"Kendall sought to define an American conservatism rooted in our major documents and debates...The democratic will to power has now become so embedded in our thinking about government that many Americans are unaware of why delay, deliberation, and filtration of voting are positive methods for insuring the republican principle best serves our common good.”
Many conservatives behave as if their job is merely to slow the advance of progressivism, or—at best—block it from gaining more ground. But according to Willmoore Kendall, this isn’t enough. They must work to extirpate progressive advances on the American constitutional order and replace them with sound political and moral principles.
Achieving this unmet feat will require building and moving on what Kendall termed “a battle line” across the entire field. But this battle line is hardly a call for the politics of war or friend versus enemy, as advocated by post-liberal conservatives and certain voices from the so-called New Right.
Kendall’s affirmation is a constitutional morality rooted in both the procedure of constitutional power and in the unwritten mores that must guide a people who bind themselves to a limited charter of government, while also entrusting to themselves an even greater amount of self-governing authority than provided to the national government. This morality is deeply political and finds its explication in the Federalist Papers, where we see how Americans must be a constitutional people. How can conservatives maintain this virtuous republic?
In his 1963 book, The Conservative Affirmation, republished in 2022 by Regnery Books, Kendall sought to define an American conservatism rooted in our major documents and debates. He looked to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, and “above all” the Federalist Papers. Daniel McCarthy’s illuminating Foreword in the new edition argues that Kendall meant for the book to challenge both Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind (1952) and Frank Meyer’s In Defense of Freedom (1962) and serve as the authentic statement of conservatism in America.
Per Kendall, Kirk’s conservatism was too aristocratic, too Burkean, and too rooted in the European experience to be of real service to American conservatives. Meyer had made a god out of liberty, losing the balance of goods that the Constitution was committed to protect, as announced in the Constitution’s Preamble, which listed the classic five-fold ends of government, including liberty.