Laurence Vance is a true polymath, who has published books and articles on a wide variety of subjects. One may be guilty of a sin of omission if one only notes a few of his numerous achievements, such as publishing a weighty tome defending Arminian Christianity against Calvinist theology, producing grammars for biblical Greek and biblical Hebrew, and writing on complicated economic questions. Vance is also a staunch opponent of American military ventures and combines his religious opposition with carefully wrought arguments against the effects of the interventions that he criticizes. To his credit he lost an academic post at a Baptist college in Pensacola for being too vocal in his criticism of our Iraqi adventure. At the time this happened, he was teaching business accounting at the college level. And it should be mentioned that he prints his own books in a publishing house that he established for this purpose. Larry’s latest book, The Free Society, comes to us courtesy of Vance Publications.
I cite these varied accomplishments because unlike our authorized media conservatives, Larry shows both solid character and extraordinary learning. I doubt he’ll ever be invited on to Fox News to explain his lonely fight for limited government and for protecting his religious faith from corruption by unhinged war mongers like Ralph Peters, Ollie North and Cal Thomas. And I suspect his adamantly negative attitude toward our runaway central government would not play well in our “conservative” media carnival that focuses on winning elections for Republicans, one in which complaints about the modern administrative state serve merely as background music for partisan politics.
One does not have to be a far-out libertarian (I certainly am not) in order to appreciate the force of the arguments raised in this anthology against government intervention. Anyone who is aware of the likelihood that any power seized by the central state will be used to bully us should value Larry’s demolition job. As an opponent of centralized government I read with special care Larry’s spirited case against Internet censorship, including the criminalization of accessing child pornography websites. Although presumably those who dwell on such sites are unpalatable nuts, we may ask oneself, as Larry does, whether the government should treat as a criminal anyone who lands up there. The punishment meted out for this offense seems excessive, but (for me) even more troubling is the direction in which this intervention is going. Do we really want the government throwing someone in jail for looking at website material that administrators or judges don’t approve of? Given the power blocs that we’re up against, it seems reasonable that we leave Internet-users alone. The only exception I’d make are plans for unleashing violence that appear on the Internet; here police and intelligence services should be properly vigilant.
It’s also clear that Larry distinguishes between judging certain acts to be morally unacceptable and believing that they’re fit objects for government intervention. Although one may disapprove of homosexual activities (for various moral and social reasons), one can at the same time be opposed, without being inconsistent, to anti-sodomy laws that would allow the police to stop such activities in the privacy of one’s home. I also believe, like Larry, that it’s no business of the government to force opponents of gay relations to rent rooms to gay couples or to provide services for gay weddings. In both cases the same principle is at work, that it’s best for the government to leave us alone in social matters that need not concern it. Of course given where political and media power in the US are found, the non-intervention course that Larry and I would like to see the state follow is no longer relevant. The “free society” with limited government that Larry defends may already be a thing of the past.
Paul E. Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for twenty-five years. He is a Guggenheim recipient and a Yale PhD. He writes for many websites and scholarly journals and is the author of thirteen books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents. His books have been translated into multiple languages and seem to enjoy special success in Eastern Europe. He serves as head of the editorial board of The San Francisco Review of Books.
The above originally appeared at the San Francisco Review of Books.