David Frisk, Resident Fellow of the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI), has signed a contract with Encounter Books to write the first biography of Willmoore Kendall, one of the most brilliant political theorists in United States history. Kendall (1909-1967) taught political science at Yale when William F. Buckley Jr. was a student there in the years after World War II. One of the few conservatives on its faculty, Kendall greatly helped Buckley with his first two books, then assisted in the founding of National Review, the new conservative intellectual movement’s flagship journal, in 1955.
Dr. Frisk is the author of the widely acclaimed If Not Us, Who? William Rusher, National Review, and the Conservative Movement (2012). The forthcoming book will cover Kendall’s life, from his upbringing as a child prodigy in Oklahoma through his Rhodes Scholarship years at Oxford, his Cold-War-era service with the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, his legendary qualities as a classroom teacher, and his temperamental but entertaining personality. It will also undertake a substantial discussion of his explorations in political thought—including his dissatisfaction with other conservative intellectual leaders and the important debates in which he engaged with other leading scholars.
Kendall is equally famous, both among conservatives and in political science, for his thinking and writings about the nature of American constitutionalism and majority rule. Kendall opposed the common view of the American Founding as an attempt to set up a republic based strictly on individual rights and the self-interested clash of competing interest groups. He also opposed what he considered a smug, intellectually second-rate political science establishment—especially for its conformity of thought and its value-neutral, anti-philosophical understanding of human affairs. Accordingly, he later helped to start a “great books” program at the University of Dallas.
Dr. Frisk holds a Ph.D. in political science from Claremont Graduate University and teaches the AHI’s popular continuing education courses in history, politics, and political thought. In his proposal to Encounter, he wrote of Kendall that his “opposition to hypocrisy and complacency in the intellectual world ranked among the great themes in his life. Another was an intense identification with Middle America and rejection … of elitism; he sometimes called himself an ‘Appalachians-to-the-Rockies patriot.’ At the same time, it is easy to make a case for him as an outstanding political thinker.”
“There is a special timeliness in both Kendall’s personal story and his ever-dynamic thought. American conservatism has gone intellectually stale and is ridden with self-doubt. Kendall, in contrast, a genuinely Socratic figure, combined what seems to have been an utter boldness and courage with a striking ability to look at deep questions objectively and to change his mind.”
“American society is divided to an extent Kendall might well have found horrifying, although not surprising; his acute sense of one way in which this can happen is, therefore, especially worth thinking about today. The difficulties he experienced at Yale foreshadowed the harsher stifling of right-of-center views in the academy in recent years. And the happier final chapter of his life is among the several aspects of that life which readers would find uplifting.”
When asked about the project, Roger Kimball, President and Publisher of Encounter Books, observed that “Willmoore Kendall was an intellectual giant. He was Bill Buckley’s mentor at Yale and then a founding editor of National Review. Leo Strauss said that he was the most important political philosopher of his generation. And yet almost no one knows him or his work today. Encounter is delighted that David Frisk will fill that lacuna with a new intellectual biography of this most difficult, willfully cantankerous, but incandescently brilliant and unfairly forgotten thinker. Kudos to the Alexander Hamilton Institute for helping to shepherd this important book.”
“David Frisk has before him,” said AHI President Robert Paquette, “a most enviable and challenging task.” Simply put, Willmore Kendall is one of the most original and penetrating political theorists this country has produced. Although he died before completion of his magnum opus, he left behind in books, essays, and correspondence an intellectual feast of the highest order. Kendall ranged widely in the study of the American political tradition and of its Western influences and antecedents. Few intellectuals were more perceptive in analyzing the concept of tolerance. Much remains to be discovered about his work for the CIA. That David was encouraged to undertake this project speaks to the high regard in which he is held in the field of conservative thought.”
The book will be completed in mid-2021 and should be published in 2022.