Willmoore Kendall was a man against the world, a "maverick," an "iconoclast." His thoughts were profound, his countless enemies powerful, his personal life full of drama. Heaven Can Indeed Fall is the first full-length biography of Kendall and integrates the man with the teacher, thinker, and cold warrior. Once a Marxist, Kendall became a fearsome foe of global communism. He never apologized for supporting Joseph McCarthy. As the co-founder of National Review he helped turn the word liberal into an insult. A "stormy petrel," Kendall was a man “who never lost an argument or kept a friend.” Yet he was one of the most effective and sensitive teachers of his age. His ideas shaped Cold War practices of intelligence analysis and psychological warfare. As an academic he became the premier American theorist for conservative populism. The recent reemergence of populist ideas among American conservatives makes understanding Kendall ever more imperative. This book shows how a child prodigy and bucolic boy scout became an ambitious intelligence analyst, razor-tongued polemicist and profound student of American politics. By knowing Kendall one can better understand Cold War America, and contemporary America as well.
Christopher H. Owen is professor of history at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
Introduction: Tribune and Teacher of the American People
Chapter 1: 1909-1929: Sightless Senior and the ‘Boy Wonder’
Chapter 2: 1929-1935: “I Beg to Disagree”
Chapter 3: 1935-1942: “A Great Creature of the Earth
Chapter 4: 1942-1947: “Spreading Like the Green Bay Tree”
Chapter 5: 1947-1954: “It Sure Is A Hard World”
Chapter 6: 1954-1959: “Why Are You So Damn Logical?”
Chapter 7: 1959-1963: “In Open Air Again”
Chapter 8: 1963-1967: “Kendall for King”
Conclusion: 1977: “The Best Man of Bugtussle”
Christopher Owen ably and succinctly narrates the life story of Kendall, a remarkably unconventional individual who nevertheless believed in the wisdom of crowds.... Among the virtues of Owen’s book is the attention it devotes to Kendall’s career in intelligence, including his time overseeing a psychological-warfare project during the Korean War.
Owen’s biography invites those of us who still hope to defend the American political tradition to abandon the caricature of Kendall and to engage with him as one of the most important interpreters of the meaning and significance of America.
The great success of Owen’s biography lies in the subtle way that it puts flesh and blood on populism, a phenomenon that is never intelligible in the abstract.
As the conservative movement is crumbling, many outside of that movement’s mainstream are tracing their way back to some of its overlooked founding fathers. Among these is Willmoore Kendall. It would be wrong to say Kendall has been forgotten; instead, his fate is to have been remembered mostly as a caricature. Many have followed the lead of Kendall’s prized student, William F. Buckley, whose volatile personal relationship with his mentor prompted him to remember Kendall with disappointment about his half-developed ideas and broken relationships. Others remember Kendall as a contrarian; students from the Straussian outpost at the University of Dallas (which Kendall launched) recall him as a 'maverick,' chagrined that the wild thinker was not sufficiently tamed into the Straussian doctrine of natural rights. Most perceptively, George Nash observed that Kendall’s political teaching 'looked forward to the era of the ’silent majority.’' Yet Kendall’s affection for the American people has since too readily been distorted into mere populism, radicalism, even proto-Trumpism.... Christopher Owen’s biography, Heaven Can Indeed Fall, begins to remove Kendall from the shadow of Buckley and his movement.... Reconsideration of Kendall reminds us that Americans who seek to preserve our traditional way of life do indeed face a future of perpetual bondage under a modern state that has extended a hundred-fold beyond what Madison witnessed. The conservative movement, seeking the respectability of our national political establishment, has been helpless to stop the attack on traditional American institutions and values. This raises a question relevant to our memory of Kendall and his contributions: If Kendall is remembered by a marginal movement as a marginal man, does that reveal more about the failings of the man or of the movement? Owen’s biography invites those of us who still hope to defend the American political tradition to abandon the caricature of Kendall and to engage with him as one of the most important interpreters of the meaning and significance of America.
Kendall is an important, but often neglected, figure in the conservative intellectual movement. At a time when conservatives are wrestling with the question of populism, Kendall’s thought is especially timely. Christopher Owen's book makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of American conservatism, and it presents Kendall's unique approach to key questions about democracy and the U.S. Constitution.
Long after his death the legend of Willmoore Kendall endures: brilliant, provocative, exuberantly fecund, ruinously destructive of himself and others-- as attested by fascinated witnesses like Saul Bellow, William F. Buckley Jr, and Garry Wills. Now, thanks to this engrossing and thoroughly researched biography, the real-life Kendall comes before us in all his bristling complexity, the great teacher and great disrupter, more relevant, interesting, and surprising than ever.
This is the biography that Willmoore Kendall, defender of populist conservatism, deserves. In this fascinating portrayal of Kendall’s colorful life, including periods as a socialist, journalist, CIA analyst, teacher, and scholar, the reader is treated to a riveting discussion of a conservative who never lost his faith in the good sense of the American people even as he warned of movements and ideas that threatened to trigger civil war. As the author brilliantly shows, Kendall’s life and persona mirrored the tensions and paradoxes of American conservatism which persist to this day.
Willmoore Kendall was probably the most controversial American political theorist of his time. Brilliant, iconoclastic, and disputatious, he became the leading exponent of what is now called populist conservatism, an amalgam increasingly prominent today. In this deft and discerning biography, Christopher Owen traces the course of Kendall's turbulent career and intellectual journey from Left to Right. Few who encountered Kendall or his writings ever forgot them. Owen's illuminating volume explains why and--in the process--clarifies the tensions that continue to shape American politics.
National review podcast: The Bookmonger discusses "Heaven Can Indeed Fall"