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Tags: stanton evans | conservative | journalism

Conservative Literary Lion M. Stanton Evans Remembered

An antique typewriter

By    |   Saturday, 21 May 2022 05:10 PM EDT

Modern American conservative journalism is full of colorful, witty writers and commentators, spanning from William F. Buckley to Newsmax’s very own John Gizzi, and from Tucker Carlson to Newsmax’s Steve Cortes and Sean Spicer. 

However, one of the heroes in conservative journalism, M. Stanton "Stan" Evans (July 20, 1934 – March 3, 2015), has been forgotten by many younger conservative journalists entering the profession. Steven F. Hawyard, the author of the new book "M. Stanton Evans: Conservative Wit, Apostle of Freedom," gives a moving and entertaining biography of a titan within conservative journalism throughout the 20th century.

When asked to give a brief overview of who Evans was, Hayward described him as "one of the key figures in the modern conservative movement that took shape in the 1950s, both on the level of theory in forming what ideas were important to conservatives, but also in practice, because he was in the middle of a lot of organizational efforts to build up and bring the conservative movement to a prominent position over the period of three decades."

Hayward also gave Newsmax a brief background of who influenced Evans over his formative years in covering American politics. Hayward explained, "Much of his ideas were original to him, but he had a few intellectual mentors. One is a forgotten figure named Frank Chodorov; second is William F. Buckley, because Stan went to Yale right after Buckley and [Stan] got to know Buckley pretty well; and he read a lot of people on his own, like Milton Friedman. 

"Stan was an exceptionally learned man, and he read a lot of philosophy, history, and theology, which is often unknown part of his intellectual portfolio. He also came up with his own synthesis, and there have been these fights throughout [the postwar history of] conservatism between what are known as traditional conservatives and more libertarian individualists. Stan did not believe that these were really in contention because you needed both together: you need morals and markets to survive."

Evans was attracted to the ideas of Chodorov for how he based his philosophy in natural-law-inspired libertarianism.

Hayward elaborated: "Frank was one of the original libertarians in the 1920s and was the original editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education. One of the interesting things about Chodorov is that he connected the idea of free markets and individual rights with morality. He was a firm, traditional natural law guy; and that makes him different from other libertarian thinkers who are more utilitarian in their calculations. He was also something of an isolationist, going so far as to be critical of American involvement in World War II."

Turning to the Cold War, noted Hayward, "Stan Evans saw it as an existential challenge to freedom, in general, and to the United States in particular. However, you can see that Stan was somewhat skeptical of our overseas military involvements — not because he thought that they weren’t just, but that he doubted our capacity of the probative value of our foreign policy and military experts."

Hayward also vividly characterized the Evans prose and humor. 

"Stan was hilarious in person and could have had a career as a stand-up comic if he had wanted to do so," he said. "His humor did not come out in writing often unless he was writing a satirical piece, and it would be deadpan comedy. He did not believe that the personality of the writer should come out in writing; he believed in the old-fashioned prose of opinion and news to simply convey facts and analysis. It was a meat-and-potatoes way of writing.”

Hayward highlighted the main feature to Evans’ mind that made him a phenomenal journalist. "He had a contrarian instinct: so, if everyone believed that A was true, he would start looking at B or start off with the approach that A was completely wrong. He thought that the conventional wisdom was either just wrong or superficial, and he hated superficiality. 

"There’s an old adage in journalism: if your mom says that she loves you, check it out."

Evans, Hayward emphasized, "also believed in going to original sources, which meant not taking secondhand quotes, looking at statistics, and reading government reports. In the old days, his reporting relied on those original sources that very few journalists bothered to look up, and that was one of his special talents."

Hayward remarked on how Evans was deeply committed to the conservative movement in his professional and personal relationships with fellow conservatives. He recalled that “[t]he thing about Stan was that he lived by a modified version of the 11th Commandment, often attributed to Ronald Reagan, that ‘thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican.’

"Stan’s version was ‘thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow conservative’; so, while he may have been privately critical of a person or an idea, he tended to keep it to himself or tell close friends in private without saying so in print. The only partial exception to that rule was George Will, who was not criticized in a personal or mean way. Stan thought that George Will’s analysis of the American Founding was inadequate, and ironically, Will came to agree with him."

Evans' legacy lies both in extensive reporting and mentoring of future journalists. Hayward said, "Stan was a mentor for a thousand or more conservative journalists. He directed the National Journalism Center (NJC), where I first met him, from the late 1970s through 2002. He was very much a hands-on mentor and instructor for all of us. We learned how to critique mainstream journalism for its superficiality and ideology. 

"His output was staggering: he did two or three columns a week for the Los Angeles Times; he did a weekly radio commentary for CBS News and later for Voice of America; he wrote frequently features for Human Events; he always wrote books; he wrote a column on Capitol Hill called ‘Lawmakers’ for National Review; and he also wrote a column for National Review about obscure books that were either worth reading or that were worth criticism."

What ultimately made Evans so impressive was how friendly and approachable he was. "He was the easiest person to get along with, and he put you at ease the moment that you talked with him," Hayward said. "Unless he was on a deadline with a column that he was writing, his door was always open, and he was always available. After work, he loved to go out with interns and friends to a [baseball] game, a bar, or hear a music performance."

Evans may have passed away just seven years ago, but there is already a resurgence of interest in a journalist who inspired, mentored, and entertained many with a strong command in his ability and passion for writing. 

John Gizzi, in his tribute to Evans in 2015, recalled, "Stan Evans remained the teacher with a laugh and a wink."

While this reviewer did not have the privilege or pleasure to know Evans as many did, Hayward’s book encapsulates the essence of what made him an exceptional reporter with a sagacious wit — and one whose life is worth studying.

(Michael Cozzi is a Ph.D. candidate at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.)

© 2022 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Modern American conservative journalism is full of colorful, witty writers and commentators. However, one of the heroes in conservative journalism has been forgotten by many younger conservative journalists entering the profession.
stanton evans, conservative, journalism
Saturday, 21 May 2022 05:10 PM
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