Stan Evans helped build the conservative movement by founding the American Conservative Union, the Conservative Political Action Conference, and establishing the National Journalism Center. He was, in addition, a tremendous journalist and thinker. His book “The Theme Is Freedom” should be a conservative classic, Steven Hayward observes in his new book “M. Stanton Evans: Conservative Wit, Apostle of Freedom.”
What also made Evans so very unique was his tremendous humor that he used to undermine progressive moralizing. Hayward notes that a standard liberal critique of America was to say that any country that can land a man on the moon can enact x progressive policy. Evans’ response was, “Any country that can land a man on the moon can abolish the income tax.”
Evans once said, to the consternation of liberals at Princeton, “I didn’t support Nixon until after Watergate. Look, after wage and price controls, Watergate was a breath of fresh air.” They were not amused, but we can be and learn from this giant of conservative journalism and institution building.
Listen to the podcast below:
Richard Reinsch: Welcome, Steve Hayward, to the program today. We’re going to be discussing Steve’s new book, “M. Stanton Evans: Conservative Wit, Apostle of Freedom.” Steven Hayward is a resident scholar at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies. He’s a visiting lecture at Berkeley Law. He’s also been a distinguished visiting professor at Pepperdine’s School of Public Policy. He’s the author of a number of highly regarded books, including two volumes on “The Age of Reagan” and “Patriotism Is Not Enough: Harry Jaffa, Walter Berns, and the Arguments that Redefined American Conservatism.” And many, of course, will know Steven from his daily blogging at powerlineblog.com, a site that I visit every morning. Steven, it’s great to have you on the program to talk about the great Stan Evans.
Steven Hayward: Well, thanks, Richard. It’s great to be joining you again.
Reinsch: All right. So Steven, thinking about this new book on the great journalist Stan Evans, who was Stan Evans and what got you interested in writing about him?
Hayward: Well, I think the two things to know about him is he was a hugely important figure in the modern conservative movement. And although he passed away just seven years ago now, he’s already been forgotten. And so for those two reasons, I thought it was worth writing a book about him, a standard old-fashion biography from birth to his last. And also, I knew him pretty well, not as well as many people did. But I do think it’s important that conservatives keep alive the memory of their heroes and teachers. And so I think it’s important for us to have a biography project for lots of people.
Reinsch: So Stan Evans, legendary conservative journalist. You write about his career extensively. In the book, you talk about a number of his contributions, important contributions to political campaigns, his journalism career, his books, and the mark he makes and help building the conservative movement. What really formed Stan Evans and what made him decide to become a journalist?
Hayward: Well, I think it was in his bloodstream. His father was a fairly well known professor of English literature and a staunch conservative back in the ’30s and ’40s before there really was a modern conservative movement. And then Stan went to Yale starting in the fall of 1952, which was the same year Bill Buckley had graduated and published, of course, his famous book “God and Man at Yale.” So Stan got to Yale and he fell in the slip stream of the residue, you might say, that Buckley had left there and got active in conservative politics at Yale.
Actually, Stan founded the Party of the Right inside the Yale Political Union, which I think still exists. He became a reporter and editorial writer on the Yale Daily News, just as Buckley had been. And he was rebelling right away in class against the leftism, the same kind of leftism that Buckley rebelled against at Yale. So he got an early start. And from there … I think what’s interesting about Stan is we know him as a journalist and also as a political activist, and we’ll come to that, but he is also a pretty serious thinker.
I had either forgotten or never knew in the first place that when he got out of Yale, he actually did do a year of graduate study under Ludwig von Mises at NYU, before he then decided to do journalism as his main career. But one of the things you can tell about Stan is that he could have been a highly successful academic. And I think could have been one of the titans that we rank up on the bookshelves next to Eric Voegelin or Milton Friedman or someone like that.
Reinsch: Wow. That’s impressive. I wanted to talk more about him studying with Ludwig von Mises. He arrives at Yale. He’s the son of an academic, Medford Evans. Does he arrive at Yale and it’s like there’s a progressive collectivist mindset? He pushes against that, but what starts to really form him?
Hayward: Well, he starts running across some of the early classics of conservatism. I think the most important figure for forming Stan’s early views was Frank Chodorov, a figure who’s been really forgotten and I think should be brought back. I actually did about a five or six page digression about Frank Chodorov in the book, because I went back and read a lot of Chodorov myself. I had knew the name and had read a couple of essays of his years ago, but I had forgotten how great Frank Chodorov was.
Now, he was very much a pure libertarian. Chodorov was one of those guys who said, “If you call me a conservative, I’m going to punch you in the nose.” And this is interesting influence on Stan that’s very subtle. Chodorov was also very typical of the non-interventionist point of view you associate with libertarians from back in that era, and of course right up to today. He was very skeptical, if not opposed to World War II, in fact, or to American involvement in World War II, I should say. And later, you can pick up hints. They’re very subtle. That Stan had a lot of sympathy, from a non-interventionist point of view, and was always conflicted, I think during the Cold War with the necessity for needing a lot of defense preparedness against the Soviet Union.
But at the same time he was … And especially you saw this after 9/11 and after the Cold War was over, he was not a fan of foreign interventionism and very much cast a skeptical eye toward the occupation of Iraq, for example. Of course, that’s toward the end of his story. But still, in the Vietnam years, he didn’t want to give aid and comfort to the anti-war movement, because he understood it’s a character. But at the same time, he here and there, he would betray that, boy there’s a Johnson administration totally mismanaging this war. So anyway, he got a lot of that from Chodorov, I think.
Reinsch: So Stan ends up interestingly in Indianapolis early in his career, in his 20s, and is appointed editor-in-chief of the Indianapolis Star at the age of 26. And this is a major regional newspaper. And I guess we have to remind people that at this period, newspapers really mattered. Editorial pages really mattered as a source of where people got their news and information, as opposed to now they’re dying on the vine, but maybe talk some about that and how Stan’s career starts to take shape.
Hayward: That is an interesting point. It’s worth mentioning that he did work briefly out of college for Frank Chodorov at The Freeman, which then really was one of the only conservative or libertarian-leaning publications around. National Review hadn’t even started yet. Human Events was an eight-page newsletter. He later worked for Human Events in Washington, but the Indianapolis … It was actually the Indianapolis News, which was the evening paper owned by Eugene Pulliam, who also owned the Indianapolis Star, which does still exist today.
And Pulliam was a solid Midwestern conservative. He wanted to recruit conservative writers and find a conservative editor. He’d hoped oddly enough to lure Bill Buckley to Indianapolis, but that’s obviously unthinkable for Buckley for obvious reasons. Anyway, Stan decided to go there to be an editorial writer and before very long, Pulliam recognized his talent and energy and made him editor-in-chief at, like you say, the age of 26. He was the youngest editor of a major daily newspaper in America at the time and I think maybe ever.
And he mostly wrote content on the editorial pages, which were quite robust in those days, but he did write the occasional news story. And I knew he had been at the Indianapolis News. I had never bothered to go back and look up any of that old journalism. But of course, I did for the book and I was astonished at his output and how interesting it was, how sophisticated it was. And at the same time, Evans himself said … he told Time magazine, in fact, I think in 1961, that, “My views are the views of the farmer from Seymour, Indiana. Loves this country, loves God and his community.” So even though Stan was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Yale and otherwise fitted for the Acela corridor, as we’d say today, he was much more at home in Indianapolis.
Reinsch: That’s something that you bring out in the book about Stan, and maybe the contrast. You mentioned Buckley, which you also mentioned The Wall Street Journal wanted to recruit him quickly away. And maybe that’s a reason why he was offered the editor-in-chief position and he stays in Indianapolis. But that’s a part of his character that he likes rock and roll, cigarettes, Coors beer. I guess Coors beer wasn’t yet a thing in the ’60s or the ’50s, but he liked traditional things in American popular culture and … gave no trapping or sign that he was an elitist in any respect. He was, as you say, agreed with the farmer from Seymour, Indiana, more or less.
Hayward: He’s legendary for his wit, which we can come to in a bit, but he had plain tastes. He liked to joke that he liked Hardee’s fast food, Big Gulp sodas from 7-Eleven.
Reinsch: Which could also be used ashtrays.
Hayward: Right. And people would talk about taking him to a fancy restaurant, like Tom Winter, who was the publisher of Human Events. And Stan would order a steak and the waiter would come with a big side of Carbone sauce and Stan would say indignantly, “You’re not going to ruin that perfectly good steak with that stuff, are you?” And I was an intern for him. That’s how I got to know him as I was a product of his National Journalism Center myself right out of college.
And I remember in the ’80s … This is early ’80s. He often wore turtlenecks, which had really fallen out of fashion from the ’60s and the ’70s, but he wore turtlenecks a lot. It was very rare to see him in a coat and tie. He would, when he would go to Capitol Hill or some important fair, but otherwise, he dressed casually, he ate casually. And like you say, he loved rock and roll and was often the winner of any rock and roll music tribute night at any bar.
Reinsch: You mentioned his wit. Maybe we can talk about that. I won’t even try and recount any Stan Evans’ jokes because it’s him. It’s his voice. It’s the facial expressions he would give off. I remember watching him several times, and the timing and delivery of the joke, which is key for any comedian, but he did it really well. But that became a huge part of the Stan Evans legend. And I can remember at Philadelphia Society meetings, the mere approach of Stan Evans to the microphone, people were already laughing in anticipation of what he was about to say.
Hayward: No. He had the presence of a first rate standup comic. And by the way, he could have made living at that if that had been the way his ambition and mind had run. But you’re right, it was the comic timing and his draw and delivery. Although you can see the logic of a lot of his jokes was pretty consistent. He liked to find some liberal cliche or some liberal perception and turn it on its head or turn it inside out. And so some of these you’ll get the humor of even though like you say, none of us can do the delivery. I’ve seen people try and tell his jokes and it just falls flat. But one of my favorites of his—
Reinsch: Just on his wit though, it was taking the platitudes and the self-importance of the left and just totally bearing it.
Hayward: One of my favorites was, I grew up … I’m so old I like to say now. I grew up with that favorite cliche of liberals from the ’60s and early ’70s that ran, any country that can land a man on the moon can solve X problem. It has come back a few times in recent years. Anyway, you heard that all the time from liberal editorial writers and speakers. And Stan’s version was any country that can land a man on the moon can abolish the income tax. And then I’ve seen him by the way, give these jokes again, deadpan, and liberals will take them seriously. Because I remember—
Reinsch: Oh yes.
Hayward: … him at a conference at Princeton and he did his Watergate jokes. And one of them was, “I didn’t support Nixon until after Watergate. Look, after wage and price controls, Watergate was a breath of fresh air.” And all these serious Princeton people were just horrified that someone could even make such a joke. He loved punking the left with jokes like that.
I was going to say is that you very rarely saw him display his wit in his journalism. Once in a while he’d write a satirical column, but usually his journalism was … I think it was John Chamberlain who described it as a straightly squared, double joisted, just the facts, ma’am like Sergeant Joe Friday. He didn’t do a lot of style. So this was a big surprise for a lot of people is to meet this person who you’d either hear on the radio or read in the paper and find out how, gosh, darn funny he was all the time.
Reinsch: And I think it was because of the National Journalism Center and the great work he did there bringing in many talented people into journalism who were conservative. Again, helping them get their start. He was on a college panel. I wasn’t there, but I’ve heard several accounts of this. He’s on a panel about student life or helping young people navigate things and thought about dangers, things that could trip them up. And a female college dean went on and on about sex and problems that could happen there. And the solution was really a lot of contraception, and we just needed to get the contraception out there, throw it at the kids, make sure they had it.
And Stan Evans apparently just deadpan said, “My fellow panel member has told us and regaled us with the great utility of the condom and how wonderful it is. But she’s neglected one thing, and that is just how truly comfortable it is to wear. As a matter of fact, I’m wearing one right now.”
Hayward: I’ve seen a version of that.
Reinsch: And just incredible stuff. And she was completely taken aback. She had no response. No retort whatsoever. That’s Stan Evans humor.
Hayward: That’s right.
Reinsch: Part of the journalism as well, this great writer, this great communicator. And he writes the Sharon Statement. I think that dates back to … was it 1962?
Hayward: ’61, I think, or even ’60. I think it’s ’60
Reinsch: At the home of Bill Buckley, 90 young conservatives, more or less, activists and thinkers, they choose Stan to draft the Sharon Statement. And so in about 300 words, he announces succinctly, and I enjoyed reading it again in your book, principles of a foundational statement about conservatism and what they were about. And you contrast that with Port Huron Statement, which I’ve also had the unfortunate opportunity to read because of Amity Shlaes’ book on the ’60s. And that statement is 5,000 words and no one really thinks about it anymore except for self important leftists. But the Sharon Statement talk about that. And I also think it’s a fusionism statement. And talk about what fusionism was.
Hayward: Oh, sure. The Sharon Statement was the founding document for the founding of the Young Americans for Freedom, for YAF. And it really grew out of the fact that the early enthusiasm for Barry Goldwater, which starts at the 1960 convention really was a largely a youth movement. It was young conservatives like Stan, and also people now have forgotten we’ve lost Doug Caddy and several others. And they decided after the convention, well, we need to organize the youth. It’s one thing to have cult Republicans, but let’s have a conservative group, because a lot of people thought … Remember the politics at the time, there were lots of conservative Democrats.
So if you’re going to build a conservative movement, it shouldn’t just be an adjunct to the Republican party. So that’s when they decided, let’s get together. A hundred young conservatives came to Buckley’s estate for the meeting, and they decided to start an organization and then they wanted a statement of principles and that’s, as you say, they asked Stan to write the Sharon Statement, the first of many such statements Stan wrote for conservatives. And again, I think I mentioned that … If I didn’t, one of the reasons Stan is overlooked now or forgotten already is that he was such a modest person. He never boasted about himself. He never sought the limelight for anything.
And of course, that makes him more trusted in a lot of ways. But in later years, if you’d ask him about the Sharon Statement, he would never boast of having been the principal author of it. If you asked him directly about it, he’d say, “Well, really there’s nothing in there that’s original with me. I was just restating the common sense of the matter, basic conservative principles that had been around for a long time.” Which I think is an accurate description, but I’ve always loved the contrast between 350 words of the Sharon Statement and 5,000 word repetitive, self-referential, that ridiculous Port Huron Statement that launched the SDS.
Reinsch: Thinking about the Sharon Statement and fusionism more deeply, you in the book note several ways in which Stan was really a part of Frank Meyer’s fusionism. He embodied it in his journalism and his writing, the way he thought about policy, the way he thought about freedom and virtue, rising and falling together. There’s a great statement in your book from Stan about freedom and virtue have fallen, but they can only rise together. You can’t isolate freedom from virtue or vice versa. And fusionism as a concept of conservatism or a way of thinking about conservatism has fallen on hard times. It’s certainly challenged, it’s critiqued extensively. There’s the active attempt to say this is no longer a part of how a conservative should be. What was it and how did Stan understand it?
Hayward: Great question. You mentioned that Frank Meyer was the key figure. And in one sentence the idea of fusionism is reconciling free market principles of libertarianism, if you like, with traditional conservatism. In other words, you’re trying to get Milton Friedman and Russell Kirk to play well together. And Stan was a good friend of Frank Meyer’s and admired the project and agreed with the substance of it. He didn’t like the term fusionism and tried to not use it if he could help it.
And his main reason was … you just hinted at it in the way you set the question up, is that he thought that the term fusionism has a hint that you’re trying to put together two things that don’t fit together. And Stan thought that liberty and virtue fit essentially together and you couldn’t have one without the other. There was a reciprocal relation between freedom and virtue, and people who think you can only have markets without virtue are mistaken, because that’ll lead to bigger government. I think that’s been true, or the other way around. If you have virtue without individual liberty, well, virtue itself will wither.
And he wrote some of the, I think, clearest and most compelling statements of that view. And you’re right. It’s fallen on hard times. There’s a lot of attempts to try and bring it back. These days it gets wrapped up with, of course the nationalism question. I know you follow that very closely. And we’ll see where this goes, but I think he and Frank Meyer, I think their essential insight was correct. And so one way or another, we have to get back to that project.
Reinsch: Well, that’s interesting and maybe another chance to return to Stan Evans’ writings in that regard. You mentioned Von Mises and he took classes … I don’t know how many classes with Von Mises. The way of thinking about his really incisive writing about healthcare and environmentalism and the intersection of state power and these issues and how he saw it, is that his main teacher and what he was always coming back to?
Hayward: Probably. I wasn’t able to find out … There doesn’t seem to be any records of what courses he actually took. Stan just described it. Von Mises would come into a seminar room with a single sheet of paper with just three or four words written on it. He was one of those kind of lecturers. But one of the things about Stan’s journalism that is unique is that Stan, who’d been an English literature major at Yale was very able at prose, of course, but Stan was also very numerate.
The other journalist he reminds me from recent years was Warren Brooks, who has always had a chart or a graph or some statistics in every column he wrote. And Stan was very able at finding statistics, whether it was healthcare, energy policy, on and on and on. He’d always have at his fingertips some government report that had been ignored by the media. And so a lot of times his columns would have the facts about inflation, about the defense budget, about any parts of the federal budget. He really knew the details of federal spending and all the tricks that they play.
So that’s what set him apart from a lot of journalists who are not very numerate or are not able to write very well about numbers. And I think he got a lot of that from Von Mises, even though I think Von Mises is more of a theorist than a quantitative economist. But nonetheless, Stan picked up the intuition for how markets work. And you mentioned healthcare. Stan was a demon on how government involvement in healthcare distorted the entire market. It wasn’t just Medicare and Medicaid that was wrecked by government intervention, but it was the private insurance industry fell along with a slip stream. And he really thought that we’d messed everything up.
Reinsch: Once the government intervenes with Medicare and Medicaid and starts buying healthcare and those services, it necessarily affects how private health care is going to be delivered and the prices that are going to be offered. Thinking about also, this is in the past in a way, HMOs, health maintenance organizations, initially introduced by the left as a way of controlling cost. People forget that. But of course, conservatives seem to sign onto that as the principle way to oppose healthcare socialism. Stan argued, both sides were wrong to believe in HMOs because they inevitably ration care, and ration care in ways divorced from actual consumer choice.
Hayward: That’s a really important point, because Stan, actually, once the late ’90s, after Hillarycare had crashed and burned, he actually recommended Republicans work with Democrats or even embrace some Democratic proposals to regulate HMOs. Because right, your HMOs were thought to have been the market-like solution to the perversities of healthcare marketplace. And really you put your finger on it, they were a private sector solution to impose rationing that was being driven by the way the government had distorted the whole sector of the economy.
So Stan thought that conservatives had been way too superficial in embracing HMOs and some of the other equivalents of it, and he didn’t like them at all. He wanted to go back to … Well, really, he liked the idea that later John McCain ran with, although Stan didn’t care for McCain, of course, which was the solution, of course, which a lot of listeners will know is a variation of the school vouchers. We should give people a tax credit or change the tax status of healthcare and go back to enabling people to buy insurance on the open market and buy the services that they want or need. And that’s not the way it works now. We have all these mandates and … Oh, I hate the whole health care subject, because it’s such a black hole, but we’re all going on the wrong direction on this.
Reinsch: A number of conservative political figures, Stan interacted with. And I think in reading your book, it’s instructive for me to think about … Because I tend to have in my mind, Goldwater meant this, Reagan meant this, Nixon meant that. But Stan really interacted with these people. Writing about them, covering their politics, covering their policies, but also interacting. And you note say with Barry Goldwater. Barry Goldwater and Stan and the Goldwater campaign, Stan covered that. He understood the importance of Goldwater. And then also Reagan as well. Maybe talk about those connections.
Hayward: Sure. We forget now about Goldwater. Well, one thing we forget about Goldwater is that we recall that the liberal Republicans, Scranton, Nelson Rockefeller hated him and undermined his campaign. But we also forget that there were a lot of conservatives at the time, even a few couple at National Review, which otherwise supported Goldwater, who thought, yeah, Lyndon Johnson, he’s OK. He’s from Texas. He’s a conservative Democrat. And Stan would have none of that. And he wrote a long article on the case for Goldwater right before the election in ’64. And part of it was Goldwater’s virtues, echoing what Goldwater had said in Conscience of a Conservative, but an equal part was anyone who thinks Lyndon Johnson is halfway conservative is out of their mind.
You should take seriously, he thought, what Johnson had said in his Great Society speech. And he was carrying on with the liberal program of the Kennedy administration. And of course, he turned out to be absolutely right about that. Reagan, he spotted early on as a promising person. He loved Reagan. He supported him in ’68 when Reagan got into the race late. And then he plays a key role, Evans does, in 1976 when Reagan was about to go down in flames in North Carolina and Stan came in along with other people, he again, disclaimed whole credit for this. It was an independent expenditure effort, and that’s what put Reagan over Gerald Ford in the primaries and revived Reagan’s campaign.
And a lot of people think … A lot of political journalists like Lou Cannon is that if Reagan had lost in North Carolina, that would’ve been the end of his political career. So it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that Stan’s intervention kept Reagan alive and made it possible for him to run and win in 1980. And I’ll add one last thought on that is during the ’80s, Stan was often very critical of the Reagan administration and had some meetings with Reagan and Reagan staff that oftentimes were tense about policy matters, but he never criticized Reagan directly.
He always directed his critiques at a bad policy, or of course at some of the liberal Republicans that Reagan had included in his White House staff who he thought were a bad influence, which is probably right. And then lastly, he didn’t like Nixon at all. He never cared for Nixon and was pretty harshly critical of Nixon while Nixon was president.
Reinsch: Talk about the Manhattan 12. There’s an account in your book of an interview … Well, not an interview. It would’ve been an off-the-record conversation, if I remember, between Evans and Kissinger. And you can tell Kissinger is bristling at the questions he’s asking and the criticisms, however gently he’s delivering them. Kissinger doesn’t like it. What’s the rub there for Evans?
Hayward: That is a great story that I had known about, but I found … Well, I’ll tell about the Kissinger document. I think it was after Nixon had gone to China or announced the opening to China. We’d had wage and price controls. We’d had his welfare reform proposal that was essentially guaranteed annual income that was from Pat Moynihan. So a number of conservatives got together at Bill Buckley’s house up in New York and decided to announce a break. I think that the actual term was group of conservatives suspending support for President Nixon. They didn’t say they opposed him, but suspended their support.
And 12 people ended up signing the document that Stan wrote. Once again, they asked him to write the critique. He didn’t sign it himself for reasons that are not entirely clear. It might be partly because he was still at the Indianapolis News then and the publisher, Eugene Pulliam was a big Nixon supporter. And I think maybe Stan didn’t want to embarrass him. Stan also wanted to have more critiques on foreign policy than the document included. And apparently, some of the discussions were pretty heated. But the sequel was a meeting is proposed. I think Pat Buchanan and the White House brokered it between Stan and several other people and Henry Kissinger to talk about the foreign policy question.
And I discovered a declassified document. It was like, I don’t know, eight or 10 single space pages with a record of the meeting. And it’s so detailed that I suspect that Kissinger was taping it and had it transcribed. If not, somebody kept very careful notes. In any case, what you can see in that is Stan just whacking away at Kissinger for their weakness on Vietnam, for their weakness on arms control negotiations with the Soviet union. And you’re right, Kissinger is clearly not liking all this. He’s making excuses about a hostile media and a hostile Congress.
And Stan is saying, “Why pay attention to New York Times? They’re not important. You should do the right thing.” And you’re right, Stan was very polite, but very firm, and Kissinger didn’t like it at all. It was a lot of fun to find that.
Reinsch: Evans, you say he opposed Nixon fairly consistently throughout his political career. And that may be a bridge into another part of Stan’s career, because Nixon had been a red hunter. He helped Whittaker Chambers vindicate himself against Alger Hiss by bringing him into the committee and supporting him in HUAC, which Nixon was on. So I don’t know if Stan ever gave him credit for that or if that part of Nixon’s career just seemed to fall off as domestic and foreign policy loom large in the ’60s. But Stan was a defender of McCarthy. He wrote towards the end of his life, which I now want to go read it, Blackballed by History, a 600 page account, very detailed primary source historical account, in many respects vindicating the charges McCarthy made, while also noting his many character flaws. Talk about that part of Stan’s career, and why he was so interested in that.
Hayward: So this was a case of Stan really being his father’s son. His father, for reasons that I couldn’t ever find out exactly how it happened, he became ultimately the head of security for the Manhattan Project during World War II, and then with the early Atomic Energy Commission formed right after World War II. And he resigned sometime in the late ’40s. I think that’s when his father resigned, because of lack of security, because of an indifference to … I think it was actually after the atomic bomb secret had been leaked to the Soviet Union.
His dad actually met Klaus Fuchs at Los Alamos, one of the conspirators with the Rosenbergs. And his father was dismayed that people weren’t taking internal security seriously. And it made his father inclined to be sympathetic to McCarthy’s general purpose, which was the same thing. So Stan was taking up the cudgels for that cause. And the McCarthy book does at least two things. One is it just refutes a lot of myths and stories and accounts that have settled in the historical record of most McCarthy biographies or most chronicles of the internal security controversies. It’s showing that they were flatly wrong.
And then related to that, one of the things that Stan was so good at from his journalistic background is digging for sources and material that … So for example, he pointed out that McCarthy would say, here are these people in the State Department who have suspected communist connections. And the response they’d get was, “Well, they’re not with the State Department anymore. They’ve been weeded out,” which may have been true in some cases, but what did Stan do? He went to an offsite national archive center, I think somewhere out in Maryland and found old State Department phone directories from the periods in the 1950s that were in question and lo and behold, these people were still listed in the State Department phone directory.
Well, no one had ever done things like that before, but Stan dug into all kinds of things that no one else had ever pawed through in the FBI archives and lots of other places and just debunked a lot of things that were wrong and said that in fact, a lot of people that McCarthy had suspected of being communist or disloyal were in fact communist or disloyal. And the left has always wanted to sweep it under the rug and say McCarthy was mean and reckless and all the rest. So it’s quite a piece of work. It is great reading too, I have to say.
Reinsch: How many feet of storage space houses the research collection that Stan used to write that book at the Hoover Institution, which speaks to the massive effort that it took. So this book, if you’re going to refute it, you would actually have to go through those primary documents, unless you knew them well on your own. And go through the book and make refutations. And you note in the reviews that really no one did that.
Hayward: No, the reviews were all just sneers. How can someone possibly say anything nice about Joe McCarthy? That was the character of all the reviews.
Reinsch: This is somehow a body of knowledge that we can’t even really touch yet or articulate. So was there some larger theoretical point for Stan in defending McCarthy say along the lines of this is a turning point in American politics and the way McCarthy was treated? Was there something like that for him?
Hayward: Yes. So think about the current moment we’re in right now and how the phrase the deep state has caught on. And I don’t know if Stan would’ve liked that phrase. I think he might have, or some of the imprecise ways that it is used, but certainly when you get into the ’60s and the years after McCarthy, he did see a unity in the self-interest of government organizations, especially the intelligence and foreign policy communities and the insidiousness of how they close ranks.
And so I think you could draw a straight line between what he saw happen to McCarthy and the way our politics has unfolded ever since. If Stan was still with us today, I think he’d be very much in harmony with a lot of the people who are complaining about the character of the FBI today and the CIA and so forth. He thought that was all of a problem endemic to modern American government.
Reinsch: And also the way in which the left operates.
Reinsch: The attempted character assassination. And I haven’t read the book. He’s very clear about McCarthy’s problems and some of it … I think Stan had a joke that he didn’t approve of McCarthy’s aims, but he approved of his methods.
Hayward: Right. That was one of his jokes. Yes.
Reinsch: In the book he says one of the problem were the methods, which I think that was Whittaker Chambers’ point in criticizing McCarthy that he actually had taken this very serious cause of anti-communism and damaged it with how he approached it. And I do think that charge remains true.
Hayward: Yes, that’s right. But there’s one other aspect of this I’ll mention, and that was his final book, which came out after McCarthy biography. He wrote a book with his great friend, Herb Romerstein, who’d been a senior congressional staffer on intelligence matters, and it was called Stalin’s Secret Agents. And it went back through some of the figures McCarthy had identified and several others, Harry Dexter White, who played such a big role in the Whitaker Chambers his story. And what they go through is raising the questions … You can’t prove it. You can’t get to a firm conclusion, but raising the questions, how many Soviets sympathizers were there in the Roosevelt administration in World War II, and what effects on policy did they actually have?
And that’s considered an outrageous question to raise today, but Stan and Herb went through that and laid out a lot of compelling circumstantial evidence. That that’s a question we should have taken more seriously.
Reinsch: And obviously, as you know, you can’t prove it, but of course, philosophical frameworks inevitably matter when you come to concrete details of deciding policy. So maybe we can close with Stan’s book, The Theme is Freedom. It’s a book I read in college and had a tremendous impact on me. And thinking about a different way of thinking about the philosophical basis of America constitutionalism, and freedom and virtue. Generally, you note the book should be a conservative classic. Talk about that.
Hayward: This is a great place to end, because what a contrast between this person who practiced journalism and policy wonkery, we might say, in history. And a book that’s pretty theoretical, but also very detailed. And also because he’s a great writer, quite readable. And he thought that a lot of the standard accounts of the American founding were incomplete, including by some of our Straussian friends. He didn’t pick arguments with them or fights with them, but he said, “Look, the Christian tradition has been ignored. We’ve placed too much weight on John Locke as the originator of the social compact theory.”
And he was a big champion of the common law tradition, which he says, “Look, if you go back centuries before Locke, you saw restraints being put on the power of the king, which you then trace back to the Romans. And so it’s a wonderful historical account, richly detailed. And I think offers a compliment to an awful lot of other accounts of the American founding and the nature of modern individual freedom. And all done in, I don’t know, 300 very readable pages. The bibliography is extensive. He really did his homework. Took him a long time to write it, I know.
But I think what an extraordinary thing to be able to be this productive workaday journalist and a serious theoretician at the same time. That’s a pretty rare combination. And that’s why I said at the beginning with you is that if he’d chosen an academic career, I think he would’ve produced works that we’d have on the shelf next to Voegelin and Strauss and others of that kind. Instead, we got both. We got the journalist, the political activist and the theorist.
Reinsch: Also, The Theme is Freedom, the theological contribution to the shape of Western constitutionalism. That was the first time I had encountered that argument. And that’s something that I think about regularly in my own work is drawing those connections, which everyone seems to want to either ignore or assume away.
Hayward: Stan was remarkably theologically literate and knowledgeable. That was a big surprise in going through his work.
Reinsch: And I suppose here at the end, we’ve touched on this, and you make this point throughout the book, his character, who he was in his profession, how he assisted other people, the way he even delivered criticism. He tried to not mention people by name, you’ve noted that. This is someone who is in a incredibly aggressive field, competitive field, but he did it with a smile and did it with grace.
Hayward: Yes, that’s right. That’s an important point. He almost never would attack another conservative that he disagreed with by name, with the sole exception once or twice of George Will who really—
Reinsch: Oh yeah, George Will.
Hayward: And even there though it was done on the level of argument. He didn’t call George Will any names or the way he might be today by so many people. But he was very critical of … Actually in a certain way, it was Will’s “Statecraft as Soulcraft,” a book that Will has disavowed, oddly enough, that Stan … And it helped prompt Stan to write his own book, “The Theme is Freedom.”
Reinsch: Oh, that’s interesting. I can only imagine what Stan would do with Will’s low voltage atheism that he’s announced. Well, Steven Hayward, the book is “M. Stanton Evans: Conservative Wit, Apostle of Freedom” from Encounter Books. And it comes out in early March, if I’m not mistaken.
Hayward: That’s right.
Reinsch: All right. Well, thank you so much for your time.
Hayward: Thank you, Richard.
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