Rex Stout, throughout much of his adult life participated in many social and political causes and concerns.
A stalwart opponent of censorship, in the mid-1920s he helped to publish Arthur Machen's barred translation of Casanova's Memoirs by financing the printing in Mexico as well as the start of the career of the artist, Rockwell Kent, who illustrated the multi-volume set. He supported Civil Rights, Author Rights, and a wide variety of causes to support freedoms and liberties.
Raised as a Quaker with a powerful social conscience, he served on the original board of the American Civil Liberties Union & helped start the radical magazine "New Masses" in the 1920s. (When he learned it was sympathetic to Communism, he resigned because he did not believe in Communism.) During the Great Depression, he was an enthusiastic supporter of the New Deal and lobbied vigorously for Franklin Roosevelt to accept a fourth term as president.
In the years preceding Pearl Harbor, Stout strongly advocated for American support of England. Two days after Pearl Harbor, Rex Stout organized The Writers' War Board, the main domestic US propaganda organization. Working with the Writers' War Board, Stout wrote and broadcast the CBS radio program "Our Secret Weapon" during the first few years of the War. He also worked with the advocacy group Friends of Democracy. Stout did not write any Nero Wolfe or other stories during the war, moved himself with his family to Manhattan to more easily commute to his pro bono job at The War Writer's Board. He took no pay or other remuneration for these efforts. As the war ended, Stout supported the embryonic United Nations and became active in the United World Federalists and The Society to Prevent World War III.
Stout was active in liberal causes including author rights, copyright laws, civil rights, and freedom of speech. When the anti-Communist hysteria of the late 1940s & 1950s began, Stout found himself targeted by members of the American Legion. He ignored a subpoena from the House Un-American Activities Committee at the height of the McCarthy era. Stout and Nero Wolfe were both ardent anti-communists throughout the corpus. In fact, plot and dialogue devices in many Nero Wolfe stories mirror Stout's activism.
Stout was one of many writers on Hoover's private enemies list, as found by journalist Herbert Mitgang when he obtained access to Stout's FBI files for his book Dangerous Dossiers (1988). Stout's FBI file ran 300 pages (though the FBI would only release 183 heavily blacked-out pages to Mitgang). But Stout wasn't afraid, knowing that he could rely on both independent means & the love of the public. In 1965, Stout fought back with his novel The Doorbell Rang, in which Nero Wolfe found himself locked in a duel of wits with the FBI. In later years Stout alienated many with his hawkish stance on Vietnam, and the contempt for communism in his works was denounced frequently.
General articles on this topic:
- From Thrilling Detective: Nero Wolfe: A Social Commentary on the U.S -- essay by Marcia Kiser
- From Criminal Brief Blog by Robert Hughes: Rex Stout: An American Wit and Propagandist
- From "The Libertarian Enterprise (March 31, 2000): "Intelligence Guided by Experience: A Brief Look at Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe"