Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove for the Rule Five links!
Here’s a fun little mental exercise. Should dueling be legal? I’m not talking about sparring on Twitter or in the comments section of some news story. I’m talking honest to gosh, 18th century-style, pistols at ten paces dueling.
Dueling has been illegal everywhere in the United States, indeed in most of the Western world, since the early 19th century at least. But let’s set aside our ingrained prejudices for a moment and ask ourselves, in a society that honestly and completely exists under the concept of liberty – should it be?
Let’s do a thought experiment.
Two men (or women, or one of each, whatever) have a serious disagreement, one which cannot be reconciled by any normal means. Courts have been unable to arrive at a settlement acceptable to both. Counsel has failed. They are well and truly at loggerheads.
So both of them, as capable, competent, consenting adults, in full possession of their faculties, agree to pistols at sunrise to settle the dispute. They meet in a field with their seconds, who oversee the loading of the pistols; they take their places, step away from each other on the count and, when indicated, turn and fire. One is killed, the other emerges the victor.
Now – answer me this – what crime has been committed?
Oh, yes, I know there is a statutory crime committed. But has their been a moral crime? Both parties went into the affair knowing that death was a likely outcome. I’ve read that back when the code duello was more commonly practiced, it was considered the gentlemanly thing to do to just pink your opponent in the arm or leg and claim victory without fatality, but fatal injuries were a normal outcome; it even happened to one of the more famous of our Founding Fathers.
But even in the event of a fatality – what qualifies this as a crime? Both parties agree. Both parties know the likely outcome. Both parties are, presumably, competent to make the decision. If we are truly to be a society that values personal liberty, we must also be a society that allows people to face the likely consequences of that liberty. Dueling may be an extreme example of that, but it’s no less a valid one.
So. Should dueling be legalized? I’m inclined to say yes.