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  • Writer's pictureJosh Lewis

Episode 99 – The Forgotten Legacy of Willmoore Kendall with Chris Owen

Few individuals have had as deep an impact on modern conservative thought, yet remain in relative obscurity, as Willmoore Kendall. The conservative English professor Jeffrey Hart said of Kendall that he was "the most important political theorist to have emerged in the twenty-odd years since the end of World War II." Kendall’s writings are thought-provoking, challenging, contentious, scrupulous, and, often, innovative. His analysis and critiques took no prisoners on both the Right and Left, and his prickly personality shattered relationships with friends, family, and spouses alike. Founding editor of National Review and early mentor to William F. Buckley, Kendall was on the forefront of conservative thought. His ideas don’t entirely fit squarely within the broader warring camps on the Right today, but they are nonetheless instructive, and we ignore his arguments at our own peril.

Joining Saving Elephants host Josh Lewis to discuss the life and ideas of this important yet often neglected thinker on the Right is historian Chris Owen whose new book Heaven Can Indeed Fall: The Life of Willmoore Kendall offers the definitive biography of Kendall’s life and work.

Per the book’s description: “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.”

About Chris Owen

Dr. Christopher Owen is a historian and recently retired Professor of English within the Department of Languages and Literature at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Dr. Owen earned his PhD in history at Emory University in 1991. His previous book includes The Sacred Flame of Love: Methodism and Society in Nineteenth-Century Georgia.

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