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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

RIP, M. Stanton Evans

A champion of free markets and journalistic integrity passes

M. Stanton Evans (born July 20, 1934), journalist and stalwart of the free-market movement for a half century, died today, March 3, 2015.

Evans was the author of many books, including The Theme Is Freedom: Religion, Politics, and the American Tradition, a historical account that weaves together two central concerns of the so-called conservative tradition of American political thought: freedom and its connection to religious faith. He was a writer for many conservative periodicals, most especially Human Events and National Review.

His politics were unquestionably on the right, but his heart was always in the libertarian camp, despite his strong Cold War anti-communism. He was the consummate example of what Frank Meyer used to call a fusionist: a person who saw no contradiction between libertarian means and conservative ends. Domestically, Evans favored shrinking government to its most minimal level, while internationally he promoted free trade and opposed nation-building crusades.

His crucial intellectual influence coming out of Yale University was the libertarian radical Frank Chodorov, who served as editor of the Freeman in the 1950s, and who also mentored Murray Rothbard. Evans later studied under Ludwig von Mises at New York University, and he retained the highest regard for Mises as both a scholar and a gentleman.

In the 1950s, Evans worked with FEE's founder Leonard Read, naturally enough, given FEE's status as the leading think tank for writers interested in freedom. In fact, Evans briefly served as assistant editor of the Freeman under Chodorov, before joining Human Events in 1956.

On a personal note, I recall when Evans came to my campus when I was an undergraduate during the Reagan years. In response to the popular claim (from both the left and the right) that Reagan was slashing the budget, Evans would have none of it. In front of a group of highly partisan students, he demonstrated that Reagan had expanded the budget dramatically, hitting the audience with something that is all-too-rare in political discourse: facts. He never shrank from criticizing the Republican Party, and he was one of the early voices on the right to condemn the big-government policies of Richard Nixon.

Years of experience in Washington taught him to dread, not celebrate, when self-identified conservatives came to power in DC. They began with the belief that the Beltway is a cesspool, he used to say, but ended up regarding it as a hot tub.

As the founder and head of the National Journalism Center, Evans mentored thousands of young writers, including me. His continuing theme was that your political biases should have no impact on the quality of your work. You have an overriding obligation investigate the facts, tell the truth, and produce the highest quality work, he told us. It was a taste of the real world for those who were attempting to enter journalism as an excuse to spin reality or push a dogma. In the summer I spent in his program, I got my first real experience of how to write valuable, accurate prose in the cause of human freedom.

M. Stanton Evans was a man of principle who made a mighty contribution to telling the truth as he saw it. I, like countless others, will always feel gratitude toward him as a mentor, friend, and model of professional integrity.