TL;DR: Dueling was a thing in Pre- and Early-Modern European societies (i.e., before AD 1800) because there were tangible, concrete, financial incentives to protect one's reputation as a gentleman. Because those incentives no longer exist, dueling is unlikely to reemerge.

As romantic as the descriptions in this post are, they miss something quite significant, if somewhat less. . . idealistic. Pre- and early-modern European societies were divided into two classes: the gentry and the commons. These were set at birth, and though it was possible to move from one to the other, this was very difficult. One only became a member of the gentry by an act of ennobling, and being cast out of the gentry was a Very Big Deal.

Remember that line in the Declaration of Independence, "All men are created equal?" This is the social distinction they were targeting. In no small part due to the fact that, was far as the social distinctions in Britain were concerned, all Americans were commoners. Didn't matter how rich, influential, wise, competent, etc., an American was: he was, and always would be, a commoner, and thus permanently subordinate to his "betters".

This distinction had many real, practical, legal implications, but I want to focus on just one here. A gentleman's word was to be taken at face value. If his credibility, or "credit," was called into question, he had to demand satisfaction in the form of either an apology or a duel, or his reputation would be in tatters.

Why? Because the Jeffersonian ideal of all men being created equal has been so completely successful in the Anglosphere (especially outside Britain itself) that we've largely forgotten that no one believed this until, historically speaking, about half an hour ago. Before the Modern period, reputation had a far more tangible aspect than mere "quality." Gentlemen did not work for a living. They lived off their "income," which, for the vast majority of the gentry, consisted mostly of land rents. These rents could be derived from inherited lands or from appointment to official positions to which land rents were assigned (e.g., parish priests, judges, MPs, etc.).

The thing to understand about these land rents is that they were collected no more than annually. Less than that, if the gentlemen (and or his "man of business") faced difficulties in collecting rents (e.g., inconvenient wars) or were just lax and/or inefficient about doing so. But while the gentry may only have gotten "paid" annually, they had ongoing expenses. As anyone whose income is "spikey" can readily attest, this can easily lead to liquidity problems. The way the gentry maintained personal/household liquidity was to establish lines of credit, whether with financial institutions or directly with merchants.

There's that word again: "credit". Perhaps now you start to see the connection between a gentleman's word of honor and his material condition. There was no such thing as a "credit report" (there it is again!)," and the state of record keeping practices was such that gaining a clear and accurate accounting of any given gentleman's financial condition was difficult, if not impossible. Sometimes even for the gentleman in question! So the only thing that potential creditors had to go on was the gentleman's word of honor. His "credit". A gentleman pays his debts, because it's the right thing to do. That's it. Now, perhaps, one also begins to understand why Pre- and Early-Modern societies generally allowed imprisonment for debt. But I digress.

I think that any benefits dueling had for what you describe as "quality" were probably secondary effects. Call a gentleman's word of honor into question, and you call into question his "creditworthiness" in every sense of that word. And because the gentry depended on ready access to credit to stay liquid between their annual land rents, they were very, very concerned about protecting their reputations.

One wouldn't really expect one's reputation to be denigrated falsely all that often, so seeking redress for slander through violence has a certain arguable plausibility. But if one has genuinely earned a bad reputation, one should expect statements to that effect on the regular, far beyond one's ability to tamp them down no matter how vigorously one sends out challenges.

Further, one could only challenge social equals to a duel. A gentlemen could not ignore a challenge from another gentlemen, but was free to ignore challenges from commoners. Likewise, a gentleman did not need to challenge a commoner to a duel; one simply beat them with a stick. Literally. Conversely, a commoner who tried to do the same to a gentlemen was not likely to survive the experience.

There are all kinds of problems with this system, and there's a reason it went away. Honor societies have largely been replaced with Dignity societies, which are now being replaced with Victim societies. Etc. But it's important to understand the material considerations that made dueling a viable, and indeed arguably necessary, feature of pre- and early-modern European cultures. Such considerations gave concrete, tangible force to notions of "credit" and "quality" such that they could not be easily ignored. Unless similar considerations were to somehow emerge, I don't see any realistic path for (or, indeed, need for) dueling to reemerge as a common practice.

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I wish the Elon Musk versus Mark Zuckerberg fight would have happened. Elon challenging Mark to a fight over releasing a similar product rather than trying to look for a way to sue.

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Dec 12, 2023Liked by Kulak

interesting alongside your article on the trial of admiral Byng and royal navy.

yr last bit with the german students brings me again to George MacDonald Fraser and his flashman books. in Royal Flash (pub.1970) german face slash dueling is covered quite closely. i implore you to peruse the entire George M. Fraser for historically enlightening tidbits.

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I highly recommend the 1977 movie "The Duellists" . Directed by Ridley Scott (how could the same man have made this "Napoleon" garbage) A series of duels set in the Napoleonic era - brilliant and atmospheric.

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Whilst duelling is very very romantic it would surely end in warped abuses of justice. A scoundrel can, if he is good with weapons, simply do what he wants knowing that he will always win. Those who are not as proficient will have to be very careful about not offending.

I guess you could say this is good as it rewards the best fighters at the cost of the weaker ones but still it is not exactly what I think of when I try to define 'justice'.

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I am an American and somehow missed that Trudeau had actually knocked out a rival politician in a boxing match. That very slightly changes my opinion of him. He is still an anti-White Leninist dead set on the extermination of the Canadian people and their culture, but I guess you cannot call him a coward, at least.

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Took courage to face another man in a duel (yes, I know, few died, but there was always risk).

Modern day equivalent is meeting a fellow for a fight - best possible outcome is that only one of you is hurt.

But few men have actually fought in adulthood. I suspect that dueling was more discussed than acted upon.

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Dec 13, 2023·edited Dec 13, 2023

I loved the essay and the explanation of the cartoon even more. I think the biggest takeaway is that malevolent individuals (e.g., bureaucrats, rapists, seducers, etc.) no longer fear physical or verbal retribution from their victims' protectors even on the lowest level. (They aren't even available by phone or direct email.) Society's social fabric is shredding as a consequence.

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> Much as Conservative political commentators are loath to ever speak of the matter… Justin Trudeau won his government in a boxing match.

A demonstration of the limits of using dueling as the means of settling disputes if ever there was one.

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One of the greatest benefits to the re-institution of honour duels would be gaining the ability to force journalists to a higher degree of honesty out of fear of bodily harm. As it stands, journalists don't have much to lose by publishing slander about someone. If the slandered individual does have a problem with it, maybe after going to war with the media outlet he can force a retraction- which will be written or published somewhere very few will see it and the damage will already be done to his reputation. In a world where the wrong opinions are cancellable offences, this can be a serious risk associated with simply speaking or believing the truth.

On the contrary, if it was the expectation that slander would be met with a socially accepted call to individual combat, it would at least give journalists pause before publishing something inflammatory that may not be true. Sabres or pistols are not even required, it just has to hurt to lose. Fisticuffs or canes would provide a good enough incentive.

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Aaron Burr dindu nuffin wrong! Alexander Hamilton was a terrible person and his plantation economics are disgusting.

Men still duel. Even in congress, a corrupt institution of vagabonds, a seated congresscritter recently asked a witness in a hearing to step outside. People are not always arrested for beating each other over honour. But it's one of those optional "disturbing the peace" charges that the evil servants of demon worshippers known as police sometimes enforce.

Left to ourselves, people form free markets, invent new things, and defend ourselves and our families. The European aristocracy hates humanity and wants to enslave mankind. So they impose a lot of trash agencies and idiotic laws. That gives them jobs to hand out to their relatives. It's all evil and corrupt. And none of it will last.

One day soon the last bureau rat will be strangled in the entrails of the last licensed banker. Then we can go to the stars.

Question for future pondering: why have a legislature? Suppose you have a law against rape. Why do you need a bunch of corrupt flunkies to yap about it and change it? Why not get rid of the lawyers who want to change the laws and have a public referendum if any new law is really needed? Food for thought. Congresscritters are all filthy corrupt rascals.

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Good and thoughtful summary as always. A few bits to add: as others have pointed out above, this system was prone to abuses as well, with lives on the line for personal business (often of dubious significance).

Of course, however, not all duels were 'to the death.'

Nevertheless, Christianity strongly discouraged the practice - traditionally, besides those who have committed suicide, those fallen in duels were excluded from a proper burial rite as well (at least by the Catholic Church), the notion being that they risked their lives over a 'petty' business (or to put more bluntly, 'honor' in itself is not a cause worth dying for).

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"Another big one was professional gossip. In an age before regulation, what made you trust professionals was their know personal reputations. Screwing clients might not just ruin them professionally, but socially...

Naturally this reputation had to be guarded... so they'd duel to defend it... Ergo people were reticent to insult them"

What good is this "reputation" if it's not accurate? If nobody will criticize a professional because they're afraid of dying in a duel if they do, then that reputation doesn't tell you anything about their skills or honesty in their trade, only their courage and capacity for violence which usually isn't what you're interested in. Same goes for the other examples, threatening to kill someone if they impugn your character doesn't mean you have good character.

Why are you assuming that whoever challenges another to a duel, or whoever wins it, is going to be the one in the right?

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I understand what you’re saying, and I don’t completely disagree. A quick punch in the face can solve a lot of problems caused by jackasses. And the concept of personal honor is surely lacking these days. But, on the other hand, the problem with lethal duels is that the wrong guy ( the malefactor) can win just by luck or being better with a weapon. And it may be a trivial dispute. In which case, justice may not be served. It may not be advantageous for might makes right to be the fundamental principle governing the resolution of disputes, which is one of the reasons why we have a legal system in the first place.

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Muslim Russia still has dueling courts.

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Are you really sure dueling to resolve disputes is a good idea? Say I'm a really, really good duelist. What incentive do I have to temper any of my interactions with others? Don't I just do what Pushkin did and send insulting letters and force people to face me where the odds are tilted in my favor? Or say I'm a really, really bad duelist. Now am I just stuck eating everyone else's crap?

Don't get me wrong, I've spent enough time over the years making replicas of melee weapons and fencing with them that I'm probably more interested in and enthusiastic about this idea than like 99% of your readership. I'm not objecting to this on grounds that dueling isn't totally rad. I'm just saying "Hey, maybe better would be something closer to what we have now, because having a bunch of people die because some jerk was publicly mean to them and their hand-eye coordination wasn't the greatest might be a waste of human capital"

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