M. Stanton Evans, RIP

The embodiment of the contradictions in the 20th century intellectual and strategic alliance of libertarianism with mainstream conservatism, Medford Stanton Evans, passed away earlier today at age 80.  (Hat tip: Tennyson.)

He was a protégé of antiwar single-taxer Frank Chodorov who became a staunch defender of McCarthy — and we ain’t talkin’ about Gene.

I met him once, when he spoke at the Foundation for Economic Education a couple years back (at which time he seemed impossibly wizened, more Charles F. Muntz than Carl Fredricksen), and asked him about Chodorov.  (He was also a student of Ludwig von Mises — not the Institute, the person — but even that firsthand contact through the gulf of time is less of a rarity.)  Evans had warm personal memories of the man, and was appreciative that someone from my generation even knew who Chodorov was to ask about him.  Needless to say, his answer avoided going into the tensions between Chodorov’s worldview and his own.  And I can only imagine how appalled he would have been by my political views on other topics.

In his Q&A session, he did discuss Chodorov’s not-exactly McCarthyist take on McCarthyism — “The way to get rid of communists in government jobs is to abolish the jobs.” — which had impressed SDS’s Carl Oglesby (yes, that SDS) as a contrast to “the debased Republicanism” of the time.  But Evans somehow seemed to think that this was only meant to apply to domestic government, and was thus entirely consistent with a Red-fighting foreign policy.

More generally, Evans was one of the originators of the broader mid-20th century revival of uncompromising conservatism centered around National Review. He was one of the main contributors to the “fusionist” redefining of libertarianism as coterminous with political and social conservatism.  In fact, his talk repeatedly referred to the libertarian and conservative movements in the same breath.

Early movement conservatism had a surprisingly large contingent that hewed to Chodorov’s single tax views.  William F. Buckley, Jr. would patiently explain his belief in single-tax views against private property in land whenever anyone bothered to ask.  Ironically, that contingent never had a presence at FEE, even though Chodorov’s magazine The Freeman evolved into FEE’s flagship.

On top of that, conservatives occasionally simply veered in weird directions.  For instance, Reagan staffer John McClaughry’s interest in “self-managed workplaces, neighborhood empowerment, alternative currencies, and decentralized technology” (Jesse Walker’s words); or Karl Hess’s, um, being Karl Hess.  Hess might have left the conservative movement by the time he got really groovy, but he maintained that he was always driven by the same essential values. McClaughry was in the far odder position of giving a blurb, listing his then-current position of Senior Policy Advisor in the White House when Reagan was president, recommending that “Friends of cooperation, of self-sufficiency, of the household economy, of the small community, of sound money, and of a non-exploitative land tenure” read Mildred Loomis’ Alternative Americas — a book in which private interest and rent are opposed on Benjamin Tuckerite grounds.  (Loomis was a protégé of Ralph Borsodi, another maverick individualist fighting singlehandedly against the early-20th century collectivist tide, though his influence from Paul Goodman to Robert Anton Wilson was in a different direction from Chodorov’s.)  But as far as I am aware, Evans had no such funky side.

By the time Evans’ magnum opus defending McCarthy appeared in late 2007, it was so far out of sync with a libertarian movement weary of two terms of Republican crusading that its leading magazine, Reason, was scathing.  The modern equivalent of National Review as the intellectual leadership in the conservative movement is the anti-bellicose The American Conservative, whose McCarthyist tributes are indeed to Gene and not Tail-Gunner Joe. The energy at FEE itself has long since shifted to a new generation with far more socially liberal cultural views, like Sarah Skwire and Steven Horwitz.  The fading of Evans’ worldview long preceded him.


3 thoughts on “M. Stanton Evans, RIP

  1. Dan Sullivan

    *The Freeman* was founded and owned by Albert Jay Nock, with Chodorov as his co-editor. Differences of opinion between two later co-editors, Georgist libertarian Susan LaFollete and neolibertarian Frederik Hayek led to conflict until Leonard Reed purchased the publication and fired LaFolette. This caused The Freeman to become a right-wing caricature of its earlier self.

    1. joelschlosberg Post author

      Honored to have you here, Dan! Hadn’t realized that Suzanne La Follette was a Georgist. Admittedly, I’m simply bewildered by all the various permutations of The Freeman over time. Neither the Georgist or anti-Georgist side seems to like to talk about the changeover very much. Didn’t Chodorov still edit the FEE incarnation for a while?

      I wouldn’t write The Freeman off. Despite having their share of right-wing self-parody, they’ve always ran interesting material. Sheldon Richman’s editorial tenure was one of the best and most open-minded of any modern libertarian magazine, and while many leftists predicted imminent doom after he left, it’s held up. They have even published Fred Foldvary and Leland Yeager regularly in recent years.

      1. Dan Sullivan

        I don’t write anyone off. Even Marx was sincere in his errors. I just have a problem with what Mark Twain called “corn-pone opinions.”

        “Broadly speaking, there are none but corn-pone opinions. And broadly speaking, corn-pone stands for self-approval. Self-approval is acquired mainly from the approval of other people. The result is conformity. Sometimes conformity has a sordid business interest — the bread-and-butter interest — but not in most cases, I think. I think that in the majority of cases it is unconscious and not calculated; that it is born of the human being’s natural yearning to stand well with his fellows and have their inspiring approval and praise — a yearning which is commonly so strong and so insistent that it cannot be effectually resisted, and must have its way. A political emergency brings out the corn-pone opinion in fine force in its two chief varieties — the pocketbook variety, which has its origin in self-interest, and the bigger variety, the sentimental variety — the one which can’t bear to be outside the pale; can’t bear to be in disfavor; can’t endure the averted face and the cold shoulder; wants to stand well with his friends, wants to be smiled upon, wants to be welcome, wants to hear the precious words, “He’s on the right track!” Uttered, perhaps by an ass, but still an ass of high degree, an ass whose approval is gold and diamonds to a smaller ass, and confers glory and honor and happiness, and membership in the herd. For these gauds many a man will dump his life-long principles into the street, and his conscience along with them. We have seen it happen. In some millions of instances.

        “Men think they think upon great political questions, and they do; but they think with their party, not independently; they read its literature, but not that of the other side; they arrive at convictions, but they are drawn from a partial view of the matter in hand and are of no particular value. They swarm with their party, they feel with their party, they are happy in their party’s approval; and where the party leads they will follow, whether for right and honor, or through blood and dirt and a mush of mutilated morals.”

        Ideological and partisan publications indulge in that mentality quite a bit. *The Freeman* is perhaps to be congratulated when it occasionally challenges the dogma of its readership, but I think it was better when it indulged in a dynamic tension between libertarian perspectives.


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