The Society gathered for the fifth time and third Merrick debate of the semester to consider Resolved: Brutus was an honorable man. Mr. Gregory Miller (SFS ’14) of Virginia gave the keynote for the affirmation while Mr. Drew Cunningham (COL ’14) of Connecticut negated.
Mr. Miller put the debate in its historical context, reminding the Society that our topic was Brutus as he lived, not as written by Shakespeare. He defined honor as the selfless fulfillment of one’s societal duties and insisted that Brutus’s act of tyrannicide clearly meets the standard. Mr. Miller noted that the Romans saw assassination as an important political tool and stressed that even though Brutus was Caesar’s closest friend, his duty to country outweighed his obligations to an overly-ambitious friend. In the words of Cicero, “The Supreme Law is the Well-Being of the People.”
Mr. Cunningham outlined three burdens for the affirmation to prove:
First, that Caesar was indeed a tyrant.
Second, that Brutus was not acting selfishly.
Third, that Brutus’s obligation to his political faction outweighed his duty to his friend.
Mr. Cunningham disputed each of these points. Comparing Caesar to FDR, he described the many accomplishments that made him enormously popular, including the construction of public works, the expansion of rights to lower classes, and the establishment of a welfare system. Contesting the idea that Brutus was selfless, he described Brutus’s involvement in the assassination as a power play. Mr. Cunningham pointed to Brutus’s letters to Cicero as proof of his ambition. Far from defending liberty, Brutus wanted to make himself a king.
Ms. Laura Kurek was surprised to be called on. Despite standing on the affirmation, she commended Mr. Cunningham (a Classics major) for his clear mastery of the history at hand. Not knowing where she stood, she urged the Society to abstain.
Mr. Agree Ahmed disagreed with Mr. Miller’s critique of Caesar’s ambition because anyone who reaches high political office must be ambitious. Mr. Daniel Kendrick argued that Caesar went beyond ambition, desiring total, tyrannical control that Brutus recognized as a threat to Rome’s republican government. Vice President Anna Hernick countered that we can never know Brutus’s true motivations, so we must judge the murder as dishonorable politicking. President Christopher DiMisa reminded the Society to avoid judging Brutus by today’s morals when the framing told us to use Roman standards. Since Romans did not see political assassinations as inherently immoral, neither should we.
Ms. Emily Coccia agreed that we ought to use Roman standards to judge Brutus, but stressed that Brutus went back on his all-important word to Caesar, who ruled with virtue and mercy. Mr. Michael Mouch warned against using virtue and mercy to justify kingship. Even a philosopher king is an un-democratic ruler, which a society defending liberty must not support. Mr. Jacob Arber emphasized that laws are essential in a democracy, and Brutus violated the laws of Rome. Worse, he betrayed a friend, condemning himself to the deepest pits of the inferno.
As usual, Ms. Abigail Grace disagreed strongly with Mr. Arber. She stressed that a truly honorable man preserves the work of his ancestors for future generations. Brutus was defending Rome’s republican government. Ms. Amanda Wynter forcefully contested that claim, noting that Brutus threw Roman politics into chaos, rather than fulfilling his duty to work within the existing political system. Mr. Taylor Willis agreed that the assassination threw the state into chaos, but maintained that liberty was a higher good. “Caesar was not Cincinnatus. He would not have stepped down”.
Mr. Derek Buyan (SFS ’14) brought the debate back to Rome’s impersonalist system of morals. In such a system, Brutus’s friendship with Caesar could not have outweighed his obligation to his ideals. Ms. Taylor Oster (SFS ’17) stressed that Caesar’s controlling tendencies were a threat to the Republic but Ms. Rosa Cuppari (SFS ’17) refocused on Brutus and claimed that he joined the assassination purely because he thought the assassins would win. Ms. Natalie Caceres (MSB ’16) called Caesar a tyrant akin to the one that drove her parents out of Cuba and lauded Brutus’s defense of liberty.
Ms. Heather Regen compared Brutus to the notoriously scheming Frank Underwood, pointing to his support of Pompey in a war with Caesar, and Brutus’s subsequent apology to Caesar as an example of high dishonor. Honor was redefined by Sgt. Warren Wilson, who argued that truly honorable men, like Jean-Paul Sartre, simply face hard choices head on and pick the better of two options.
Mr. Patrick Spagnuolo brought history back to a historical debate, and reminded the Society that the Rome seized by Caesar was already a dictatorship in all but name. Far from saving an already-dead Republic, Brutus plotted and planned like any politician bent on reaching the top. Mr. David Edgar disagreed, curiously maintaining that Brutus’s suicide proves his honor. Like Mr. Smith filibustering a bill that he had once supported, Brutus tried to save Rome from his sin, and took his own life rather than see his enemies win.
Chancellor Peter Prindiville contended that even if Brutus honored himself in suicide, he dishonored Rome when he killed Caesar. Since the Supreme Law is the well-being of people, encapsulated in the virtuous Caesar, Brutus could never be honorable. Mr. Dennis Quinn criticized the chancellor’s focus on action over self, stressing Sgt. Wilson’s point that honor derives from facing the choices at hand and choosing impersonally and impartially. Ms. Colleen Wood vehemently contested Mr. Quinn’s nihilism, defending the idea that some acts really are more honorable than others. She condemned Brutus for thinking he knew better than the citizens and urged the society to consider how dire such thinking would be in today’s politics.
Mr. Daniel Graff did not expect to be called upon. Calling President DiMisa a tyrant who falsely promises his people French fries at Martin’s, he urged Philodemicians to stage a coup. President DiMisa noted that Sgt. Wilson would kill any potential mutineers, and returned to the keynoters.
Mr. Cunningham laid out a dichotomy between the Senate and the People of Rome. He portrayed Caesar as a champion of the people against bigoted Senators like Cicero who hated the plebeians. The people suffered in the Republic, which acted more like a subjugating military dictatorship than anything resembling a democracy. Brutus sought to place himself at the top of this government through treachery, never intending to create a free state. Already having made very strong case, Mr. Cunningham described the Pax Romana that followed Caesar’s death, remarking that even if the debate were consequentialist, the affirmation would lose.
Mr. Miller agreed that Brutus may have had personal reasons for killing Caesar, he also felt a duty to the people. Despite his New Deal for Rome, Caesar was a tyrant. Even a DINO – dictator in name only – is still a dictator and the enemy of democracy. As the citizens of a country founded by the overthrow of tyranny we ought to be awed by Brutus, who was bold enough to say Sic Semper Tyrannis.
After the division of the house, the Society disagreed with Mr. Miller, voting 15-3-36 to negate.
The Society awarded the following speakers Merrick points:
- Ms. Heather Regen & Ms. Colleen Wood – 2 points
- Mr. Warren Wilson – 3 points
- Mr. Patrick Spagnuolo – 4 points
- Mr. Drew Cunningham – 5 points
This brings the Merrick totals to:
- Mr. Patrick Spagnuolo – 10 points
- Ms. Colleen Wood – 7 points
- Mr. Amanda Wynter & Mr. Warren Wilson – 6 points
- Mr. Drew Cunningham & Ms. Heather Regen – 5 points
- Chancellor Peter Prindiville – 4 points
- Mr. Jacob Arber – 2 points
- Ms. Emily Coccia – 1 point