Guest Column: Character is everything

By Gregory John Campbell

With the revelations of Arnold Schwarzenegger fathering a child with a former housekeeper, and Dominique Strauss-Kahn of the International Monetary Fund charged with sexual assault, hollow political endowment is front and center again.

And it should be, because, as Heraclitus stated: “A man’s character is his fate.” Or, as Russell Gough titled his book about personal ethics, Character Is Destiny. In a subsequent volume, Gough made character more axiomatic with the appellation “Character Is Everything.”

Character is everything, because it’s an individual’s character, not reputation that determines their legacy in life. Why? Because one can be intellectually gifted, professionally respected, politically powerful, physically attractive, socially envied, religiously revered and economically entitled, and still not demonstrate good character or judgment. Governments, political leaders and nations are no different.

As Ayn Rand implied, America’s political culture has reduced itself to the lowest common denominator. Little did she know she would orchestrate this debasement, by refuting virtue as its own reward. In doing so, reward became the only virtue, enabling every imaginable vice. She thought rational self-interest could control itself. Not when rationality can excuse any interest. She extolled “The Virtue of Selfishness,” failing to see that selfishness breeds edacity and suffering, not virtue.

The intellectual default she saw as America’s demise, she enabled, failing to perceive that rational ability, unchecked by moral restraint, would default to self-absorption and depravity. This is central to our national demise, because it was many of Miss Rand’s concepts that became the pivotal intellectual/political components of our age, which produced what Chris Hedges characterizes as the “venal mediocrities” of our political culture. For if one can cheat on their spouse, why wouldn’t they cheat in any other area of their life or country; or vice versa?

Albert Schweitzer, a testament to human character, said on his deathbed, “Example is not the main thing in life—it is the only thing.”1 It is, because character is earned at a price that whittles away at ignorance until truth is gained. The edge of its distinction leaves no doubt as to what is right or wrong. It is the sole basis upon which true merit is earned in this world, and is the final measure of any person’s impact on life. Nothing can replace the presence of character in a man or woman, and nothing can disguise its absence.

Why? Because we as a people have failed to remember that we cannot feign allegiance when it comes to the truth. That we either are what we say we are, or we are not, because life takes no prisoners when it comes to the truth. That we must live and breathe what we know to be true in our hearts, or our lives are naught; we are hypocrites.

Is it unlikely then that politicians like Messrs. Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, Gingrich, Clinton, Bush II, DeLay, Edwards, Blagojevich, Schwarzenegger and Obama, etc., would emerge in our nation? No, not at all. It should be expected.

Character is everything. And until we accept what that means to us, our children and our posterity, we will never demonstrate the character of our founders, but far less. For how and why is it that we have allowed the island of our moral indifference,2 our political apathy and our economic comfort to shape and pattern the continent and character of our national destiny?

Why have we become a second generation of squandered inheritance to the wealth of moral truth bestowed upon us by the former? And how and why have we become the moral shadows of those who came before us, and not their enduring light? Why? Because we chose to. Choose what you want to be. Thank you.

Gregory John Campbell is a Rockford resident.


[1] Gough, Russell W., Character Is Destiny, The Value of Personal Ethics in Everyday Life, Forum, Rocklin, Calif., 1998, pg. 107.

[2] Washington, D.C.

From the June 1-7, 2011 issue

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