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Dueling and defamation

By Steven | November 11, 2009

Before defamation lawsuits, there was dueling.

Apparently, in 17th and 18th Century Europe it was regarded as a civilised way of protecting one’s honour, “since the alternatives were sneak attacks and brawls” writes Daniel Solove in his book The Future of Reputation.

Still, thousands of people were killed in them. What I hadn’t realised was the degree to which dueling was encrusted with detailed rituals of notice, negotiation and representation. Here’s Solove:

A duel could be provoked by insult, defamation or gossip. Even the slightest of insults could spark a duel. An elaborate set of rules, the “code duello”, governed the practice. The offended person would issue the challenge, which involved the use of swords or pistols. Before a duel was fought, the parties exchanged letters and engaged in negotiations to see whether a reconciliation could be achieved. Each party had a “second”, who functioned as his agent throughout the process. In many cases, the parties reached a settlement, with the offender admitting, for example, that a rumour was spurious without conceding that he had deliberately spread a lie. Skillful seconds were adept at helping the parties reconcile, and one contemporary observer even remarked that “nine duels out of ten, if not ninety-nine out of a hundred, orginate in want of experience in the seconds.” “It is not the sword or the pistol that kills”, another stated, “but the seconds”.

I wonder who the modern-day equivalent of seconds could be…?

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