No one could accuse M. Stanton Evans, who lost his battle with pancreatic cancer at age 80 on March 3, of becoming a professional conservative. He was a trailblazing conservative, having been there, for instance, when William F. Buckley, Jr., launched Young Americans for Freedom at his estate in Sharon. Indeed, Stan was more than an attendee: He penned the Sharon Statement, YAF’s guiding principles, which, at 369 words, might be the best definition of American conservatism ever put down. Stan wrote it, the story went, on the back of a cocktail napkin, in about 30 minutes, on the flight to Sharon. In this case, the New York Times and the Washington Post got it right: He “helped shape [the] conservative movement,” the Times wrote, and he was a “guiding force in modern conservatism,” the Post reported. Though Stan spent a good part of his career inside the Washington Beltway, he never became part of the Beltway Right.
At 26, Stan was the youngest editor ever of the Indianapolis News, but it was as founder of the National Journalism Center and author of numerous books that he made his mark. His last book was Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America’s Enemies. Among the men and women he trained and sent into American journalism are Ann Coulter, John Fund, Malcolm Gladwell, Bill McGurn, Maggie Gallagher, and Martin Morse Wooster. His acolytes have published a library full of books. Not all of the Evans alumni are hard-nosed conservatives. But all of them left the NJC with at least one lesson Stan drilled into them: From facts we have nothing to fear. One’s opinions must be grounded not in ideology but in facts. They are stubborn things, to quote John Adams, and in the end, objective truth matters.
M. Stanton Evans’s accomplishments are widely known, and his obituaries duly recorded them. Yet perhaps what those who knew Stan remember most, beyond his erudition and literary canon, was his mordant wit.
Years ago, I invited Stan to speak at the Virginia Press Association’s annual meeting. He opened his luncheon discourse thusly: “Greetings from Rodham and Gomorrah.” The liberal crowd roared. It roared again as he explained why journalism was a great career: You work inside, in the air conditioning. Then he recounted in hilarious detail how the major newspapers would cover an asteroid on its way to obliterate Earth. (“Women and minorities to be affected most,” the Post would report. The New York Times would put the story on page A27.) The laughter kept coming. Then, to show just how important knowledge of one’s subject matter is for a reporter, he told the munching worthies of Virginia’s media about the young lady who produced a television story about “World War Eleven.” Stan’s quip, paraphrased: You’d think after 35 Super Bowls we’d know our Roman numerals. Stan was voted that year’s most popular speaker. Not bad for a McCarthy partisan in front of the mainstream media.
Stan wasn’t a contrarian on McCarthy alone. With droll abandon, he punctured almost every cherished left-wing tenet of our age. “Thank you for smoking,” a sign on his desk importuned visitors. Tobacco, said he, was his favorite leafy vegetable. “I always start off each morning with black coffee and cigarettes because breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” he said. Stan declared that he didn’t like Nixon until Watergate, and that he called the White House to say that if he had known about the burglary, he wouldn’t have been so tough on Tricky Dick. Of the man who tricked Dick out of the 1960 election, Stan found an analogy in Chubby Checker’s spasmodic West African shuffle: “I say the twist was originated in Washington by the Kennedy administration—a lot of frantic motion with no visible progress.”
Giving the keynote address at the Philadelphia Society’s meeting in 2010, Stan explained Al Sharpton’s “subtext” when the good reverend said, as Stan translated his remark, “we don’t need to learn anything from Socrates and them Greek homos.” “Now that sounds very negative,” Stan opined. “And yet, you have to interpret it, and what I think he was saying, in his way, was very Weaverian. I think what he was saying is that, indeed, there is a paradigm of essences . . . to which the phenomenology of the world is in continuing approximation. But, not strictly along the Athenian model.”
Stan also explained why Lady Gaga showed up at the MTV Video Music Awards wearing a “dress” made of raw flank steak. Far from being a simple attention-getting mechanism, “this is some kind of statement. She’s making a point here. . . . That the created order, and all therein, are placed under our dominion, albeit being subject to the higher law of the Creator.”
Stan’s kindness and good humor were legendary; his achievements, legion. But perhaps his greatest was inspiring a young student at the NJC, Mario Aquinas Calabrese, to receive Holy Orders. Calabrese read Stan’s book The Theme Is Freedom, which treats the Christian roots of our political order. Therein, Calabrese found Ss. Augustine and Thomas, which in turn led him to more reading and thinking, and then to don the Dominican robe.
Father Calabrese visited Stan four times as he lay dying. He baptized his old friend, then gave him the rest of the sacraments. Medford Stanton Evans died in the Faith. His investment in the facts that matter paid an eternal dividend.