Politics (and Society) Today Could Do With a Return to the Culture of Dueling

I have often thought that not only is dueling an unfairly maligned tradition but one whose application today could stiffen the spine of an estrogen-laden society and put more of a “point” to affairs of honor.  I can think of several instances in my own life where this would have resolved a difficulty.  Manners are the lubricant of civilization and alas, they are quickly perishing in America with the resultant coarseness, rudeness and cultural illiteracy that pervades the country today.  Part of this is a result of the loss of classical education, a complete lack of historical knowledge and the increasing prevalence of women of both sexes held high as the enviable male paradigm.  We are a nation with a surfeit of males but fewer men.  Men know what they are about and have an idea of their measure under arduous or dangerous circumstances.

Some have served in the military, some participate in adventure sports and some in dangerous professions (like firefighters not cops).  Being a cop is one of the safest occupations in America outside of the self-induced pathologies of over-eating, alcoholism and suicide.  Check the FBI statistics.

The concept of honor is a dying creed so I expect very few adherents will step forward to advocate for the renewal of dueling as a dispute resolution mechanism.  Honor would be a necessary preamble to even champion dueling.  Guns or swords?  Let’s make both available as a choice for consenting combatants.  I would again commend your attention to the excellent book – “The Compleat Gentleman” by Brad Miner.  While you are at it, take a look at the dozens of sword-fighting texts available from the Renaissance era in Europe during the high era of fighting salons.  The pity is there are hundreds more which have yet to be translated from the Latin, Italian, German or French into English. -BB

Charles Moore reviews ‘Pistols at Dawn’ by John Campbell.

This book gives an entertaining account of eight famous political feuds, starting with Fox and Pitt and ending with Blair and Brown. Other reviewers have compared one rivalry with another. I want to concentrate on the idea raised by the book’s title, that of the duel.

In only one of the eight stories (which also include Gladstone vs Disraeli and Heath vs Thatcher) were “pistols at dawn” literally employed. Exactly 200 years ago, in the middle of the Napoleonic wars, Britain launched a military and naval expedition to Walcheren in Holland. It failed. George Canning, the foreign secretary, sought covertly to blame his rival, Lord Castlereagh, and to have him removed from the War Office.

When Castlereagh discovered what was going on, he wrote to Canning: “You continued to sit in the same Cabinet with me, and to leave me not only in the persuasion that I possessed your confidence and support as a colleague, but you allowed me to… proceed in the Execution of a new Enterprise of the most arduous and important nature, with your apparent concurrence… You were fully aware that if my situation in the government had been disclosed to me, I could not have submitted to remain one moment in office, without the entire abandonment of my private honour and public duty. You knew I was deceived, and you continued to deceive me.” Castlereagh demanded “satisfaction”, by which he meant a duel. The two men met on Putney Heath. Both missed with their first shots, but Castlereagh insisted on a second round and wounded Canning in the thigh, without doing him serious injury.

There was a public scandal: duelling was against the law. Both men resigned, but both later returned to high office: Castlereagh’s career, which had been expiring, revived, while Canning ultimately, though briefly, became prime minister.

In the autumn of 2004, Tony Blair announced his intention to fight the next election as prime minister and, if victorious, to serve the whole of the subsequent term. Gordon Brown, who thought he had been told the opposite the day before, felt betrayed. The “understanding” that the two had sealed at the Granita restaurant in 1994 – that Brown would succeed Blair – had, he thought, been broken. “There is nothing that you could say to me now that I could ever believe,” the chancellor told the prime minister.

So for Mr Brown, as for Castlereagh, it was a matter of honour. But of course it did not occur to Mr Brown to challenge Mr Blair to a duel. Instead, the modern equivalents of the duellists’ “seconds” were the rival armies of spin doctors, and so the contest was carried on, at public expense, through the media.

The feud continued, despite a truce during the general election campaign, in which the two were filmed eating ice creams together. It resulted in a parliamentary coup against Mr Blair in the autumn of 2006 which, strictly speaking, failed, but which persuaded the prime minister (luckily, as it turned out, for him) to bring forward his date of departure.

John Campbell considers the Granita deal about the succession a “devil’s bargain”. He quotes the view of Thomas Grenville, in 1812: “When two men ride a horse, one must ride behind.” He is surely right, but the Brown/Blair story does illustrate the difficulties with which politics is saddled if there is no accepted code of honour.

The form of the duel – with its pointless deaths, inherent injustice and absurd pride – seems to us against reason and morality. But it did answer a problem that always confronts human society: how can one settle a dispute between essentially equal parties?

See the rest.

4 thoughts on “Politics (and Society) Today Could Do With a Return to the Culture of Dueling”

  1. Dear Bill:

    Delighted laughter. If you check my archived works at http://www.whiskeyandgunpowder.com about a year ago you will find an article I wrote on the benefits of dueling and why this civilized method of settling differences of opinion and retaliating for insults should be revived. I proposed taking over defunct bowling alleys and starting a (doubtless profitable) series of “Honor Satisfied!” establishments, complete with on-duty physicians and brandy in assorted grades. The fields of honor are already paced off, and all that would be needed would be backstops at both ends–and perhaps the stipulation that low-velocity rounds be used in case someone threw a round to the right or left on busy days. Doubtless handball courts could be altered for similar use.

    Duelling promotes both civility and caution. If an issue is not worth putting your life on the line for, is it worth fighting over? At the time I wrote the article I was as angry as I have ever been in my life (I almost never allow myself to feel violent emotions because those prevent solving problems. Control them and work out how to get what you want.)

    Every hot-blooded Irish gene I possess (and I’m half Irish) wanted satisfaction defined precisely and exactly as the inestimable pleasure of putting at least the first round through the kneecap of a lout who had insulted me viciously, deliberately, egregiously, and falsely, not that a slug through one of his eye sockets would have displeased me.

    I yearned whole-heartedly for gentlemanly times when I could have declared ringingly, “NO man calls me a liar and lives,” and I was willing to back up that proposition by allowing the dastard ten clear shots at me…silky smile…supposing he were in any condition to do so a split second after the command to turn and fire. I thought of it lovingly, longingly, and joyously, because I am quite certain I could have taken him. I’m an excellent shot, I have always used duelling stance, RIGHT was on my side, and I was offended to the point that I would have taken him on with a rapier if that were his choice of weapons, despite not having fenced since college. Had no better alternative been possible I would have faced him over cold steel of any length although knives and a handkerchief held jointly between our teeth does lack class. I would have gone with a duel on horseback and “I bear mace and chain this day!”

    In short, I was one infuriated diminutive lady and my honor meant more to me than my silky hide and still does as a basic rule of ethics.

    I wanted the slight on my honor wiped out in blood (preferably his) and I would have done my utmost with any weapon from a quarterstaff up, although my weapon of choice would have been my ancient, beloved Browning Nomad .22. Laughter. That, alone, should give you a good idea of my confidence with Baby, over a foot of beautifully butt-heavy firearm that holds ten rounds. (A single shot black powder pistol is soooo old fashioned. They were used because there weren’t enough hand guns that fired two shots to speak of.)

    I don’t need a small cannon to protect myself and I would have had no qualms about going up against the “manly” .45 he carried with my sweet little popgun. A .22 is all the firearm any good shot needs at distances most of us will ever have to defend ourselves across.

    When I was running Beauty through several NRA courses when she was sixteen I drove our instructor crazy because my first round always went through the center of the left (right from a man-sized target’s perspective) eye socket, after which I put the rest of the clip obligingly in center of mass to amuse him, not bothering to explain that the tradeoff between thumb-sized hunks of lead and much smaller ones is placement.)

    Had we been at the ranch I would have taught Tiphaine entirely myself, but we lived in Tacoma at the time, and my first choice was to take her to the range at Ft. Lewis. As Louis L’Amour put it, “She done right well oncet she taken it up.” To my utter horror, at the end of the third day, the Range Master requested that we not return. I searched my mind frantically for any safety rule we could have broken, without success.

    He explained with gentle humor that the problem was that the Lieutenants kept falling off the birm watching my gorgeous 16-year-old jail bait firing duelling fashion, her waist-length cloud of red-gold-bronze-silver hair blowing around her, jeans molded against those long, elegant legs, turning out one flawless target after another! I saw his point. The NRA instructor was a middle-aged curmudgeon who didn’t give a hoot how she looked.

    Back to the duel I was not allowed to fight. Modern life being so dreary, I had to settle for seeing him lose an honorary position he coveted; the rest of the fellows didn’t take to insulting ladies. Thank you, gentleman, but I would have preferred to fight my own battles.

    “An armed society is a polite society” is far more than a bumper sticker. It is a great truth. Guns aren’t called “equalizers” on a whim. On a tangent, crime rates go down signficantly quickly in every state which adopts open or concealed-carry laws.

    Those who are aghast at the idea of duels probably do not know that we’re not talking about a pair of gunslingers blazing away suddenly in the old West over a bumped elbow in a bar. In a proper duel the offending party has FIVE chances to see the error of his ways (or judge the depth of his cowardice or conviction.) The first comes when the offended party sneers, “Sir, you are intolerable. Name your seconds, should any be willing to stand by you.”

    That’s a major, “Let’s think about this! Perhaps I am willing to withdraw my words.”

    If not, the first duty of the two seconds is to seek reconciliation. Will the offending party retract? Has the instigator calmed down enough to see reason? These negotiations are repeated twice.

    If efforts to negotiate fail, the appointed day and hour arrive and both parties STILL have the option of apologizing…after a night considering they may not survive. Both parties can still apologize, or one who knows he is in the wrong but is too proud to admit it can “delope,” or fire into the air. At that point his opponent can do the gentlemanly thing and follow suit, or he can shoot his opponent if he wants to.

    How very different that is from bar brawls, road rage, domestic violence, child abuse, and other frivolous examples of sudden, uncontrolled rage. If neither concern for our lives nor ample time to reflect upon whether or not our behavior and beliefs are correct are sufficient to deter us from our intent to do bodily harm at the risk of our own lives, perhaps the issue really is worth fighting over.

    I remain in favor of formal duels carried out with full punctilio, including a marshal who shoots a combatant who dares to turn and fire before the signal is given, and suggest that if they were a good solution for Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton they are an equally beneficial thing now and surely within the bounds of Constitutional intent. Few would know more about that than Mr. Hamilton.

    Somewhere along the line gangs need to learn that it is not permitted to war in our streets and commit drive-by shootings. The illegals in Arizona have issued a formal challenge that if the new law echoing long-established Federal law is implemented they will declare open season on all Americans (meaning whites and police), and they need to be taught that this is not good policy and it can certainly be deleterious to their health. Duels aren’t the way to deal with gangs, but a more, um, enlightened view on formal violence for cause would make many countries far safer places to live.

    Linda Brady Traynham

    Afterword…in case you’re wondering, yes, I’m really serious. I WOULD defend my honor and my beliefs to the full extent of the law and at risk of my life.


  2. Pingback: Zero Gov » Blog Archive » In Defense of Scoundrels by Kaiser L

  3. Pingback: Manliness, honour & dueling | Southern Nationalist Network

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