Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIV.: OF HONORARY SATISFACTION. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 1 (Principles of Morals and Legislation, Fragment on Government, Civil Code, Penal Law)
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CHAPTER XIV.: OF HONORARY SATISFACTION. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 1 (Principles of Morals and Legislation, Fragment on Government, Civil Code, Penal Law) 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 1.
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OF HONORARY SATISFACTION.
We have seen in what manner those offences against reputation, which have falsehood for their instrument, may be remedied: but there are other offences of this class, more dangerous. Enmity has more certain methods of deeply attacking honour: it does not always hide itself in a timid calumny; it openly attacks its enemy, but it attacks him not with violence, which puts him in personal danger. Humiliation is the object in view. The proceeding least painful in itself is often most weighty in its consequences: by doing more mischief to the person, less injury is done to honour. A sentiment of pity must not be excited in favour of the sufferer, since this would produce a feeling of antipathy towards his adversary: he must be made an object of contempt. Hatred has exhausted all its refinements in this species of offences. It is necessary to oppose to them peculiar remedies, which we have distinguished by the name of Honorary Satisfaction.
To perceive this necessity, the nature and tendency of these offences must be examined; the causes of their gravity, the remedies which have at present been found for them in duels, and the imperfection of these remedies. These researches, which relate to all that is most delicate in the human heart, have been almost entirely neglected by those who have made the laws; they are, however, the original foundations of all good legislation in matters of honour.
In the actual state of manners among the most civilized nations, the ordinary, the natural effect of these offences, is to take away from the offended party a more or less considerable portion of his honour; that is to say, he no longer enjoys the same esteem among his fellows: he has lost a proportional part of the pleasures, the services, the good offices of all kinds, which are the fruits of such esteem; and he may find himself exposed to the disagreeable consequences of their contempt.
But since the evil essentially consists in this change which is produced in the opinions of men in general, it is these who ought to be regarded as its immediate authors. The nominal delinquent makes only a slight scratch, which, left to itself, would soon heal: it is these other persons, who, by the poisons they pour into it, make it a dangerous, and often incurable wound.
At first sight, the rigour of public opinion against an insulted individual appears a revolting injustice. A stronger, or more courageous man, abuses his superiority, and ill treats in a certain manner one whose weakness ought to have protected him: all the world, as by a mechanical movement, instead of being indignant against the oppressor, ranges itself on his side, and ungenerously causes sarcasm and contempt, often more bitter than death itself, to fall upon its victim. At the given signal by an unknown individual, the public emulously precipitates itself upon the devoted innocent, as a ferocious dog waits only the signal from his master to tear a passenger. It is thus that a scoundrel, who wishes to deliver an honest man to the torments of opprobrium, employs those whom the men of the world calls honest people as the executioners of his tyrannical injuries; and as the contempt which an injury attracts is in proportion to the injury itself, this domination of evil doers is so much the more inexcusable as the abuse is more atrocious.
Whether a flagrant injury has been deserved or not, no one deigns to inquire, nor whether its insolent author is triumphant, but how it may be aggravated. It is made a point of honour to oppress the unhappy: the affront he has received has separated him from his equals, and rendered him unclean, as by a social excommunication. Thus the true evil, the ignominy with which he is covered, is much more the work of other men than of the first offender: he only points out the prey, it is they who tear it; he directs the punishment, they are the executioners.
Should a man, for example, be so far carried away as to spit in the face of another in public, what would be the mischief in itself? a drop of water, forgotten as soon as shed. But this drop of water may be converted into a corrosive poison, which shall torment him all his life. What produces this metamorphosis? Public opinion—the opinion which distributes at its own pleasure honour and shame. The cruel adversary well knew that this affront would be the forerunner and the symbol of a torrent of contempt.
A churl, a villain, may at his own will dishonour a virtuous man! He may fill with chagrin and regret the close of the most respectable career! How does he maintain this terrible power? He maintains it because an irresistible corruption has subjugated the first and the purest of the tribunals, that of the popular sanction. By a train of deplorable collusion, all the citizens individually depend for their honour upon the most wicked among them, and are collectively under their orders, to execute their decrees of proscription upon each one in particular.
Such is the process which might be instituted against public opinion, and these imputations would not be without foundation. Mere admirers of strength are often guilty of injustice towards the feeble: but when the effects of offences of this kind are examined to the bottom, it is perceived that they produce an evil independent of opinion, and that the sentiments of the public, with respect to affronts received and tolerated, are not in general so contrary to reason as is believed on the first glance: I say in general, because many cases would be found in which public opinion is unjustifiable.
In order to understand all the evil which results from these offences, they must be considered without reference to any remedies: it must be supposed that there are none. According to this supposition, these offences might be repeated at will; an unlimited career would thus be opened to insolence: the person insulted to-day might be insulted to-morrow and the day after, every day and every hour: each new affront would facilitate the next, and render more probable a succession of outrages of the same class. But in the idea of a corporal insult, is comprehended every act offensive to the person, which can be offered without causing a durable physical evil—every thing which produces disagreeable sensation, uneasiness, or sorrow. But an act which would be scarcely sensible, if unique, may produce by repetition a very painful degree of uneasiness, or even an intolerable torment. I have somewhere read, that from water distilled drop by drop, and falling from a certain height upon the shaven crown of the uncovered head, the most cruel tortures have been produced. “A constant dropping wears away stones,” says the proverb.* Thus, the individual obliged by his relative weakness to submit, at the pleasure of his persecutor, to similar vexations, and deprived, as we have supposed, of legal protection, would be reduced to the most miserable condition. Nothing more is required for establishing on the one part an absolute despotism, and on the other an entire slavery.
But he is not the slave of one, but of all who choose to make use of him. He is the puppet of the first comer, who, knowing his weakness, is tempted to abuse it. Like a Spartan Helot, dependent upon every body, always in fear and suffering—the object of general laughter, and of a contempt which is not even softened by compassion—he is, in a word, below those slaves, because their misfortune was forced upon them, and was the subject of complaint, whilst his degradation is connected with the baseness of his character.
These little vexations, these insults, have, even for another reason, a sort of pre-eminence in tyranny above more violent measures. Violent acts of anger often suffice to extinguish at once the enmity of the offender, and are frequently promptly followed by feelings of repentance, and thus present a termination to the suffering they produce: but a malignant and humiliating insult, far from exhausting the hatred which has produced it, seems on the contrary, to serve to nourish it; so that, it presents itself to the imagination as the avant courier of a train of injuries, so much the more alarming as it is undefined.
What has been said of corporal insults may be applied to threats, since even the first are of no importance except as threatening acts.
Offences by words have not altogether the same character. This is only a vague species of defamation, an employment of injurious terms, of which the signification is not determined, and which varies according to the situation of the persons.† What is shown by these injuries to the party injured, is, that he is believed worthy of the public contempt, without pointing out on what account. The probable evil which may result is the renewal of similar reproaches. It may also be feared, that a profession of contempt, publicly expressed, will lead others to join in it; it is indeed an invitation to which they willingly yield. The pride of censuring—of raising one’s self at the expense of the others,—the influence of example—the disposition to believe all strong assertions give weight to these kinds of injuries. But it appears that they principally owe their weight to the neglect with which they are treated by the laws, and to the practice of duelling, a subsidiary remedy, by which the popular sanction has sought to supply the silence of the laws.
It is not astonishing that legislators, fearing to give too much importance to trifles, have left in a state of nearly universal neglect this part of security. The physical evil naturally enough taken as a measure of the importance of the crime, was nearly nothing, and the distant consequences escaped the inexperience of those who established the laws. The duel presented itself to supply this omission. This is not the place for inquiring into the origin, and examining the changes and whimsicalities apparent in this practice.‡ It is enough that the practice of duelling exists, and that, in fact, it applies itself as a remedy, and serves to restrain the enormity of the disorder, which, without it, would result from the negligence of the laws.
This practice once established, the following are its direct consequences:—
The first effect of duelling is to make the evil of the offence in a great measure to cease; that is to say, the shame which results from the insult. The offended person is no longer in that miserable condition in which his weakness exposes him to the outrages of the insolent, and the contempt of all. He is delivered from a condition of continual fear. The stain which the affront had imprinted on his honour is effaced; and if the challenge have immediately followed the insult, this stain will not even have made any impression: it will have had no time to fix itself; for the dishonour consists not in receiving an insult, but in submitting to it.
The second effect of duelling is to act as a punishment, and to oppose itself to the reproduction of like offences. Each new example is a promulgation of the penal laws of honour, and reminds every one that he cannot be guilty of such offensive proceedings, without exposing himself to the consequences of a private combat; that is to say, to the danger of undergoing, according to the event of the duel, either different degrees of afflictive punishments, or even the punishment of death. Hence, the courageous individual who, during the silence of the laws, exposes himself in order to punish an insult, secures the general security by exposing his own.
But, considered as a punishment, duelling is extremely defective.
1. It is not a method which can be employed by every body. There are numerous classes who cannot participate in the protection which it yields; as women, children, old persons, invalids, and those who, from defect in courage, cannot resolve to free themselves from the shame at the price of so great danger. On the other hand, by a peculiarity with respect to this point of honour, worthy of its feudal origin, the superior classes have not admitted those below them to the equality of duelling: the countryman, outraged by a gentleman, cannot obtain this satisfaction. The insult, in this case, may have less weighty effects, but it is yet an insult, and an evil without a remedy. In all these respects, duelling, considered as a punishment, is found inefficacious.
2. It is not always even a punishment, because opinion attaches to it a reward which may appear to many superior to all its dangers. This reward is the honour attached to this proof of courage; an honour which has often given greater attractions to duelling than its inconveniences have had power to overcome. There has been a period during which it formed part of the character of a gallant man to have fought at least once. A look, an inattention, a preference, a suspicion of rivalry—any thing was sufficient to men who only sought a pretence, and esteemed themselves a thousand times repaid for the perils they had run, by the applause they obtained from both sexes, with whom, from different reasons, bravery is equally in favour. In this respect, the punishment, amalgamated with the reward, loses its true penal character, and in another manner becomes inefficacious.
3. Duelling, considered as a punishment, is also defective from its excess; or, according to the proper expression, which will be explained elsewhere, it is too expensive a punishment. It is true, that it is often null, but it may be capital. Between these extremes of every thing and nothing, the individual is exposed to all the intermediate degrees—wounds, scars, mutilations, maiming, or loss of limbs. It is clear, that if a choice could be made with respect to satisfaction for offences of this kind, a preference would be given to a punishment less uncertain and less hazardous, which should not extend to the loss of life, nor be altogether null.
There is another peculiarity in this penal justice, which belongs only to duelling: costly to the aggressor, it is no less so to the party injured.* The offended party cannot avail himself of the right to punish the offender, without exposing himself to the punishment which he prepares for him; and even with a manifest disadvantage, for the chance is naturally in favour of him who has been able to choose his man before exposing himself. Hence this punishment is at the same time expensive and ill founded.
4. Another particular inconvenience of this duelling jurisprudence is, that it aggravates the evil of the offence itself, in all cases in which the revenge is not sought, unless the impossibility of seeking it is acknowledged. Has the offended party refused to have recourse to it, he is forced to convict himself of two capital faults,—want of courage and want of honour; want of that virtue which protects society, and without which it could not maintain itself,—and want of sensibility to the love of reputation, one of the grand foundations of morality. The offended party finds himself, therefore, under the laws of duelling, in a worse situation than if it did not exist; because if he refuse this sad remedy, it is converted into poison for him.
5. If, in certain cases, duelling, in quality of punishment, be not so inefficacious as it seems it ought to be, it is only because an innocent individual exposes himself to a punishment, which consequently is ill founded. Such are the cases of persons who, from some infirmity arising from sex, age, or health, cannot employ this means of defence. They have no resource, in this condition of individual weakness, except as chance gives them a protector, who has at the same time the will and the power to expose his own person, and combat in their stead. It is thus that a husband, a lover, a brother, may take upon themselves the injury done to a wife, a mistress, a sister; and in this case, if the duel becomes an efficacious protection, it is only by compromising the security of a third person, who finds himself charged with a quarrel for a matter to which he is a stranger, and with respect to which he could exercise no influence.
It is certain that, considering duelling as a branch of penal justice, it is an absurd and monstrous practice; but altogether absurd, and altogether monstrous as it is, it cannot be denied but that it accomplishes its principal object—it entirely effaces the stain which an insult imprints upon honour. Ordinary moralists, in condemning public opinion upon this point, only serve to confirm the fact. But whether, on account of this result, duelling be justifiable or not, is of no importance: the practice exists, and it has its cause. It is essential to the legislator to discover it: a phenomenon so interesting ought not to remain unknown to him.
The insult, we have said, causes him who is the object of it to be considered as degraded by his weakness and his cowardice. Always placed between an affront and a reproach, he can no longer march with an equal step with other men, and pretend to the same regards; but when, after this insult, I present myself to my adversary, and consent to risk in a combat my life against his, I rise, by this act, from the humiliation into which I had fallen. If I die, I am thereby at least set free from the public contempt, and from the insolent domination of my enemy. If he die, I am thereby free, and the guilty is punished. If he be only wounded, it is a sufficient lesson for him, and those who may be tempted to imitate him. Am I wounded myself, or are neither of us wounded? The combat is not useless: it always produces its effect. My enemy finds that he cannot reiterate his injuries, but at the risk of his life: I am not a passive being which can be outraged with impunity: my courage protects me nearly as much as the law would have done, if it had punished such offences with an afflictive or capital punishment.
But if, when this method of satisfaction is open to me, I patiently endure an insult, I render myself despicable in the eyes of the public, because, by such conduct, there is discovered, on my part, a fund of timidity; and timidity is one of the greatest imperfections in the character of a man. A coward has always been an object of contempt.
But ought this defect of courage to be classed among the vices? The opinion which despises cowardice, is it a hurtful or useful prejudice?
It will be doubted by few but that this opinion is conformed to the general interest, if it be considered that the first wish of every individual is for his own preservation. Courage is more or less a factitious quality—a social virtue, which owes to public esteem, more than to any other cause, its birth and its increase. A momentary ardour may be kindled by anger, but a tranquil and sustained courage is only formed and nourished under the happy influences of honour. The contempt which is felt for cowardice is not, then, a useless sentiment; the suffering which rebounds upon cowards, is not a punishment lavished in pure loss. The existence of the body politic depends upon the courage of the individuals who compose it. The external security of the state against its rivals, depends on the courage of its warriors: the internal security of the state against these warriors themselves, depends upon the courage spread among the mass of the other citizens. In a word, courage is the public soul, the tutelary genius, the sacred palladium, by which alone a people can secure itself from all the miseries of servitude, can retain the condition of manhood, and not fall below the brutes themselves. But the more courage shall be honoured, the greater will be the number of courageous men, the more will cowardice be despised, and the fewer cowards will there be.
This is not all: he who, being able to fight, endures an insult, not only discovers his timidity—he also rebels against the popular sanction, which has established the law, and shows himself, in an essential point, indifferent to reputation. But the popular sanction is the most active and faithful servant of the principle of utility, the most powerful and least dangerous ally of the political sanction. If, then, the laws of the popular sanction agree in general with the laws of utility, the more a man is sensible of reputation, the more his character is ready to conform itself to virtue—the less his sensibility in this respect, the more liable is he to the seduction of every vice.
What is the result of this discussion? In the state of neglect in which the laws, till the present time, have left the honour of the citizens, he who endures an insult, without having recourse to the satisfaction which public opinion prescribes to him, by thus acting exhibits himself as reduced to a state of humiliating dependence, and exposed to receive an indefinite series of affronts: he exhibits himself as devoid of the sentiment of courage, which produces general security, and, indeed, as devoid of sensibility to reputation—sensibility, protectrix of all the virtues, and safeguard against all the vices.
In examining the progress of public opinion with regard to insults, it appears to me, generally speaking, to be good and useful; and the successive changes which it has made in the practice of duels, have brought them more and more into conformity with the principle of utility. The public would do wrong, or, rather, its folly would be manifest, if, being the spectator of an insult, it immediately passed a decree of infamy against the party insulted. But this it does not do: this degree of infamy takes place only when the party insulted rebels against the laws of honour, and himself signs the decision of his degradation from manhood.
The public is in general* right in this system: the real wrong is on the side of the laws. First wrong: the allowing this anarchy to subsist with regard to insults, which has rendered a recurrence to this whimsical and mischievous method necessary. Second wrong: the having wished to oppose themselves to the practice of duelling—an imperfect, but the only remedy. Third wrong: the having opposed it, only by disproportioned and inefficacious means.
[* ]In order to form an idea of the torment which results from the accumulation and duration of trifling vexations, almost imperceptible when alone, it is only necessary to recal the prolonged ticklings, and the persecutions so common in the plays and the quarrels of childhood. At this age, the least quarrels lead to acts of violence: the idea of decorum is not yet sufficiently strong to repress them; but the fickleness and the pity natural to early youth, prevents their being pushed to a dangerous point, and reflection does not give them that bitterness which a mixture of accessory ideas imparts to them in the maturity of life.
[† ]To say that any one is a rascal, is not to reproach him with any one action in particular, but it is to accuse him in general of such conduct as brings a man to the gallows. These offensive words ought to be carefully distinguished from special defamation, from that which has a particular object. This may be refuted—it allows of attestative satisfaction. These oftensive words, being vague, do not admit of being so dealt with.
[‡ ]Many circumstances concurred in the age of chivalry to the establishment of duelling. Tournaments, single combats fashioned by glory, designed as amusements, led naturally to challenges of honour. The idea of a particular Providence, derived from Christianity, led to the interrogation of Divine Justice in this manner, and to the reference of quarrels to its decision.
[* ]The Japanese surpass in this respect the men of honour of modern Europe. The European, for the chance of killing his adversary, gives him a reciprocal and equal chance. The Japanese, for the chance of leading him to rip up his own belly, begins by setting him the example.
[* ]Does the public know the reason which it has for its opinion? Is it guided by the principle of utility, or by a mechanical imitation and an ill developed instinct? Does he who fights, act from an enlightened view of his own and the general interest? These are questions more curious than useful. The following observation may serve to resolve them. It is one thing to be guided by the presence of certain motives, it is another thing to perceive their influence. There is no action or judgment without motive, no effect without a cause. But in order to understand the influence which a motive has over us, it is necessary to know how to direct the mind upon itself, and to anatomize its thoughts: it is necessary to divide the mind as it were into two parts, of which the one is to be occupied in observing the other; a difficult operation, of which, from want of exercise, few persons are capable.