The term “duel” derives from the Latin duellum – duo (two) and bellum (war) – such that we get “a war between two men.” In her book Gentlemen’s Blood (which I heartily recommend), Barbara Holland reports on then governor of South Carolina, John Lyde Wilson, who wrote in his The American Code; or Rules for the Government of Principals & Seconds in Dueling: “If an oppressed nation has a right to appeal to arms in defence of its liberty and the happiness of its people, there can be no argument used in support of such an appeal which will not apply with equal force to individuals…If [an individual] be subjected to a tame submission to insult and disgrace, where no power can shield him from its effects, then indeed, it would seem that the first law of nature, self-preservation, points out the only remedy for his wrongs.” By damn, he goes on to say that the duel “will be persisted in as long as a manly independence and a lofty personal pride in all that dignifies and ennobles the human character shall continue to exist.”
We might, of course, reasonably wonder what this says about “manly independence” and “personal pride” today…but no matter. Furthermore, I have briefly discussed Rational Violence by Duel as a variety of self-defense previously, and so I shall leave that to one side as well. Instead, what I would like to investigate here is the purported parallel between, on the one hand, war between nations, and on the other, war between individuals. As the tradition has it, the former can be justified, should it meet certain appropriate conditions. We shall rehearse these conditions below, and determine – to the extent that we can – whether they might appropriately be applied to “war” between individuals. As usual, we shall appeal to the situation outlined in previous posts (Part I, Part II, and Part III) concerning Jack Burton and Seedy Gang Member #1.
Just Cause – Between nations, there must be a just cause for going to war. That is, there must be an appropriate reason for the declaration of war, one backed by serious moral consideration, before hostilities may rightly commence. Should your country instigate ethnic cleansing – whereby perhaps certain citizens of my country are in danger of being “cleansed” – then likely such a situation would exemplify a just cause. Contrarily, the US legislature can’t justly declare war on your country because your Prime Minister sneezed in the US President’s face without apologizing.
- Does Jack have a just cause for “war” with Seedy Gang Member #1? I have argued above that Jack does have a just cause to initiate hostilities with Seedy Gang Member #1. One may cite retribution, aims of deterrence, or simply outright self-defense (in the broader sense).
Right Intention – Those deciding to go to war must do so with the appropriate intentions. For instance, even if the cause for war is in fact just, the acting state must not invade for some other purpose, such as seizing the coal industry of the invaded state. The intention and the just cause must be appropriately harmonious, as it were.
- Does Jack have the right intention? I have argued that he may. Were he to respond to Seedy Gang Member #1 in order to appear a badass in front of Gracie, or because his bloodlust is at its peak, or for some other nefarious motive, then his intention would be against rectitude. However, in the circumstances as I have depicted Jack’s reasoning, it certainly seems as though he may violently respond and do so in harmony with right reason.
Public Declaration of War By Legitimate Authority – The declaration must be publicly announced, and so can’t be made in secret. After all, if the declaration were made in secret, then such a circumstance would not, say, allow for the other state to attempt to make restitution short of being attacked. Furthermore, as a lowly philosopher, I can’t declare war on your state inasmuch as such a declaration must be made by a legitimate authority.
- Jack’s situation? Well, first, I’m not sure who else in this situation would count as a legitimate authority. I suppose Gracie may declare on his behalf, though I dare say Jack would likely be far from comfortable with that. So it seems that Jack would be it. But the “publicity” requirement brings to light one interesting point concerning the nature of the duel. In a duel, there is a public declaration. And perhaps this is as things should be. In a typical barroom brawl, the “declaration” is normally little more than the first thrown punch. What is perhaps worse is the cowardly act of those who attack another individual while he isn’t looking – such acts should be held in severe contempt. Should Jack “officially” declare his intent to whup-ass, then it’s at least possible (though unlikely) that Seedy Gang Member #1 recognize his error and proffer restitution. What’s more, the public nature of the declaration is such that Jack secures his dignity, honor, and self-respect amongst the masses.
Proportionality – The over-all cost of the war must be proportional to the benefit that will be obtained by going to war. Here, the “cost” may include financial cost, cost in lives, security surrendered of the homefront by going to war, the overall harm involved…And, of course, these “costs” are to be calculated in accord with both parties in the conflict.
- Jack? Again, prudence is obviously required on Jack’s part when assessing the overall circumstances of his situation. Outside the bounds of an official duel, Jack would have to consider damage to the bar, whether bystanders may be harmed, and the like. But we have already noted that rational violence is constrained in certain ways, and that, for instance, Jack may not reasonably respond to an insult by pulling out a mallet and beating in the skull of Seedy Gang Member #1. As such, it seems to me apparent that Jack may meet the Proportionality requirement. We shall discuss what we might think of as “rules of proportionality” in the final post, rules the following of which may ensure fairness and some variety of discretion in the performance of the duel.
Probability of Success – There must be a reasonable probability of success. That is, the war must have a significant chance of improving a situation rather than worsening it. The legislature of Rhode Island may declare war on the remainder of the US, though this would seem wholeheartedly unreasonable.
- Jack? Here, matters become tricky. Why? Well, whether an engagement is a “success” is much more difficult to establish in the context of individuals than it is in the context of states. Suppose that Seedy Gang Member #1 is 6’5’’, 250 lbs. of pure muscle and Jack is 5’6’’, 120 lbs. soaking wet. One might think that Jack should not respond violently if he’s pretty damned sure he’s going to have his bushy-haired head used as a mop to clean the floors. But I’m not so sure. As I’ve said before, sometimes one needs to take an ass-whuppin’, even if ceteris paribus one would much rather be the one givin’ it. What is at stake is one’s honor, one’s self-respect. And, as in the case of the playground bully, sometimes “success” is gauged in terms of standing up for what’s right. Even still, prudence should (as always) be exercised. For instance, I’m not sure that even Rational Violence by Duel could be reasonably utilized in such a situation wherein the entire gang voiced insults in Jack’s direction. Again, I admit that prudential demands may differ depending upon the occasion. [Though parsing out these details would be an interesting exercise nonetheless.]
Last Resort – War should be engaged only after all other options have been reasonably exhausted. Indeed, as the great Winston Churchill famously said, oftentimes “it’s better to ‘jaw jaw’ than to ‘war war’.” So, without doubt, diplomacy needs to be tested before fighting commences.
- Jack? The very point of this series of posts recognizes that rational violence should be a last resort. I am simply trying to get on the table of conversation the idea that it is a reasonable resort in certain situations. As for diplomacy, I suppose Jack could try to reason with Seedy Gang Member #1. Practical experience indicates that in such situations as I have described, this is likely not to be successful. However, as we shall see in the final post, Rational Violence by Duel will be typically preceded by attempts to rectify the situation without bloodshed.
As is well known, the first three conditions on Just War are deontological in scope, and it seems likely to me that there can be justice between individuals that reasonably reflect the larger stage. The latter three conditions concern respect for consequences and the results to be achieved. Here too, it seems to me, Jack’s position may be on stable footing.[*]
Finally, dear reader, we may now move from the realm of justification to the realm of practice. How might Rational Violence by Duel be instituted as an official, sanctioned social practice? To that point we will turn in the final installment of this series. Stay tuned…[*] Is it “obvious” that there exists a parallel between individual and state? No, of course not. My suggestion is that the two situations are reasonably similiar, similar enough at least to warrant discussion on the matter. Again, this is a blog post, not a multiple-volume treatise!
- I Demand Satisfaction (Part IV) - February 4, 2017
- I Demand Satisfaction (Part III) - January 22, 2017
- I Demand Satisfaction (Part II) - January 6, 2017
- I Demand Satisfaction (Part I) - December 29, 2016
- The New Jim Crow: Introduction - October 20, 2016
- The (Oh Too) Common Assumption - October 9, 2016