Stan the UncuckableP. J. Collins
Steven F. Hayward
M. Stanton Evans: Conservative Wit, Apostle of Freedom
New York: Encounter Books, 2022
Is it possible to be a real old-school conservative or Man of the Right, and not — sooner or later — cut corners, betray your principles, sell out? Or — as we liked to put it seven or eight years ago — cuck?
This question was in the forefront of my mind as I dipped into this richly entertaining new biography of M. Stanton Evans by Steven Hayward. Surely, I thought, Stan Evans is going to disappoint us sooner or later. He’ll pull a Bill Buckley move, come out with trite drivel about how there’s Only One Race (the yoomin race); or how Israel is our most trusted ally; or how Harry Truman was so wise to “integrate” the armed forces in 1948. He’ll do a George Will and tell us why some new “liberal” agendum is actually very sound and in keeping with conservative or libertarian principles. Et cetera.
But not a bit of it! Incredibly, this Stan Evans fellow appears to have got through his 80 years of terrestrial life with his integrity intact. From what I can gather, he managed it with tons of wit, a cynical attitude, a healthy pugnacity, a bit of deflection, and maybe also the good sense to keep away from the fever swamps of the Left where the debate was rigged. If you tried to nag and provoke him with some Left-liberal piety — Don’t you agree, Stan, don’t you agree? — he’d zap you with some hilariously contrarian declaration.
Perhaps the most famous “Bore Baffler” (as he called it) was his rejoinder to a cocktail-party bore trying to persuade Stan to denounce the late Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph R. McCarthy: “Personally Phil, I didn’t like what McCarthy was trying to do, but I did like his methods!”
Much of the Evans wit follows the same shock-and-awe template:
“I wasn’t for Nixon until after Watergate,” he told an earnest academic audience at Princeton in 2006. “After wage and price controls, Watergate was a breath of fresh air. In fact, I called over to Pat Buchanan at the White House and told him, “If only I had known you guys were doing all this neat stuff . . .”
When accosted by a bum asking for money, Stan agreed to give him some, along with the admonition, “Only if you’re going to buy alcohol; I wouldn’t want you to use it to buy food.”
Listening to “Light My Fire” by The Doors (Stan seems to have had an encyclopedic knowledge of rock music), he said, “What do you mean, there’s no time to wallow in the mire? There’s always time to wallow in the mire. Hey, you make time to wallow in the mire.”
Author Hayward very wisely front-end-loads his biography with some of the most pungent witticisms and stories, such as about how Stan liked junk food: He supposedly once sent back a White Castle hamburger because “it wasn’t greasy enough.” In his latter years, when he lived near Leesburg, Virginia, he rejoiced that his new village gave him great variety in restaurants, as there was a Roy Rogers at both ends of town. He liked having a three-legged dog named Zip, because Zip wasn’t always begging you to go for walks or play fetch. He considered cigarette smoking his way of getting the recommended five daily servings of leafy green vegetables.
And so Hayward hooks you from the start, showcasing a colorful, lovable personality you want to know more about. That’s a good thing, because the Evans career was a dizzying one. At one moment he’s appointed regional editor for the nascent National Review, in the next he’s writing editorials for the Indianapolis News, then suddenly he’s editor of the paper, at age 26. Meantime he’s founded Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) and will go on to start the American Conservative Union (ACU), CPAC, and the National Journalism Center in Washington, DC, which has produced a varied array of writers and pundits, including Ann Coulter, Malcolm Gladwell, and Greg Gutfeld. He didn’t found the rather unfortunate American Spectator publication, but in its early, two-fisted incarnation it came into being while sheltered under his Indiana lee, as it were. Author Hayward also credits Evans with founding the Party of the Right (POR) in the Yale Political Union during his undergraduate days. The POR was more or less the motherhouse and spawning ground of YAF and the ACU, so that would make sense. However, my POR historian friends tell me that the author is in error; Stan Evans was a member, but not the founder.
Moving right along here: Stan was also managing editor of Human Events (for which he was radio pitchman), taught journalism at a university for 25 years, and edited a magazine called Consumers’ Research (new to me, but it turns out to be the original, investigative version of Consumer Reports; the latter originated as a Communist-backed spinoff in the 1930s). He’s probably also the individual most responsible for getting Ronald Reagan elected to the White House, beginning with Reagan’s insurgent bid to wrest the nomination from Gerald Ford (whom Stan despised) in 1976. He met President Reagan regularly during his first term in office, and Human Events never held back criticism when the President strayed from the conservative strait-and-narrow. “I’m reading it more and enjoying it less!” said Reagan, balefully.
Reading the Reagan section, I was put in mind of F. Roger Devlin’s shrewd and bitter appraisal of the Reagan years as an eight-year self-congratulatory inaugural ball. (This was during Roger’s talk at the November 2016 NPI conference.) A fair judgment, but Stan Evans wasn’t to blame.
You may recall Stan’s sonorous, drawling voice from CBS Radio’s Spectrum (“Nine Distinct Viewpoints!”) a few decades back. The Stan Evans sound was a mix of Jimmy Stewart and Jim Backus, with maybe a little Edward G. Robinson thrown in. He didn’t tell jokes; the segments were too short for that. His commentary was always somber and thick with facts. When I was in college, listening to his radio spots and his plugs for Human Events, I never guessed what a hilarious and subversive wit lay behind the drawl.
I did know a little bit about his background, however, and had good reason to suppose that he was of very sound stock. His father, Medford B. Evans, was a college professor and one-time head of security for the Manhattan Project. Evans pere was also a regular contributor to American Opinion magazine (the John Birch Society periodical) and — best of all — the managing editor of The Citizen: A Journal of Fact and Opinion, which was the organ of the Citizens’ Councils of America (CCA). The Citizens’ Councils are almost invariably referred to in Leftist media as “White Citizens’ Councils,” and if you do a quick search online (go ahead and Google), you’ll find the usual slurs (“white supremacist,” “racist,” etc.) that attach to racialist and pro-segregation activism. I see Wikipedia actually calls them White Citizens’ Councils throughout the article, and says they were basically a Rotarian version of the Ku Klux Klan.
But in its heyday, the CCA was a very constructive and useful organization. The Citizens’ Councils came into being in order to halt or avoid school integration in the wake of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. One obvious solution was to found your own private day schools (“segregation academies,” the Left called them). Medford B. Evans wrote a guide on how to do it entitled, “How to Start a Private School.” Curiously enough, author Hayward mentions the Bircher connection of the elder Evans, but says nothing about his prominence in the CCA. This is probably simply an oversight; what happens when you write a biography without consulting me. The only reason I know Medford Evans edited The Citizen is that I read American Opinion in my tender years, and there it was, every month, in Prof. Evans’s bio.
I lay these tidbits about Stan Evans’ background before you not just because they’re interesting trivia, but because I believe these facts made his life easier. There was no way he could cuck and canoodle his way into the Left’s good graces, the way Bill Buckley and Barry Goldwater and, alas!, Ronald Reagan liked to do. Stan’s father was one of the leading segregation activists of the 1950s and ‘60s, and there was no getting away from that. Perhaps if Buckley’s father had been something like that, National Review could have held onto the pro-segregation stance it took in its early years.
Significantly, Stan seldom touched on issues of race; he didn’t need to. Nor did he waste ink chasing after pointless “social conservative” causes such as abortion and the homosexual menace (you know — the two issues we’re permitted to waste energy on). After all . . . there was so much other neat stuff to write about.
Pricking inflated reputations, for example. I was delighted to find him expose the poltroonish humbug of George F. Kennan, the “Mister X” who wrote one long telegram in 1946 proposing a “containment” strategy against the USSR, and spent the next half-century coasting on his reputation. In the 1950s and ‘60s the usual Kennan advice was that we shouldn’t try to roll back the Soviet juggernaut; rather we should devote ourselves to maintaining Peaceful Coexistence.
Stan Evans liked to rehabilitate reputations, too, when such was in order. Perhaps his most famous book is the monumental Blacklisted by History, a thousand-page doorstop demonstrating that Joe McCarthy was usually in the right while his defamers were well-poisoners, passing off endless lies that eventually embedded themselves as commonly accepted “facts.” A crucial one here is the very first lie they told about McCarthy: that in Wheeling, West Virginia in 1950 he said “I have here in my hand” a list of 205 Communists or security risks in the State Department. Stan Evans chased this story down the rabbit hole and found that the actual number McCarthy used was 57. Where did the 205 come from? Who knows, but it doesn’t appear in any news report from the time. Likewise, the story that McCarthy was a bottle-a-day man who drank himself to death is highly dubious, and most likely one more instance of character assassination.
Digging for facts and numbers and other paydirt were Stan’s specialty. He didn’t just dump opinion on your lap, the way most columnists and editorial writers do. Decades before anyone talked about “death panels” and healthcare rationing as a result of Obamacare, Stan was gauging the effect of Federal involvement in healthcare delivery and finding that the net result was a doubling in healthcare costs, as a result of removing competition from the marketplace. If you find your health insurance now costs five times what you paid 30 years ago, this is something that was long ago forecast and diagnosed by M. Stanton Evans.
As we can see from the cover, Stan was quite a handsome young man. Again, a bit Jimmy Stewart-ish. But you’d never recognize him from that drawing or early photographs if you knew him any time after about 1970. Early on he developed a jowly visage, ending up looking like the cartoon character Deputy Dawg. This fit in very well with his wry, contrarian persona. Stan was the mischievous uncle who feeds you a glass of rye when you’re ten years old. “Good medicine! It’ll kill the worms! Drink up!” How can you not love this guy?
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Thanks for this piece. I didn’t know MSE’s bio but years ago read “Blacklisted…” He confirmed what I had long suspected — that “McCarthyism” is one of the biggest single character assassinations in American history. Also figured that he must a guy tough as nails.
Diana West is a MSE protege, I believe, and has written some very good books.
Neocon David Horowitz actually fired one of his writers for giving American Betrayal a good review.
That was a good book but Blacklisted By History is an out-and-out classic.
Maybe the best thing ever written on McCarthyism was Sam Francis’s famous essay “The Evil That Men Don’t Do”, reprinted in his collection Beautiful Losers. The paleoconservative Christian Kopff once agreed with me that that was an unusually powerful essay. Everyone should read it.
Blacklisted is one of those books that changed my outlook on things. I had no idea of the author’s background. Evans sounds like he was kind of a punk, and I mean that with the greatest of affection.
I remember that when Stan Evans announced he was terminally ill by saying “I just received the good news that I’ll have enough money to last the rest of my life.”
-That’s a paraphrase from what he said precisely. He put it so much better and wittier than I could reproduce. A great hero was he
I knew Stan Evans personally, though slightly. He was a fine man. This article describes him well.
Blacklisted by History is a great book. Only someone with Evans’s long personal experience of the events he describes could have written it. McCarthy was, indeed, terribly misrepresented by the media, both in his own time and (of course) today.
One of my favorite McCarthy stories (though not, as I recollect, one recounted by Evans) is about the Senator’s encounter with Drew Pearson at the Sulgrave Club, a very elegant private women’s club on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC. Pearson had a syndicated newspaper column, and is usually described as a “muckraker,” meaning that he sought out and published sensational and sometimes salacious stories, often dubiously sourced, about his political enemies. He was also a blatant communist sympathizer. When Tailgunner Joe ran into Pearson, fisticuffs broke out – Pearson emerged the worse for wear.
I have attended many dinners at the Sulgrave Club, and cannot imagine anything quite like that. It would have been an enviable experience to have witnessed it.
Great book about a great American, Joe McCarthy. Possibly the easiest, most enthralling 1,000 page read anybody can undertake. I like all of it, but was particularly taken by the Roy Cohn sections, as well as the epic McCarthy-Army hearings which was watched by a huge portion of the population in an era of only three TV networks and not quite universal TV ownership. This was Tailgunner Joe’s downfall perhaps, going toe to toe with institution that the President at the time, Ike, would die to defend.
“[McCarthy’s downfall was] going toe-to-toe with an institution Ike would die to defend.”
You’re right if the institution you’re talking about was the network of Soviet moles in America
I respect Evans but it sounds like he and the author Collins are a little hard on George Kennan, who was actually far more based than Evans.
I didn’t see your comment before I wrote mine. Thanks for that AR link, which I never read, but shall soon. Kennan was a good man, too – and almost certainly far more erudite than Evans. Kennan was a real conservative, albeit of a more European type, whereas Evans was more of a Buckley/Reagan/postwar “fusionist”, interested in the old freedom vs. virtue debate, but noticeably silent on race qua race (eg, when Human Events in the 1980s would criticize the critics of, say, apartheid, they would do it by pointing out the latter’s frequent commie or other unsavory connections, or perhaps by calling attention to atrocities committed by the ANC; never would they say that SA morally belonged to the whites who founded and built it, and thus that apartheid was a justifiable policy of racial and national preservation).
Unfortunately, Mr. Evans did indeed cuck. In 2006, Evans voted to expel William H. Regnery II from the Board of Trustees of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute for racial wrongthink. Mr. Regnery wrote about the experience in his contribution to Paul Gottfried and Richard Spencer’s anthology, “The Great Purge.”
That said, Evans’s “Blacklisted by History” was one of the most formative books I read during my awakening.
Well thank you for the smackdown and correction re the late Bill Regnery, who I am pretty sure does not appear in this book. I see Sam Dickson wrote in VDare about Bill having been expelled from the board of directors of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in 2006. I would love to know the details and connect the dots, and decide whether Stan Evans was really in the loop on that decision.
Thanks also to others for defending George Kennan. It’s been a while since I read the massive biography by John Lewis Gaddis, but when I read that Stan found him irksome in his later years, I had a flash of recognition.
Thank you for alerting us to this book. Hayward is a major neocon, so I might otherwise have avoided it (I probably still will – as one ages, one’s reading ought to become more focused and decreasingly ‘promiscuous’ – but might buy it if I see a remaindered or used copy).
Stanton Evans was indeed a good guy. My parents loved Human Events back in the 70s-80s. I read Evans’s The Theme is Freedom when it came out in the 90s. I liked it, but it certainly wasn’t subversive in the way that other books (Race, Evolution, and Behavior; America Balkanized; The Bell Curve; Alien Nation) from that period were. I cannot recall Evans even mentioning what was by 1990 the already totally self-evident problem of “diversity”. I had read a library copy of that book, so I can’t skim it now to jog my memory. But, while I agreed with its general theme (especially his section arguing that the American Revolution was both justified and deeply conservative, less a “revolution” than a restoration seeking to reclaim the fullness of old English common law rights that Parliament was in the then process of usurping), I distinctly recall that it seemed to me already to be somewhat dated. It struck me at the time as the kind of conservative book I was reading in high school in the 1970s, well before the “DQ” became unavoidable due to sheer numbers, as well as the pace of demographic change.
Embarrassingly, I can’t even recall having heard of Blacklisted by History. I will have to try to find a copy.
I must take great and grave exception, however, to the author’s (and I guess Evans’s) ignorant dismissal of George Kennan. He was much more than just the “father of containment” and a realist anti-communist. He was a major diplomatic historian, winner of many prestigious academic prizes (back when those prizes still did mean something). He was also, arguably, far more of a true conservative than Evans, especially when it came to racial realism. Kennan was a defender of the apartheid system in South Africa; he hated the Black Power movement of the 60s; he was a staunch “social conservative” (when that term was associated with so much more of value than single-issue anti-abortion fanaticism); he was generally a foreign policy anti-interventionist, not because he was a commie-symp like the 60s New Lefties, but for America First reasons (whereas Evans was a militant National Review/Reaganite ideological Cold Warrior; I think this is why Evans would have been dismissive towards Kennan; but retrospectively, Kennan seems to have been the wiser man); and finally, Kennan was deeply hostile to mass nonwhite immigration, and said so on record (and in his early 90s book, Around the Cragged Hill).
It’s funny you mention how your reading promiscuity is decreasing, yet you express an interest in Blacklisted By History, possibly unaware of its ~1,000 page length. That said, well worth the read!
The fact that you and others here, as well as Pat Buchanan sing encomia to George Kennan makes me want to read much more about him. He and Evans were truly great Americans, the likes of which we don’t see much these days.
“[Kennan] was generally a foreign policy anti-interventionist, not because he was a commie-symp like the 60s New Lefties, but for America First reasons (whereas Evans was a militant National Review/Reaganite ideological Cold Warrior; I think this is why Evans would have been dismissive towards Kennan; but retrospectively, Kennan seems to have been the wiser man)..”
Well said. Kennan wanted peaceful coexistence with the USSR because he felt their communist system would eventually collapse and in the meantime he wanted to avoid a “brother war” between two majority white nations.
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