Character and Freedom Walk Together or Die Apart
June 8, 2022
Over the years, it’s become increasingly apparent to me, that the freedom movement can go nowhere without goodness, virtue and integrity. “Character Counts” is more than a slogan. Character is the prerequisite of true principle and of living free. If you truly believe in freedom, you wrap it tightly in a blanket of integrity – and fight to defend it by every means that is honorable, noble and true.
Character and liberty are inseparable. They either walk together, or liberty dies by the side of the road. Tyranny, on the other hand, requires only the concentration of power, and the commitment to use it by any means necessary. Virtue feeds liberty and starves tyranny. Fraud and deceit nurture tyranny and poison liberty. They are the malignancy that kills a free society.
As FEE founder Leonard Read put it so well, “The more worthy the objective, the better must the method be. To destroy a free society, low-grade methods suffice. But for any creative purpose, the method must be of the highest order.”
If we mean to remain free, we must insist on the best in ourselves and the best in each other. The best of methods and the best of motives. We cannot slide into the practices of the tyrant because it is momentarily pragmatic to do so – whether to pass a bill, win an election or gain a headline. Never. That is the slippery slope to Hell. And we can never tolerate malevolence and dishonesty within our ranks, if by God’s grace, we seek to advance the cause of liberty and preserve our constitutional republic.
This is especially true of “our” conservative candidates and office holders. They must be held to a standard of goodness, godliness and truthfulness, or all of their efforts will be in vain. Lies beget lies. Evil begets evil. No matter how good they may sound, no good will come of a proclaimed “conservative” who has no honor. Read again puts the matter in perfect focus: “A man will rise no higher in office than he stood while getting there.”
It’s easy to let your guard down. We want to assume the best. My wife Ann and I were terribly spoiled when, in 1976, we worked for our still good friend, Ron Paul, when Ron was first elected to Congress. Ron is a man of uncompromising principle, who is 100 percent incorruptible. Consequently, he’s also a wonderful and gentle human being. It is precisely these character traits, combined with a brilliant mind and an abiding love of liberty, that have made Ron the leader he is in the freedom movement for five decades. Men like that do not lie, do not deceive, do not bend and do not break.
When we moved to Montana, we soon made friends with another conservative hero – Rob Natelson. A much-embattled former con-law professor at the University of Montana Law School and two-time candidate for governor, Rob is now senior fellow in constitutional jurisprudence at the Independence Institute. Like Ron, Rob is absolutely principled and totally incorruptible. He remains a profound inspiration to me, and one of the nation’s great authorities, authors and advocates for constitutional government and liberty under law.
A third example that comes to mind is a hero far less known on the national scene, but in Montana, recognized by many as the intellectual and spiritual guiding light in the cause of liberty. Rick Jore, the first and only Constitution Party candidate ever elected to a state legislature, also served a term as a Republican, until his personal conscience and love of liberty could no longer endure an attachment to the GOP. A powerful man with a gentle voice, Rick has a heart softer than velvet and a spine stronger than tempered steel. To those who know him, his wisdom is surpassed only by his honesty, his courage and his unbreakable spirit.
Yes, men like these set a very high standard for the rest us. And yes, to the cynical political world around us -- populated by men who often act like gossipy old women -- none of these patriots would score high marks. That world is incapable of understanding that the inner strength, integrity and trustworthiness of men like Ron, Rob and Rick is exactly what makes them champions in the holy cause of human freedom. They are not about “self,” about fame, power or career. They are about liberty. Their fidelity to the cause of freedom is a model to all of us.
My experience in political campaigns, the legislature and on the Montana Public Service Commission has convinced me that the conservative movement is dying precisely because we no longer hold our candidates and office holders to any serious standard of honesty and fidelity. We carelessly call them our “friends,” and when they act up, we either defend their actions or look the other way. This is unacceptable in a nation conceived 246 years ago on a foundation of personal virtue and public morality. It has no place in a movement that strives to promote truth, and seeks to be blessed by Almighty God.
My time in the legislature and on the commission confirmed this moral breakdown on a daily basis. Bartering our rights and freedoms was little more than a game to these people, and not surprisingly, they viewed me as a troublemaker and constant irritant -- unwilling to play by the rules of the morally neutered majority. Guilty as charged! I admit to having a very low tolerance for dishonesty and deceit, and an inability to ignore injustice. And no, I won’t be intimidated or bought off. I won’t accept as right, that which is fundamentally wrong. I will stand opposed these things – even if I’m the only one in the room willing to do so. I learned that from Rob Natelson, Ron Paul and Rick Jore.
We should take heart that there are countless others with the spirit and character of these three men in our communities, and even in the bowels of state and federal government. If you really think about it, you know who they are – and who they aren’t. With the ’22 primaries on the horizon and the presidential sweepstake only two years off, it’s not too soon to start separating the authentic from the pretenders, and making “Integrity First” the axiom by which you judge all candidates, and choose the ones worthy of your support. Then roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Free people cannot be passive, nor can we forget the blood shed by liberty’s defenders – and by our savior. To those of the Christian faith, Rick Jore provides a profound observation that I’ll close with. Says Jore, "Liberty is internal-to-external. Apart from the internal liberty gained by the work of Christ on the cross, true external liberty is impossible. And for my part, I am convinced that Christ Himself expects internal liberty to be manifested externally, which is why I believe that allowing oneself to become or live as a slave is sin.”
Freedom and character. Liberty and integrity. These are indeed inseparable. It is time to repair the broken links. It is time to stop playing cowardly politics, and start acting like free men.
Roger Koopman is a former small businessman, two-term state legislator and two-term public service commissioner. He lives in Bozeman, Montana.