Front Page Titles (by Subject) 2.: Reflection on the Question of Dueling (Report) 2 - The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics
Return to Title Page for The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
2.: Reflection on the Question of Dueling (Report) 2 - Frédéric Bastiat, The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics 
The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics, translated from the French by Jane and Michel Willems, with an introduction by Jacques de Guenin and Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean. Annotations and Glossaries by Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean, and David M. Hart. Translation editor Dennis O’Keeffe (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2011).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Reflection on the Question of Dueling (Report)2
[vol. 7, p. 10. Originally published
Literary centralization has currently reached such a point in France, and the provinces are so brainwashed that in advance she scorns anything that is not printed in Paris. It seems that talent, wit, common sense, erudition, and genius cannot exist outside the walls of our capital city. Have we thus discovered a short time ago that the silent calm of our retreats is essentially harmful to meditation and intellectual work?
The text to which we are drawing attention is in our eyes an eloquent protest against this blind prejudice. On his debut, the author, a young, unknown man, who perhaps does not have the measure even of himself, attacks one of the most brilliant of literary and political celebrities, and yet if anyone at all impartially compares the famous charge of M. Dupin with regard to dueling and the reflections of M. Coudroy, he will find, we dare to say, that, from the point of view of sound philosophy, elevated reasoning, and glowing eloquence, it is not the attorney general who emerges victorious from the combat.3
M. Coudroy examines first of all the relationship of dueling with existing legislation and it seems to us that in this respect his refutation of M. Dupin’s position leaves nothing to be desired. By applying to suicide the line of argument through which the attorney general has succeeded in subjecting dueling to our penal laws, he shows in a sensitive way that this interpretation is forced and is as antipathetic to common sense as it is to public awareness, and one which has led the court to bracket dueling with voluntary and premeditated murder.
M. Coudroy then seeks to ascertain whether this legal interpretation is not undermining our constitution. We think it is difficult not to be struck by the relevance of this notion. Our constitution, in fact, acknowledges that it is public opinion, through the agency of legislative power and in particular of the elective chamber, which classifies actions in the category of crimes, misdemeanors, and misdeeds. No one can be punished for an act that this power has not made subject to a punishment. However, if instead of taking it for granted that any such act must be covered by the punishment, the legal power is able to bend the act to fit the punishment by declaring that this act, hitherto regarded as innocent, belongs to a class of acts covered by the law in question, I do not see how we can prevent the public attorney from substituting himself for the legislator and the civil servant chosen by the authorities for the representative elected by the people.
Following these considerations, the author tackles the moral and philosophical question, and here, it has to be said, he fills the immense gap which appears in M. Dupin’s charge. In his superstitious reverence for the law, all the efforts of this magistrate are devoted to proving that it entails the assimilation of dueling into a kind of murder. But what are the effects of dueling on society; what are the evils it prevents and represses? What other remedy to these evils could we substitute for it? What changes would we need to introduce into our legislation to create a safeguard for honor in law, if courage is not an admissible one? How would we succeed in giving legal verdicts the sanction of opinion and preventing the granting of damages from inflicting another withering blow on the offended person? What would the results be of the undermining of the sensitivity of all citizens to honor and to the opinion of their peers? These are all serious questions which M. Dupin does not appear to have taken into consideration and which have been discussed by our fellow countryman with signal excellence.
Among the deliberations which struck us the most in this very worthwhile discussion, we will quote the passage in which the author highlights the reason for the ineffectiveness of punishments as deterrents to attacks on personal honor. In ordinary crimes and misdemeanors, the courts ascertain and punish only base actions whose impure source is regarded with contempt by public opinion. Legal sanctions and popular sanctions are in harmony. However, in matters of honor these two sanctions go in opposite directions, and if the courts pronounce a punishment involving death, personal restraint, or penal servitude against the offender, public opinion would inflict, even more rigorously, a penalty of infamy on the offended person for having had recourse to law to make himself respected. These verdicts of opinion are so unanimous that they are embedded in the heart of the magistrate himself, whereas his lips are obliged to pronounce a quite different verdict. We know the story of the judge before whom an officer complained of a blow received. “What, sir!” he cried indignantly, “you have received a blow and you have come here . . . but you are right, you are obeying the law.”
We will also point out the fine refutation of a passage from Barbeyrac quoted by M. Dupin, in which the author shows us how the circle of human punishment expands in accordance with the progress of civilization, without, however, its being able to exceed permanently the limit beyond which the disadvantages of repression exceed those of the misdemeanor. The law itself has recognized this limit, when, for example, it prohibited the search for paternity. It did not pretend that beyond its sphere of activity there were not actions condemned by religion and moral law, in relation to which, however, it should disclaim any authority. It is in this class of action that we need to include attacks on honor.
But it is impossible for us to follow the author in the intellectual path he has pursued. To analyze a line of argument that is so vigorous would be to destroy its force and progress. We will therefore return to the pamphlet itself, with the warning, however, that it needs to be read, as it was written, with awareness and reflection. It is the material of a large book reduced to a few pages. It differs in this from the majority of the writings published today, in that in these publications the number of pages seems to increase in proportion to the lack of ideas. M. Coudroy, on the other hand, is rich in penetrating insights and sober in his development of ideas. His text is more valuable for the thoughts he suggests than for those he expresses. This is the seal of true merit.
Perhaps one might even reproach the author for being too restrained. When you read him, you feel that there has been a constant struggle between his ideas—which want to see the light of day—and his determined wish merely to reveal only half of them. But then, not everyone can, like Cuvier, reconstruct an entire animal from the glimpse of a fragment. We are living in a century in which an author has to express his entire thought to his reader.
A man of wit wrote, “Please excuse the length of my letter, I have not enough time to be shorter.” Could not the majority of readers also say, “Your book is too short, I have not enough time to read it”?
[2 ](Paillottet’s note) At that time, Bastiat and his friend, M. Félix Coudroy, the author of a pamphlet on dueling, both believed they were destined for obscurity. It was only seven years later that the former was called upon to demonstrate the qualities of his mind on the national stage. To follow in Bastiat’s footsteps, M. Coudroy lacked only one thing, health. We can see Bastiat’s opinion of his friend’s merit in the letters included in this volume. Here is an additional letter written in 1845:
My dear Félix,
Because of the difficulty of reading, I cannot properly judge the style, but my sincere conviction (you know that here I set aside the usual modesty) is that our styles have different qualities and faults. I believe that the qualities of yours are such that, when it is used, it shows genuine talent; I mean to say a style that is lively and animated with general ideas and glimpses that are luminous. Always make copies on small sheets; if one needs to be changed, it will not cause much trouble. When you are copying you will perhaps be able to add polish, but, for my part, I note that the first draft is always faster and more accessible to today’s readers who scarcely go into anything in depth.
Do you not have an opinion of M. Dunoyer?
[3 ]We have not been able to track down the two pamphlets mentioned by Bastiat. It appears that Bastiat and Coudroy opposed the criminalization of dueling by the state on the basis that the practice was a voluntary activity between consenting adults. See Kevin McAleer, Dueling: The Cult of Honor in Fin-de-Siècle Germany (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994), p. 248, note 36.