading the text of the Constitution without preconceptions about
its operation, one finds that Congress in fact has extraordinary
power: it can, among other things, impeach judges, impeach
executive officials, remove issues from the jurisdiction of the
Supreme Court, and torment the other branches with its control
of the power of the purse.129 In Kendall's formulation, the
legislative branch is in fact the most powerful branch. Therefore,
the Constitution is a majoritarian document, despite various
checks meant to encourage consensus and deliberation and
discourage rash action.130 Besides which, a habitual ""selfrestraint
and cooperation"" is necessary in dealings between the
branches—thus the ""constitutional morality"" that The Federalist
prescribes is not the Framers' innova