I Demand Satisfaction (Part V)

Ol' Jack always says...what the hell

And so our series concludes (finally)…Thus far we have rehearsed themes associated with honor and defense of the same, the necessity of Rational Violence coupled with its associated constraints,  justifications for violent individual reprisal to insults (and the like), as well as parallels between warring states and warring pissed-off individuals. Now it’s time to ask the all-important (and yet thus-far-studiously-avoided) question: how in God’s sweet name could a “barbarous”, “bloodthirsty,” “disgusting” practice such as dueling be made amenable to the current standards of the contemporary Westerner’s faint-of-heart sensibilities, notwithstanding its (apparent) flouting of the rule of law? I’ll be frank: mayhap it couldn’t. It’s all too likely that neither the politicians nor the voters, steeped in nanny-state enlightenment as they are, would have the stomach for such a practice. And perhaps this is as things should be. But by damn, we can speculate. And that’s what I intend to do here. [Besides: the very proposition itself is likely to piss off whining, weak-kneed, pink-panty-grasping Leftists, and I like doing that whenever I can for…well, for any reason at all, actually.]

As has been noted, in the past amongst gentlemen, an insult was normally met with a demand for satisfaction. Such satisfaction would typically involve either (a) a public apology issued by the insultor to the insultee, or (b) a meeting of insultor and insultee on the field of ass-whuppin’. [Occasionally the insultor would fail to respond entirely to the demand for satisfaction, and so neither (a) nor (b) would transpire; instead, (c) insultee would proudly and publicly proclaim insultor a dissembling and decidedly woman-like coward, a consequence officially rendering insultee whole again.] Under the supposition that the belligerent failed to provide satisfaction by way of apology, seconds – normally, good buddies – would sally forth to dialogue on the matter. Under some circumstances, the seconds would work out the problem between the gentlemen without the necessity of consequential violence, which to all appearances at least, was all to the good of person, town, and country. However, in those circumstances whereby accommodation could not be made, plans would be cemented for a meeting of insultor and insultee on the field of battle.

This particular process, it seems to me, is as good as any other. The rules of a duel involve, as a precursor, the requirement of some variety of dialogue – if not between the disputants themselves, then between seconds. Perhaps difficulties could be ironed out, misunderstandings averted, and negotiations plied – diplomacy in action…again, all to the good. Of course, not all diplomatic sessions result in success (and only a fool believes otherwise). Undoubtedly, there are situations wherein the wrongdoing is too great, the abject stupidity and/or pride of one party too pronounced…and so, violence…the result of which is pain and humiliation – a language so universal that even the most abysmally dim-witted fool can understand it. [That’s right…language that even, say, Nancy Pelosi could comprehend, which is all by itself one incredible feat of nature.]

Of course, there are a number of practical difficulties that would need to be ironed out in more honest detail. Some might (indeed, have) suggested that duels are intended as a means for honorable men to rectify wrongs. What happens when one of the participants lacks honor entirely? Suppose that Jack Burton shows up with his second to the appointed place, at the appointed time, for a duel with Seedy Gang Member #1. Further suppose that accompanying Seedy Gang #1 is not only a second, but a third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, and a seventh, with the nefarious intent to ensure success by the force of numbers. How to prevent such occurrences?

Given the overall lack of honor amongst the hoi-polloi, perhaps we should consider official duel umpires or referees. In smaller areas of this country where law-enforcement officials tend to be scarce, we have constables who play the role of such officials when necessary. Maybe, in situations wherein a duel occurs, a similar official may preside over the affair? An odd suggestion, to be sure, given that it presupposes at least tacit state approval. Would this umpire be a paid official? Supported financially for his efforts by taxes? Would he be appointed, or elected? Difficult to say. Alternatively, perhaps instead we should consider that he should already be on the government payroll in his law-enforcing capacity (say, a police officer or court official or the like); as such, the argument goes, we just add this particular role to his pre-existing job description. The intricacies of such a position – a state-employed official duel referee or umpire – are hard to assess in the abstract, admittedly. Yet, our government already has its hands in virtually all aspects of life, and so I’m certain that our current (bloated) governmental (bureaucratic) nightmare could figure out an efficient and just means of carrying out such a role. [Sarcasm.]

A preferable arrangement (by my lights) would have it that the duel itself remained predominantly private. In which case, rather than a gummint official, the umpires/referees are private individuals hired beforehand by the disputants to ensure the fairness of the proceedings. [Big John McCarthy, for instance, might be an exemplar.] Undoubtedly the state would need to be “present” in some respect, as the duel itself would need to be safe from litigious participants, onlookers, and others. I’m sure we could easily imagine Jack kicking hell out of Seedy Gang Member #1, only to have civil (hell, even criminal) papers served by the latter’s attorney, a lawsuit addressing not only Jack but the referee to boot. In which case, contracts would need to be signed beforehand, contracts which disabuse the participants of the right to sue one another, the recognition that full personal responsibility is taken for the result, etc. So, contract lawyers and notary publics, then, might have to get in on the action at some point in the early stages. Whatever. This is all just to say that, in some way or other, the duel may need official state sanction (perhaps in the way that boxing or the UFC has it).[*]

Suppose then that we have an arrangement of this sort. At a chosen time, the two disputants meet in an old pasture (or wooded area, or alley, or vacant lot, or wherever), along with their seconds and the ref. What happens now? Well, that is to be determined by the disputants themselves, perhaps by way of the pre-arranged agreement between the seconds. Chosen weapons? No pistols or guns of any sort. Why? Because this is a personal battle, and ought to be fought as such. Guns, while definitely democratic, are far too impersonal. [**] Mayhap the agreement calls for a brawl between the two, wild haymakers or wrestling pins or judo submissions or whatever (“no holds barred” as they say). Or, it may be a general boxing match, with the rules prescribed accordingly. Or, as in the “old school”, maybe it’s just a series of traded “licks” or punches until one person caves. Or, maybe the belligerents are (wait for it) fencers – an elegant, manly sport, if ever there was one – and so the weapons of choice would be the rapier (and, as in the boxing match, fencing rules abound). I’m certain there are other possibilities, of course, but no matter. Whatever agreed upon rules of the dueling contract, the point is that there are (at least some) rules, and that a particular aim is to be achieved before the duel is complete (one participant must cry “Uncle!”, or one participant is down for the ten-count, or the referee pulls one guy off of the other to keep the former from brain-bruising the latter overly much…).

What is not to happen is this: one of the disputants kills the other. The intent involved in Rational Violence, as I have described and emphasized over and over, need not (and should not) be murderous. Instead, it’s two men who settle their differences violently, a course of action required in the absence of rectification by reasonable dialogue. In a word, an ass-whuppin’. [See here for true wisdom.] Such violence may involve the severe infliction of pain (a series of punches to the nose or a rear-naked choke) or considerable humiliation (holding a feller down, pounding his lights out, all the while screaming Bruce-Willis-like retributive abuse into the opponent’s face). Whatever…between honorable men, the result is enough that satisfaction is achieved, that self-respect is preserved.

Again, we ought to recall that the duel is not necessarily an exercise in cosmic justice (though it may serve as such); perhaps Jack kicks ass, though often as not, he may well in fact get his ass kicked…who knows. But the point is that it doesn’t matter. This exercise, this practice, intimately involves honor and self-respect. Jack, it seems to me, may achieve either even if the proceedings do not ultimately go his way. One might hope that, even in the event of a Jack Burton loss, Seedy Gang Member #1 thinks twice before insulting a feller’s lady again.

Barbara Holland: “Perhaps a chance for personal vengeance would defuse some of the tension in the world. Perhaps, properly regulated, a return to the duel would serve a social purpose” (289). Indeed, perhaps. What’s more, there’s something to be said for the return of public respectability (and taking public responsibility for slights, harms, and the like). In any case, exploring this possibility has been my over-arching aim in this series of posts. I do not pretend to have settled the matter. But, if nothing else, it’s an interesting thought experiment, to determine the extent to which (if at all) Rational Violence by Duel might be justified and implemented. Human nature, ladies and gentlemen, human nature…it dictates that there are times and places wherein it is not only honorable, but reasonable, to recognize that the “Son-of-a-bitch must pay…”

[*] During its heyday(s) from the Late Medieval to the end of the 19th Century, dueling was (believe it or not) largely an illegal affair. According to the letter of the law in most European (and American) states, it has always been forbidden. And yet, just try to get an 18th Century Irish jury to convict O’Malley for running through McLoser with a broadsword for the latter’s drunken outburst, insinuating O’Malley’s distaste for the fairer sex in favor of the local herd of woolproducers. Just try. Local officials, for the most part, were likely enough to participate in duels themselves, and so were likely loathe to arrest, one would imagine. Ahhhh…the good ol’ days.

[**] And the aim of shooting someone is typically to bring about death. See below.

Jack Burton

This is Jack Burton in the Pork Chop Express, and I’m talkin’ to whoever’s listenin’ out there. When not doing historical philosophy, he’s fighting the forces of evil (i.e., Lo Pan, his minions, and leftists). To those who fear university bureaucrats, “social justice” activists, and anyone with a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker, just remember what ol’ Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol’ storm right square in the eye and he says, “Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it.”

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  1. I’m somewhat taken aback by your proscription of pistols for dueling.

    Aren’t there circumstances where dueling to the death might be justified?

    Further, even if the parties choose a method of dueling that seems less lethal, that may not be the case. If two duelists choose to fight, say, with Bowie knives, the risk of serious injury is high. (In the Sandbar Fight, the two duelists missed each other–twice each. It wasn’t until after the duel that all Hell broke loose and Jim Bowie put his knife to use. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandbar_Fight)

    It is possible that the risk of death or serious injury is _lower_ with pistols. Pistol duels took place at ranges longer than one might expect. (The Code Duello says that the challenger chooses the range. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/duel/sfeature/rulesofdueling.html) Hamilton fought Burr at 10 paces. Jackson fought Dickinson at 8 paces. Hickok fought Tutt at 75 (!) yards, though the latter wasn’t necessarily a formal duel of the type you’re discussing.

    To give this some context, the average distance for a defensive shooting by a private citizen is 3-5 yards, about the length of a car. The average distance for a defensive shooting by a uniformed police officer is _shorter_. Most people can’t shoot well and will not hit well at the aforementioned distances, despite the fact that modern pistols have better sights and are more accurate than historical dueling pistols.

    Even if one of the duelists hits the other, because of modern medical care wounds by pistol bullets are rarely fatal. Something like over 90% of people shot with handguns live. (There is some evidence that at least some of the reduction in the murder rate is because of better medical care, not because people are trying less to kill each other.) The Code Duello specifies that the duel ends with “[a]ny wound sufficient to agitate the nerves and necessarily make the hand shake.”

    Regardless of the lethality of handguns, shouldn’t the code duello put women and smaller men on an equal footing with their larger opponents? No matter how skilled a boxer I am, for example, it is unlikely that I would prevail against Mike Tyson–now, let alone in his day. It would be foolish for me to challenge him, no matter how badly he insulted my honor or deserved to be put in his place. With a pistol, however, we rise above the law of the jungle.

    As a final thought, before we romanticize dueling too much, here is an account of a 15th century trial by combat. http://alphahistory.com/pastpeculiar//1456-trial-by-combat-penis-biting/

    • Very interesting comments, Mr. Carr. Indeed, I’m certainly aware of Code Duello’s requirement that any wound – however superficial – typically entails that the duel cease. I suppose my worry primarily relates to the fact that you mention – modern pistolas are much more accurate (and deadly, it seems to me) than the old school dueling pistols, with powder and ball.

      Perhaps there are situations wherein a duel to the death is called for. Perhaps. Though all of the situations I can imagine are also ones wherein the offended party might more reasonably contact legal authorities for redress. If you can think of a situation wherein that would not be apt, I’d certainly be willing to listen.

      I’ll be honest: I thought long and hard over my dismissal of pistols. I mean, it’s so classical…so traditional…and yet…I suppose my concerns are the same as those voiced by those swordsmen who were themselves aghast at the idea of dueling with firearms (in the late 17th and early 18th Century): it just seems so impersonal.

      Even still, a defense of the righteousness of dueling need not meander into territory suggestive of a license to kill (or be killed). Again, perhaps I’m mistaken in this regard. But I would prefer to guard against the possibility of some nutcase using the duel as an excuse to satisfy bloodthirst (“Oh, you called me a meanie?!? How dare you! Pistols at dawn, from five paces!”)

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