Them's Fightin' Words: The Case For Bringing Back the Duel


It is time to bring back dueling. Really. Dueling has admittedly never been popular in America. Even the Founders had difficulty finding states where it was legal. And in America's most famous duel, a great New Yorker and the man on the $10 bill was killed with a bullet to the chest.

In fact, people today see dueling as a problem that has been overcome by the Conquering Empire of Light and Reason, rather than a solution to many of the problems that we face on a daily basis. But dueling has much to offer. For one thing, it would reintroduce honor to public grievances. The Legal-Industrial Complex has benefited in recent years from the millions of lawsuits that get filed by someone who was allergic to the salsa at the football party. In fact, the legal industry has expanded so much that many lawyers have given up on waiting for cases, and started looking for them.

Many grievances are legitimate, but legalizing dueling would help ensure that such issues are not taken lightly. It might also help schools that wanted to secure funding for marksmanship or fencing teams, now that they could claim that they were just preparing students for later life.

While legalizing dueling would solve many problems, it might create a few. Some people would become magnets for duels and the worst scoundrels would also be the best shots. Donald Trump and Alex Rodriguez would probably be fairly good duelers by now, unless either one had been killed long ago. Ambulance-chasing lawyers would go away, only to be replaced by hearse-leading seconds.

But the best argument in favor of dueling is not the practical ends that it would serve, but rather its consistency with liberal principles. Perhaps the government should be allowed to protect individuals from themselves in some circumstances — e.g. when they are insane and therefore divided against themselves, or when they are bound to certain self-destructive addictions. But the government has no right to protect two individuals of completely sound mind from resolving their conflict on their own, as long as the terms are agreed upon.

One of the things that so impressed the French traveler Alexis de Tocqueville about the American experiment was that Americans liked to govern at the local level, or according to the least common denominator. Americans resolved their problems through improvised civic associations which benefited from their immediate knowledge and incentive to do the job the right way. What, then, could be more true to the this experiment than resolving one's grievances with nothing other than oneself, one's adversary, and two friends to serve as cornermen?

Some would no doubt argue that these issues could be addressed through conflict-resolution professionals who could negotiate some kind of monetary settlement without the government. The problem is, whenever those in conflict do not play for keeps, no resolution will satisfy them as long as they believe they could have gotten more. The Winklevosses are walking proof of this. Once dueling is legalized, individuals will have two options for satisfaction. One is the state's justice, the other is the point of a sword and barrel of a gun. The first might be safer, but the second is much less prejudiced.