Willmoore Kendall’s ‘McCarthyite’ Socrates in conservative free speech debates of the 1950s and 1960s
Abstract: Sennator Joseph McCarthy and the ancient Athenian philosopher Socrates occupied opposing ends of a freedom spectrum in the 1950s: one became a byword for repression and the other is remembered as a fearless seeker of truth and opponent of tyranny. This paper explores the reaction on the Right created by liberalism’s appropriation of Socrates to attack McCarthyism. Focusing on works by Willmoore Kendall, an influential right-wing populist who came to embrace Leo Strauss’s elitist emphasis on classical Greek thinkers, it examines how the resulting populist/elitist synthesis justified McCarthyism using Socrates’ trial and death at the hands of the Athenian democracy. Kendall’s Socrates, based upon a close re-engagement with Plato’s Apology and Crito, may actually be closer to the figure seen through our sources than the liberal version. However, this apparent accuracy requires sacrificing the reader’s ability to judge events for themselves.