The Merits of Dueling

The Merits of Dueling:

As I have said, I have been working on a new book called the Gunfighter’s Guide to Business and I’m about halfway through it.  For my readers of a long time here who have been sending me a lot of emails missing the daily articles, they will return.  But I offer this little sample of this “gunfighter” project to give a taste of what is to come.

The concept of getting “satisfaction” from a personal insult went a long way to establishing honor and proper conduct among business transactions, in the time before modern rules as we know them today. As we have seen often where various religions and their value are not unified, and therefore cannot be expected to hold up in a court of law, there needs to be a mechanism that brings about honor and to hold it into the context of moral conduct where villainy will quickly grow like a weed in a garden of dreams. Dueling in the classic sense, especially in the New World during the time of the American Revolution was an answer to this problem. And if there is an argument against the American Constitution for changes, it was in the original rules of the nation that mechanisms of honor were already established before the courts were needed.

In doing business in the orient, particularly in Japan where honor is still a respected trait, business transactions are accelerated because the interactions mean something with one another. This is obvious at the airports around Tokyo among men and women as respect is a universal language that makes interactions between people start on common ground. In the West we have allowed our own culture of respect to drift away into the more centralized regulation of the state which outlawed the practice of dueling essentially so that lawyers could profit off the instillation of justice. The cost was that individual satisfaction for an insult did not get the respect it deserved while the emphasis was on protecting society from itself by settling matters in a court of law. This has led our culture to adapt into a more passive aggressive society where trust isn’t always easy to find in other people. It could be argued that we were all better off when we tried to openly kill each other to protect a slight against our individual names.

Dueling was so common at the start of America that the governor of South Carolina wrote a book on it to make sure everyone did it right called The Code of Honor: Or Rules for the Government of Principals and Second in the Art of Dueling in 1834 by John Lyde Wilson. Dueling in the time of the Revolutionary War was quite common. While it was slowly going out of style at the start of the invention of a republic form of federal government once George Washington took office, in the South, particularly in Charleston, South Carolina where so many important battles occurred in defining freedom during the start of the new nation, dueling was so common that the governor felt compelled to create some legal means of settling disputes, which sounds barbaric compared to our modern legal system, but in hindsight seemed to generate more responsible people on an individual level. This certainly helped in business commerce, because if a business deal went bad, the parties may find themselves in the streets fighting to the death to obtain their satisfaction.

The important aspect of satisfaction is that the emphasis was on the individual reputations of the participants. It wasn’t some third party “state” that decided justice, it was the people at the heart of the conflict, and in many ways, society was more honorable. People had to treat each other individually better as a result. The more the states intruded on management of the affairs of people the more passive aggressive disputes have become leaving business conduct to suffer greatly. After the Civil War it was particularly immigrants from the South who moved West in search of gold and other opportunities, and they took with them the concept of dueling that had been very much a part of early American life. Dueling with fast draw had with it a way of bringing honor where there wasn’t yet law and it forced people to treat each other better and more honorably which is why there is still reverence for it.

At the state level we can all see today that the concept of taking honor and responsibility for good conduct away from individuals has been a mistake. While dueling was a violent concept the amount of people who died from it were arguably much less frequent than the kind of violence we see in modern times. That is why thinking in the way of the gunfighter is better than in the modern context of leaving disputes to be settled by those not directly responsible for the conduct, such as lawyers and the state as a legal entity. These days instead of getting satisfaction for an honor tainted we say “see you in court” instead of settling the matter right then and there. Then of course those who can pay for the best lawyer become the winners in most cases and the state enjoys the revenue and job opportunities that come from settling disputes. But what is lost is the individual responsibility for the actions taken and the merit of an honorable exchange. Taking the example of the famous duel between General Gladsten and General Howe in 1778, both Generals in the Revolution and were in a dispute over troop possession. They took to the streets of Charleston, South Carolina where many such duels were taking place at the time and when the time came stared each other down waiting for the other to make a move. After taunting each other for a good bit of time finally General Howe fired his pistol and clipped the ear of Gladsten. Gladsten in response, who was thought to be the John Adams of the south and inventor of the famous “Don’t Tread on Me” flag deliberately fired his shot into the ground inviting Howe to try again. Eventually the two men shook hands and that settled their dispute with only a minor injury occurring to Gladsten’s ear. Otherwise, the business between two major Revolutionary War figures was settled respectfully, something that certainly wouldn’t have occurred if the two had fought it out in court with lawyers acting as their pistols and fancy words spoken in legal jargon as bullets.

The point of the matter is not that dueling is a desired trait, or even that we should bring it back in the form that it was. Killing another person isn’t a desirable outcome for any dispute, but the finality of it tended to put in the participant’s minds the seriousness of an issue and this mindset certainly set the West and its expansion ablaze with activity that couldn’t have been regulated by any legal system at the rate that human ambition was expanding at the time. Honor was preserved by the potential for dueling and this threat allowed for proper respect when a nation needed it most. We could learn a lot from this period today where honor among business transactions is desperately lacking, particularly within the American borders. Other countries have their honor driven rituals and it is noticeable during business transactions. In the United States however, we have allowed our laws to be governed by lawyers and judges who take away the responsibility for personal conduct and place it in the hands of the state, and many of our businesses have followed. The impact has been a loss in honor among business interactions that has not been desirable. Yet honor could be restored if only we stepped back into hindsight and dusted off the values that did emerge from dueling and upgraded that sentiment for our modern needs which starts in thinking like a gunfighter.

Rich Hoffman

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