I don’t know the woman’s name or where she lived. I don’t remember what year it was. But I saw the woman on television news. She was crying. Her newly empowered government was confiscating her family’s property. She couldn’t believe what was happening. Her family had helped to bring the new leader to power, she explained, through her tears. She shouldn’t have been surprised, but a lot of people like her have been. Supporting a tyrant certainly can pay off, but too many have paid with their freedom and their lives for assuming that it would.

Not surprisingly, many conservatives are dismayed by the corruption in our own government. Over five hundred conservative or Christian groups, groups such as The 9/12 Project or Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse, have been harassed or denied the ability to organize on the same terms that left-wing groups, groups such as Moveon.org or Occupy Wall Street, have been permitted to organize. The IRS has apologized for the mistreatment of the groups involved. Some organizations were asked for information probably meant to intimidate the groups and delay their certification rather than to determine the groups’ eligibility for a particular status. (Indeed, the task of attempting to confer the proper status on the proper groups while avoiding abuse of tax law is quite daunting.) Of course, it is easy to see oppression or injustice when one is sympathetic to the victim and less sympathetic to the abuser. But the IRS has become a powerful organization and appears to be a corrupt organization. To the extent that it is too powerful and is corrupt, it is we who have allowed it too much power and who have empowered the corrupt to misuse it.

But corruption in government should be the concern of every American who values liberty. President Obama says the IRS “requires absolute integrity and people have to have confidence that they are applying the law in a non-partisan way. You should feel that way regardless of party.” Agreed.

It is understandable that people who favor the work of groups such as Occupy Wall Street and disapprove of the work of groups such as The 9/12 Project would be tempted to look the other way and not be concerned with the corruption of the organs of government for political purposes. After all, the “good” groups did their “good” work, the “bad” groups were kept from doing much of anything, and the “right” person won the presidential election. So, really, wasn’t using the IRS that way a good thing? Or isn’t it kind of bad in theory but necessary because of the malevolence of the conservative groups? Or doesn’t it make sense for someone who opposes the groups affected to just ignore it and not think about it? Other things have come along, and our attention spans are short. Isn’t it just another scandal or people with a political agenda going after people they don’t like? The IRS scandal came along and can go away like Benghazi, while Linchpins of Liberty (29 months so far) and other groups continue to wait for their proper legal classification.

Is the message really so simple as “Corruption is okay, so long as it’s on my side”? I hope not. Funny thing about “sides….” Being on the same side as a powerful and corrupt entity is not necessarily protective of the loyal individual. The powerful and corrupt entity protects itself, whether it is an individual or a human institution, as the woman I saw on the news learned.

Our forefathers gave us the best man-made system they could devise, but all man-made institutions are corruptible. Those who came before us simply could not give us a system that guaranteed our freedom forever. No such system exists in this world. Our forefathers could give us only the opportunity to enjoy liberty. Keeping our liberty is our job, the job of each generation since our nation’s founding. Corruption is not the unique property of any particular political party or human institution. It is a natural process, like wood rotting or metal rusting. That is why democracies can so easily lead to dictatorship and why most people live their lives in tyranny.

Nicholai Yezhov was a stalwart communist under Stalin. He was a brutal man who oversaw the Great Purge, a reign of terror that filled the gulags and left millions dead. He personally framed his professional mentor and predecessor, Genrikh Yagoda. He had Yagoda tortured and executed. Responsible for so much carnage, Yezhov once said, “Better that ten innocent people should suffer than one spy get away.”

Perhaps loyal soldier Yezhov became a perceived threat to Stalin. Maybe he was too popular or just saw too many atrocities. Yezhov fell victim to the machine of which he was a part, as his successor eventually would. He was tortured and killed as so many others had been, one more individual of no further use to Stalin.

Leon Trotsky was a communist true believer but of a different brand than Stalin. The philosophical difference seems rather small to the non-Marxist. Unsatisfied with Trotsky’s exile to Mexico, Stalin had Trotsky assassinated, not very neatly, in 1940, the same year as Yezhov’s violent death.

During the Night of the Long Knives, Hitler purged his secret service, killing between sixty-one and four hundred men. One of them was the powerful Ernst Rohm, one of Hitler’s earliest supporters. Hitler liked Rohm personally, but that rarely stands in the way of “progress.”

In the early years of his presidency, Saddam Hussein killed hundreds of his own Baath Party officials. Like Stalin, his role-model, he killed anyone who could become a threat to his power, regardless of ideology.

These examples are not aberrations. They are merely examples of what happens when the corrupt have power. The corrupt can be empowered by a state, an organized crime syndicate, a union, or a church, but states have a unique ability to terrorize on a grand scale. The powerful and corrupt may well reward those loyal and helpful to a cause if they are so inclined and see a particular individual or group as valuable for the time being. But being on the right “side,” won’t ultimately protect any whose allegiance is to the corrupt. We can not act in any way that is corrupt, even if it would benefit us personally or benefit a cause in which we believe. And we can not tolerate corruption in any of our institutions if we are to enjoy liberty as individuals and be a free people.