M. Stanton Evans died March 3 in Leesburg, Virginia, and he received glowing remembrances as a Founding Father of modern conservatism. That praise was well deserved -- Stan wrote major books on America’s political principles and history, as well as the famous Sharon Statement of 1960 that may be the best short manifesto of American conservatism ever penned -- but I’d like to stress Stan the Social Entrepreneur.
Stan would no doubt have had a witty retort to anyone who attached his name to a smarmy cliché like “social entrepreneur,” but if anybody deserves the title, he does. Consider this prominent definition of the term:
Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.
Stan would never use language like that, because he always wrote graceful English prose and had a keen sense of human limitations, but the description fits what he did.
Which means he should have had donors breaking down his door to give him money, yet that never happened. And therein lies a tale.
Stan’s legacy in social entrepreneurship includes his two great achievements from his days at the American Conservative Union, which he led from 1971 to 1977. He helped give birth to the group’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) -- which still exists and each year gains the movement some of its most abundant media coverage -- and he also launched dozens of state conservative unions. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of those decentralized, state-level offspring was their role in transforming the GOP from its somnolent, country-club stasis to a crusading party that eventually gave the country Ronald Reagan’s leadership.
But in my view, the grandest example of Stan’s social entrepreneurship was his decades-long effort to do something about a national problem that everyone to the right of Dan Rather complains about: the media’s left-wing bias.
Stan didn’t grumble, “Somebody should do something about that.” No, in 1977 he bravely launched the National Journalism Center (NJC) to teach the basics of journalism to college kids -- most but not all of them conservatives.
Here’s how Stan structured the NJC’s training. In a twelve-week internship, NJCers would spend six weeks researching, writing, and re-writing a long investigative article under the guidance of Stan and pros like Tom Davis; then they spent the other six weeks interning with working writers at the DC offices of magazines, newspapers, columnists, and think tanks.
Years of pumping talent into the media bloodstream made a significant difference. NJC alumni include stars like John Fund of the Wall Street Journal and National Review, Steven Hayward of Powerline, Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner, Martin Morse Wooster of the Capital Research Center (where I work), media personalities like Ann Coulter and Greg Gutfeld, and the non-conservative New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell of Tipping Point fame. I was among this number, too, in the summer of 1983, when my NJC internship sent me to work at AEI with newspaper columnist and Catholic thinker Michael Novak (which means Stan made possible my entire career, and even my family, since I married another Novak research assistant).
But for all the good Stan and the NJC did to combat a serious social problem, he could have done a lot more, if he’d had greater resources. In my day, the NJC was run on a hope and a prayer, out of thoroughly unglamorous facilities. It exemplified what we could call Walter’s Law, which holds true across the nonprofit world:
Most nonprofits fall into two categories: Category A contains nonprofits with powerful programs that could be broadly expanded, if the group weren’t held back by scant resources. Category B contains nonprofits flush with resources whose programs may look glossy on the outside but are anemic in their effect.
The NJC was in Category A, doing a lot with a little, even though it was one of the only nonprofits that made any dent in a problem that nearly every conservative donor for a half-century would have said was one of the nation’s biggest stumbling blocks.
So again, why didn’t donors knock down Stan’s doors, showering him with cash and demanding that he set up satellite shops in cities across the land? No doubt some of the responsibility lay with Stan, because like most visionaries, he wanted to invest most of his time and effort in the substance of his project, rather than flying around the country asking for money or writing direct mail letters and grant proposals.
But surely a big share of blame should be apportioned to donors, who saw ads for the NJC each year in widely read magazines like National Review and the American Spectator. And maybe conservative activists also deserve some responsibility for not being entrepreneurial enough to come up with better ways to match-make between donors and social entrepreneurs.
This problem, and the problem of media bias, are still with us. It's a shame Stan is not.
FOOTNOTE: In 2002 Stan passed the National Journalism Center over to the Young America’s Foundation. In 1999, one of Stan's former aides, Whitney Ball, launched an entrepreneurial effort to better coordinate conservative donors and grantees: DonorsTrust. This article draws on the obituary of Stan I wrote for the Capital Research Center. Don’t miss the appreciations of Stan by Steven Hayward, John Fund, and Martin Morse Wooster, and the eulogies given at a memorial service held by the Heritage Foundation. Stan’s Education and Research Institute continues his historical research. Stan’s most important book on America’s founding principles is The Theme Is Freedom: Religion, Politics, and the American Tradition.