The Society came to the Philodemic Room on the day its new members were to be inducted, asking the question Resolved: Michael Corleone is a Good Man. Making his induction, Mr. Samuel Kim (SFS ’17) of Singapore keynoted for the affirmation with Mr. Patrick Spagnuolo (SFS ’14) of New York. Also making his induction, Mr. Matthew Harden (SFS ’17) of North Carolina spoke for the negation with Mr. David Edgar (SFS ’15) of Ohio.
In the interest of fostering a good debate, Mr. Kim urged members who had not seen the film to refrain from speaking. (This Amanuensis prays that Mr. Kim’s advice was an unnecessary embellishment. Imagine the scandal that would be brought to the Society if one of its members had not watched The Godfather!) Mr. Kim stressed that even if he had to kill people along the way, Michael was always motivated to protect his family, and any man who holds true to his family is a good man.
Keeping the debate Italian, Mr. Harden delved into the philosophy St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote that the end and means of any action must be good for the action to be good. While Michael may have acted to protect his family, he went a step too far when he killed the other mob bosses. His mature and experienced father never would have made such a rash and needless move. “Don Corleone chose peace over war while Michael chose war over peace.”
After captivating the Society with a vivid recitation of Bonasera’s famous speech, Mr. Spagnuolo insisted that “For justice, we must go to Don Corleone”. In 1950s New York, the corrupt and prejudiced political class left Italians with no protection apart from the mob. Mr. Spagnuolo eloquently asserted that Michael was a victim of these circumstances, forced to use violence to bring justice his community. Mr. Spagnuolo stood firmly behind his argument, welcoming Mr. Edgar’s “attempts” to undermine it.
Mr. Edgar certainly tried. He pulled no punches when describing the brutally violent strangling of Carlo at the end of the film. Carlo had been promised forgiveness by Michael, yet the new Don chose to kill him anyway, with a method that gave his brother-in-law just enough time to realize what was happening. Mr. Edgar asserted that only a cruel man could offer false forgiveness, and a cruel man cannot be a good man.
Ms. Laura Kurek argued that strangling Carlo was just a “Sicilian message” but Ms. Madeleine Ringwald fiercely insisted that revenge is always cruel. Vice President Anna Hernick countered that killing Carlo was not vengeance but a legitimate act of mob warfare. Immediately, Mr. Gregory Miller pushed back against the idea that all’s fair in war, appealing to just war theory to condemn Michael’s provocative murder of Sollozzo and McCluskey
Mr. Tyler Hunt-Smith (SFS ’16) agreed with Mr. Miller, appealing to Gandhi’s maxim, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”, but Mr. Christopher Zawora (COL ’16) contested the idea that Michael ever sought vengeance. Strongly disagreeing, Mr. Dennis Quinn argued that even if Michael never sought vengeance he certainly sought power over peace when he refused to decamp to Las Vegas. Mr. Taylor Willis countered that the family’s enemies in New York could easily follow them to Vegas.
Cleverly using the affirmation’s own definition of good against them, Ms. Heather Regen stressed that by taking up his father’s role, Michael abandoned his family’s future but Mr. Jacob Arber forcefully replied that Michael became Don precisely to secure his family. Appealing to his Catholic faith, Chancellor Peter Prindiville condemned Mr. Arber’s focus on Michael’s actions instead of his tainted soul.
Fulfilling his role as the Society’s philosopher-in-chief, Sgt. Warren Wilson claimed that Kant tells us that even the cruel and bitter-hearted can achieve goodness. Mr. Daniel Kendrick dismissed this as ridiculous because Kant is crazy and (finally!) addressed the evil nature of the Corleone family business.
Ms. Abigail Grace eloquently contented that even though the family business was immoral, Michael had no other options. In a fiery display of rhetorical skill, Ms. Colleen Wood categorically rejected the idea that Michael’s hands were tied and accused the affirmation of moral relativism since Michael could and should have made different choices.
In a speech that went all over the place, a rather bemused Mr. Michael Mouch noted that Michael Corleone killed people and “That’s not cool at all”.
When the debate returned to the keynoters, Mr. Edgar attacked the more outlandish claims made by the affirmation. He insisted that a good man must be defined by his goodness, so anyone affirming must be comfortable placing Michael with Gandhi and Commander Adama (The Battlestar Galactica reference was met with a hearty huzzah!) Clearly, Michael Corleone does not belong with these moral greats, especially when we consider his cruel murder of Carlo.
Mr. Spagnuolo acknowledged that the murder of Carlo challenged the affirmation but he overcame it with a passionate account of the evil Carlo had done. Evil men are hated by all good men, so Michael must hate Carlo. Mr. Spagnuolo dismissed as ridiculous Mr. Edgar’s challenge to place Michael on the same level as Jesus and decried the armchair moralists who had given speeches on the floor. “Saints exist for a reason – because we’re all sinners.”
Mr. Harden argued that even if we hold Michael to a lower standard, he still cannot be good. Motivated by vengeance rather than honor, power rather than justice, he becomes a morally corrupt shadow of himself by the end of the film. He could have been Senator Corleone but chose violence.
Like Michael speaking to Kay, Mr. Kim criticized Mr. Harden’s naïveté. When the cops are crooked and the other families are out to get you, walking away is not an option. Mr. Kim maintained that Michael would have been dead if he hadn’t taken the path he did, and since he did so to protect his family, he is most certainly a good man.
Despite Mr. Kim’s valiant attempt to make us an offer we couldn’t refuse, the Society voted 23-3-23 to technically negate.
The following speakers won Merrick points:
- Ms. Heather Regen – 1 point
- Mr. David Edgar – 2 points
- Chancellor Peter Prindiville – 3 points
- Ms. Colleen Wood – 4 points
- Mr. Patrick Spagnuolo – 5 points
This brings the Merrick totals to:
- Mr. Patrick Spagnuolo – 22 points
- Ms. Colleen Wood – 11 points
- Chancellor Peter Prindiville and Ms. Amanda Wynter – 9 points
- Ms. Heather Regen and Mr. David Edgar – 7 points
- Mr. Warren Wilson – 6 points
- Mr. Drew Cunningham – 5 points
- Ms. Caroline Egan and Mr. Dennis Quinn – 4 points
- Mr. Daniel Kendrick – 3 points
- Mr. Jacob Arber and Ms. Madeleine Ringwald – 2 points
- Ms. Emily Coccia and Ms. Asha Thanki – 1 point
Most importantly, the Society welcomed two new members to the family, Mr. Matthew Harden and Mr. Samuel Kim. Huzzah!