Who is Leto Atreides? The Duke Leto Atreides of Caladan is an honorable man. I don’t mean that in a sarcastic way. I am not Mark Antony giving a speech to the crowd loaded with barbs about honorable men. Duke Leto is an honorable, good man. He respects and honors those who follow him, he places great trust in people, and seeks to make sure that he is worthy of their reciprocal respect. Duke Leto is a benevolent dictator.
But he is also not politically stupid. He knows how the game is played. As Thufir points out, he lays out the best hearth in order to attract good followers, and he does pay attention to potential opponents in the political arena; and He deals fairly with everyone — including the Baron Harkonnen. You may recall how Piter De Vries crowed over Leto’s reply to the Baron, and also the Baron’s comment that an Atreides will never miss an opportunity to make a grand gesture. Leto is someone who will conduct himself honorably so that people will see who they should follow based on the content of their character.
Leto is the type of person who is decent and also suffers from naïve realism. While he is aware of threats, he also downplays the threat because deep down he believes that most people are decent, and he will succeed because he is good and decent. Good Guys always win, Am I right?
I, for one, completely understand this worldview. Inside of me rests a soul that desperately wants people to be good and decent. That being said, there is also another voice inside of me that assures me that I will be disappointed more often than not. Which one is correct? My honest opinion is that there is no right or wrong answer here. Both viewpoints can be proven right–depending on the situation.
If you think about this from an evolutionary standpoint, you realize that in order to successfully survive, an organism must be well adapted to multiple environments. This is why omnivores tend to survive. Widespread domination of a food chain by obligate carnivores eventually leads to a single carnivore – and I don’t mean a single type of carnivore; I mean one individual carnivore, which will very rapidly lead to zero carnivores.
Similarly, herbivores, if left unmolested, can rapidly consume all available vegetation, which leads to zero herbivores. Life is a balance. Leto tends towards the herbivore side of the equation. He tries to hurt no one, and his military is devoted to defense. Leto’s use of defense actually means that he would not use his forces to attack unprovoked, nor use them to conquer. It is not within the character of Leto to do so.
He is uncomfortable about the idea of his son killing. The man employs killers and makes sure that his son knows how to fight and kill, but he is not entirely comfortable with the reality of what that means. I think a lot of us are like that. We tend to use benign phrases, and even positive ones for things that are not positive or benign.