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This is a convoluted tale, and perhaps an uninteresting one, but one so coincidence touched as to have the feel of kismet about it, so feel free to skip a few paragraphs, or read on.  Much of my book buying is done at library book sales or in used book stores.  Two favorite haunts being the local library, which hosts an ongoing book sale in the lobby, and a local store that buys and sells used books.  At the library I recently found a book I'd previously never heard of, called The American Conservative Movement: The Philosophical Founders.  As it's by former Senator John P. East, and is a hardcover in excellent condition, I bought it, for 50 cents.  It went on top of the "to be read" pile, but that's a fair sized pile these days.  If not forgotten, it had at least been back-burnered.

Meanwhile, at some point this Summer, perhaps at the Five Colleges Book Sale, I'd found a book called Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?: American Conservative Thought in the Twentieth Century  a collection of conservative essays edited by William F. Buckley Jr..  As it happened, this had worked its way to the top of the "to be read" pile, because it includes an outstanding essay by Albert Jay Nock that needed rereading.  The Nock piece, in which he discusses his pet theory of the Remnant made for a useful post at our blog and the book returned to the pile.

Then, a few days later, someone responding to a post asked if I was familiar with the work of Willmoore Kendall, though he assumed I'd not be, since few are any more.  He included a link to a great profile of Kendall by retired Dartmouth professor Jeffrey Hart.   To my chagrin, after reading the profile, I had to answer that no I was not previously familiar with Mr. Kendall.  But the wheels had begun turning and, checking in Dream Walking, I did indeed find one of his essays--Democracy: The Two Majorities.  Realizing now how central a figure he'd been in the conservative renaissance of the 50s, I checked the East book, and, sure enough, there was a whole chapter on him.  And as the tumblers gradually clicked into place, it occurred to me that not only had I seen the edition of his essays that his wife collected posthumously at the local used bookstore, but it at least conceivably could have been Professor Hart's own copy--they'd told me he was the other regular customer who brought in conservative books periodically.  So, of course, I raced down there and, mirabile dictu, there was the book, Willmoore Kendall Contra Mundum, perched on the shelf.  Even better, not only was it once Professor Hart's, it's even inscribed by Nellie Kendall, thanking him for a previous profile he'd written, which serves as the Introduction to the book.  Who could fail to feel the fates at work in all of this?

Thus to the essay, Democracy: The Two Majorities, which originally appeared in Kendall's book, The Conservative Affirmation (1963).  Mr. Kendall's purpose here, as he states it, is to explore "the tension between the Executive and Legislature on the federal level of the American political system."  He examines the various sources of tension, but summarizes them thusly:

    The areas of tension are typically "most important" areas in which this or that application of high principle desired by the Executive gets short
    shrift from enough congressmen and senators to prevent it or at least prevent it on anything like the scale desired by the Executive.  And in
    these areas the Congress normally "wins", "high principle" seemingly going by the board.

Some of the items that the Executive pushes for, and which the Congress resists (and recall that this was written forty years ago), include: foreign aid, relaxation of trade laws, freer immigration, deficit spending, military reductions, etc.,.  Additionally, the Congress seeks and the Executive disdains pork barrel spending.  In general then, the Executive tends to favor, but not to get, rather visionary and internationalist programs, while the Congress supports and therefore gets, more narrowly parochial and nationalist items.

The most interesting aspect of all this though is that with a few very rare exceptions--and even then only in times of catastrophe (FDR in the Depression, LBJ after the JFK assassination, and Ronald Reagan, to some degree, in the midst of geopolitical and economic collapse)--these general tendencies obtain regardless of who is elected President, regardless of his ideas, and regardless of when in his administration we're talking about, which brings Mr. Kendall to this point:

    [W]e are obliged...to confront an unexplained mystery of our politics: the fact that one and the same electorate maintains in Washington,
    year after year, a President devoted to high principle and enlightenment, and a Congress that gives short shrift to both; that,
    even at one and the same election, they elect to the White House a man devoted to the application of high principle to most important
    problems of national policy, and to the Hill men who consistently frustrate him.

Mr. Kendall then goes on to explain that, far from being a mystery, this is really the genius and the intent of the American system, as laid out in the Constitution, that the republican nature of the governing structure creates two houses of Congress that act as brakes on "high principle" and guard parochial interests instead:

    [C]ongress, especially the lower house, is a stronghold of entrenched minorities--and in any case is, and was always intended to be,
    a barrier to majority rule, not an instrument of majority rule.  It is bicameral; its members are chosen in elections deliberately staggered
    to prevent waves of popular enthusiasm from transmitting themselves directly to its floors.  It "overrepresents" rural and agricultural areas
    and interests; many of its members are elected in constituencies where civil liberties, including even the liberty to vote, are poorly protected,
    so that the fortunate candidate can often speak only for a minority of his constituents.  And as the decades have passed it has developed internal
    procedures--especially the filibuster and the seniority principle in the choice of committee chairmen--that frequently operate to defeat the will
    of the majority even of its own members.  It reflects, in a word, the anti-democratic, anti-majority-rule bias of the Framers, who notoriously
    distrusted human nature... .

Thus, Mr. Kendall argued that the American system really offers up two majorities--the presidential and the Congressional.  And, because that is how the system is quite consciously set up, the Congress too may bee seen to represent "high principle", as they restrain the idealistic majority that expresses itself in elections for the executive:

    [I]nsofar as the presidential election encourages them, nay, obliges the electorate to overestimate its dedication to moral principle, the
    congressional election encourages them, nay, obliges them, to take a more realistic view of themselves, and to send forth a candidate
    who will represent, and act in terms of, that more realistic view.  By remaining pretty much what the Framers intended them to be,
    in other words, the congressional elections, in the context of the engrafted presidential election, provide a highly necessary corrective
    against the bias toward quixotism inherent in our presidential elections.  They add the indispensable ingredient of Sancho Panzism....

All this adds up to one of those analyses where once you read it you wonder how you ever failed to recognize it.  It explains everything from the notoriously brief "honeymoon" period that presidents enjoy--the hundred days or so in which they can at least get their campaign agenda voted on, if not necessarily passed--to the regularity with which the president's party loses seats in midterm elections, even if he remains fairly popular.  Far from being senseless or inexplicable, these tendencies can be seen as reliable bulwarks against the kind of idealistic social experimentation that has torn apart so many other less-well-designed democracies.

It's a terrific essay and as you'll see in Professor Hart's profile, Willmoore Kendall was quite a character.  I look forward to reading more by and about him.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A)

  

Websites:

Willmoore Kendall Links:

    -The Willmoore Kendall Site
    -ARCHIVES : "willmoore kendall" (Find Articles)
    -ESSAY : The "deliberate sense" of Willimoore Kendall  (Jeffrey Hart, March 02, New Criterion)
   -REVIEW: of Willmoore Kendall Contra Mundum (Joseph C. Mouledoux, The American Political Science Review)
    -REVIEW: of Willmoore Kendall: Maverick of American Conservatives, John Alvis and John Murley, editors. (Steven Lenzner, Policy Review)

GENERAL:
    -ESSAY : The True American Tradition (Wesley Allen Riddle, Liberty Haven)
    -ESSAY : Conservatism in the US: 1976 to the Present (ROBERT HEINEMAN)
    -ESSAY : White House on wrong side of GAO suit (Mark Tapscott, February 2, 2002, Townhall)
    -ESSAY : Rewired Editor Tackles Teaching! (William F. Buckley Jr., December 1997, Yale Alumni Magazine)
    -ESSAY : Defining Conservatism Downward (Joe Sobran, January 3, 2002)
    -ESSAY : The Apotheosis of the Lie (Joe Sobran)
    -ESSAY : The Trouble With Enemies :Taking their beliefs seriously ishard. Condemning them even harder. (SAM TANENHAUS, October 19, 2001, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY : A Conservative Declaration (Michael Bordelon, Liberty Haven)
    -ESSAY : The Pied Pipers of Neoconservatism (John F. McManus, August 13, 2001, New American)
    -PROFILE : William F. Buckley Jr. : A friend of one of the country's leading conservatives looks at WFB's career as a writer and editor, his
public life and the time he spent as an undercover CIA agent.  (Chris Weinkopf, Sept. 3, 1999, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of  The Myth Of American Individualism: The Protestant Origins of American Political Thought. By Barry Alan Shain (Eugene D.
Genovese, First Things)
    -REVIEW : of CATHOLIC INTELLECTUALS AND CONSERVATIVE POLITICS IN AMERICA by Patrick Allitt (David Gordon, The Mises Review)
    -REVIEW : of  Leo Strauss and the American Right by Shadia B. Drury (Loren E. Lomasky, Reason)
    -REVIEW : of  Leo Strauss and the American Right by Shadia B. Drury (James F. Ward, American Political Science Review)

Book-related and General Links:
    -The Willmoore Kendall Site
    -ARCHIVES : "willmoore kendall" (Find Articles)
    -ESSAY : The "deliberate sense" of Willimoore Kendall  (Jeffrey Hart, March 02, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY : The True American Tradition (Wesley Allen Riddle, Liberty Haven)
    -ESSAY : Conservatism in the US: 1976 to the Present (ROBERT HEINEMAN)
    -ESSAY : White House on wrong side of GAO suit (Mark Tapscott, February 2, 2002, Townhall)
    -ESSAY : Rewired Editor Tackles Teaching! (William F. Buckley Jr., December 1997, Yale Alumni Magazine)
    -ESSAY : Defining Conservatism Downward (Joe Sobran, January 3, 2002)
    -ESSAY : The Apotheosis of the Lie (Joe Sobran)
    -ESSAY : The Trouble With Enemies :Taking their beliefs seriously ishard. Condemning them even harder. (SAM TANENHAUS, October 19, 2001, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY : A Conservative Declaration (Michael Bordelon, Liberty Haven)
    -ESSAY : The Pied Pipers of Neoconservatism (John F. McManus, August 13, 2001, New American)
    -PROFILE : William F. Buckley Jr. : A friend of one of the country's leading conservatives looks at WFB's career as a writer and editor, his
public life and the time he spent as an undercover CIA agent.  (Chris Weinkopf, Sept. 3, 1999, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of  The Myth Of American Individualism: The Protestant Origins of American Political Thought. By Barry Alan Shain (Eugene D.
Genovese, First Things)
    -REVIEW : of CATHOLIC INTELLECTUALS AND CONSERVATIVE POLITICS IN AMERICA by Patrick Allitt (David Gordon, The Mises Review)
    -REVIEW : of  Leo Strauss and the American Right by Shadia B. Drury (Loren E. Lomasky, Reason)
    -REVIEW : of  Leo Strauss and the American Right by Shadia B. Drury (James F. Ward, American Political Science Review)

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