M. Stanton Evans, one of the founders of modern conservatism, died at age 80 in Leesburg, Virginia. Read about his importance after the jump.
I urge you to read his book The Theme Is Freedom, on the historical rise of political liberty. He takes what he calls “the liberal history lesson”–that the world was in darkness and slavery until the humanists and the Enlightenment cast off the religious shackles to bring freedom into the world–and utterly refutes it. In fact, he shows that the humanists and the Enlightenment gave us the absolute despots. In contrast, the kings of the Middle Ages were greatly limited in their power under a rule of law, which he shows derives from Christianity. Mr. Evans also showed the influence of Luther and the Protestant Reformation on the rise of liberty. There is much more in this surprising and paradigm-shifting book.
I actually met Mr. Evans a number of years ago. He had read my book on fascism, which he praised highly, saying that he wished he had read it while he was working on The Theme Is Freedom because he would have liked to have incorporated it into his argument. That made me feel good, needless to say.
M. Stanton Evans, an early leader of the conservative movement in American politics and an author of its central manifesto, the Sharon Statement, died on Tuesday at a nursing home in Leesburg, Va. He was 80.
A longtime friend, Patrick S. Korten, said the cause was pancreatic cancer.
Mr. Evans was the editor of The Indianapolis News, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, a radio and television commentator, a journalism teacher and the author of a raft of books, including a defense of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, Republican of Wisconsin, in his anti-communist crusade.
Mr. Evans said he became a conservative in 1949, as a teenager, after reading George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” at the height of the Cold War.
“It was about communism,” he said in an interview for this obituary in 2010. “I said: ‘Well, I’m against communism. What am I for?’ ”
One of his first contributions to the conservative cause was perhaps the most significant. At 26, he drafted the statement of principles upon which Young Americans for Freedom, the first substantial national conservative organization, was created in September 1960. He was chosen for the task because of his editorial writing in Indianapolis.The Sharon Statement — so-called because the founding meeting was held at William F. Buckley Jr.’s home in Sharon, Conn. — drew on the major streams of conservative thought, including religious freedom, free-market economics and an unbending resistance to communism.
The statement began by asserting “foremost among the transcendent values is the individual’s use of his God-given free will.”
It viewed the United States Constitution as the consummate prescription for limited government, calling it “the best arrangement yet devised for empowering government to fulfill its proper role, while restraining it from the concentration and abuse of power.”
When government interferes with the market economy, the statement said, “it tends to reduce the moral and physical strength of the nation.”
Finally, it said, “the forces of international communism are, at present, the greatest single threat” to liberty. “The United States,” it added, “should stress victory over, rather than coexistence with, this menace.”
More than a manifesto for young conservatives, however, the document proved to be a seminal document in bringing different kinds of conservatives together.