Betrayal: an Undesirable Quality

By | August 6, 2019

[August 6, 2019] For several years, my interest in the fundamental nature of leadership has only strengthened and reinforced by reading the 2011 book Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow.1 What stood out for me was the discussion of Benedict Arnold and his betrayal of the United States when he joined the British cause in the American Revolution.

Betrayal is not just an undesirable quality. When I read Dante’s Inferno back as an undergraduate, I was both intrigued and surprised at its philosophical depth (at least that is what my professor said). What stood out for our Classic Literature class was that sins like torture, murder, and rape were not at the bottom of the pit. Betrayal was the most deplorable; even more evil than taking of a life.

The readings of great literature, including various religious texts like the Bible, time after time, provide us with stories of betrayal. Dante placed Cain, Antenora, Ptolemy, and Judas at the bottom of the pit along with Lucifer himself. He considered these men the archetypes of the evils humans can do and deserving of no pity: only contempt.

If Dante has been writing during the American Revolution, certainly Benedict Arnold too would have been at the bottom of the 9 Circles of Hell with others who occupy the fourth round, and most serious level of treachery. I highly recommend reading a translation of the entire Divine Comedy, which traces the journey of Dante from darkness and error to the revelation of the divine, light, and the beatific vision of God.2

There are messages in these old texts, those that we dismiss only at our peril. One message is that it is best to speak the truth and not attempt to deceive. The value of truth is often misunderstood because it is seen as just another value to be lumped in with loyalty, honor, and justice. I content that the virtue of telling the truth is both opposed to betrayal but that it is also the foundations on which all other values reside.

Betrayal is the most evil. It has emerged, slowly with the development of humankind, as the anti-value; that which destroys and elicits the greatest primeval and strongest reactions. Everyone has been betrayed at some point in their lives, and we thus know what this means. To know the truth about betrayal and why this is so is ultimately what motivates leaders to do good as best they know.


  1. I reviewed another excellent book by Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 2005. You can find it here:
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

21 thoughts on “Betrayal: an Undesirable Quality

  1. Ed Berkmeister

    For anyone who has not been betrayed by a spouse, boss, or someone significant in their lives; just wait and see how terrible it can be. We are all flawed but to betray someone else is something to avoid. Is it laziness that we do so? Or, perhaps stupidity or lack of respect for others?

  2. Maureen S. Sullivan

    Gen. Satterfield, thank you for another entertaining and educational article. I like the way you bring in some of the ancient writings along with more modern stuff. Well done!

  3. Roger Yellowmule

    We all have been betrayed at one point or another in our lifetimes and will be again and again. Why it happens is better, perhaps, explained by psychologists and sociologists but I can say that it WILL HAPPEN and we WILL BE MAD as hell when it does. I appreciate you tying in Dante and Chernow’s works.

    1. Greg Heyman

      Good comment, Roger. The breaking of trust is what we really get mad about. All human relationships are based on trust.

  4. Len Jakosky

    I enjoyed today’s article. I also recently read Chernow’s Washinton: A Life. The book gave me some great background; very useful for leadership today. What I didn’t think mattered much as Dante’s writing. I now see how it relates. Well done.

  5. Doug Smith

    Throughout the Middle Ages, politics was dominated by the struggle between the two greatest powers of that age: the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire. This sets the background for Dante’s writings.

  6. Army Captain

    It is interesting to me that we can learn so much from Dante’s ‘The Divine Comedy’. Thanks for a great blog post.

  7. Dale Paul Fox

    I read Inferno by Dante back in High School but don’t remember much of that time. So, I went to the internet and was able to find it FREE. I re-read it and found it much more interesting and informative than 30 years ago when I was a teenager.

    1. Harry B. Donner

      Same here, Dale. The entire Divine Comedy was required reading in my English Lit course in college. I learned a lot about it then. Thanks to Gen Satterfield for bringing it up to reinforce his thinking about how “betrayal” is such a terrible act.

      1. Yusaf from Texas

        Harry, I too had to read it and that is the way higher education is supposed to work. Expose you (me) to the classic works of the ancients, help explain them (and giving alternative interpretations), and then make you THINK about them. That way you are not a naked human walking the earth.

        1. Yusaf from Texas

          Metaphorically “walking the Earth” I forgot to add. Thanks all for reading my comments.

      1. JT Patterson

        Thanks Gil, you saved me a lot of searching.

      2. Willie Shrumburger

        Yes, thanks Gil. Looks like an older translation so not searchable.

  8. Kenny Foster

    You are right on target with this article. Thanks. I like the idea that we highlight ‘betrayal’ as a particularly depraved behavior.

    1. Walter H.

      Kenny, correct. That is why I read this website by General Satterfield every day. Each article is a new twist on how leadership should be carried out.

Comments are closed.