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A Modern Modest Proposal

Dennis Garvin

In earlier commentaries, I had bemoaned the failure of feminism to bring any degree of civility and restraint into public discourse.  Female activists had promised us that, with more women involved in government, routine communication and compromise would be far more collegial and less confrontational.  Sadly, all it did was give the men an opportunity to teach bad manners to those women entering public service; women also adding their own brand of bullying to the inflammatory rhetoric.

I would like to see a return of a long rejected activity: dueling.  Early, misty mornings with a truant sun, men dismounting from horses, attended by their seconds and physicians.  Pistols for two, followed by breakfast for one; possibly followed by a brief sojourn out of the country.

Dueling has a rich history.  Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel when Hamilton cast a vote for Jefferson over Burr.   Hamilton was a brilliant proponent of a strong central government.  I think the fledging nation, by his death, was granted a temporary reprieve from the overgrasping government of today. So, there are benefits.

The English House of Commons has a central aisle, much like a DMZ, which members cannot cross.  Its width was determined by the distance at which two men can extend a sword without contacting their opponent.

Sometimes, a duel can be spontaneous and unequal.  In 1856, US congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina attacked US Senator (Massachusetts) Charles Sumner after Sumner attacked Brooks’ home state in a speech covering two days.  History regards this as the breakdown of public discourse that led to the Civil War.  My contention is that the only problem here was its inequality.  Had dueling not been outlawed at the time, it could have been handled in a gentlemanly way.  Congressman Brooks, denied this option, resorted to a churlish attack.

I am not a historical ideologue.  I sympathize with neither of these men who were, after all, congressional guys.  I do feel that, had a duel been a reasonable consequence of running one’s mouth, then one’s mouth had better be careful.  What, after all, is a war?  It is a duel between two nations or groups, usually involving people who had nothing to do with the cause of that war in the first place.  Let acrimony be either tempered by awareness that insults may result in someone ventilating your skull; or let the consequent violence be restricted to the idiots whose rhetorical extravagance currently leads to the killing of innocent soldiers on both sides.

Okay, now that I have convinced you of the wisdom of code duello, let’s modernize the rules.

  1. Out of political correctness, women are included.  Men can duel; women can duel.  A man and woman can have a duel.  Give thanks for handguns, for they giveth equality. I would much prefer protection from a 90 lb woman with a 9 mm Glock to a male steroid brandishing a club. Find out more about using and disassembling a Glock magazine!
  2. One cannot duel with one’s spouse.  After all, divorce already is merely a duel where both combatants arm themselves with a weapon, an attorney, who is as amoral as a handgun and about as smart.  However, in an interesting twist to keep such proceedings civil, the spouse who benefits least from the settlement is empowered to challenge opposing counsel to a duel.
  3. In cases of criminal law, a convicted person can be challenged by the injured party.  The injured party has the right to have the convict brought out of prison for the duel; or they may simply wait until a parole board or appellate judge releases him far too early.
  4. Following on # 3., if a person is harmed by a convict released from prison by an appellate judge, or released by a parole board, the injured party (or family) has the right to challenge said judge or parole board member to a duel.  That would be the only way to make them think twice.
  5. In the spirit of inclusiveness reflected in most modern government actions, illegal aliens may be challenged to a duel.  They, however, cannot challenge an American citizen until they can demonstrate that they can issue the challenge in English.

Now as to the nature of the weapons, this is open to debate. In our modern era, the last duel that was fought was with banjoes (‘dueling banjoes’ from the movie Deliverance; ah, who can forget that movie with its poignantly tender- and politically correct- love scene?)

Certainly we must grandfather knives, swords, and pistols into the list of proper weaponry.  Tasers certainly should be considered, voltage varying depending upon whether the combatants had agreed in advance on death, disfigurement, or the shedding of bitter tears as the acceptable endpoint.

Politicians who agree to duel have special access to their own weapon:  they can force their opponent to back down; failing that, both will have to endure listening to continual recorded congressional speeches by their opponent, until one dies, begs for mercy, or changes their mind… or loses it.

Children under age 16 cannot duel.  To succeed in a duel is to win and there should never be a winner, because that makes someone else a loser, a mortal blow to their self-esteem.  That is unacceptable, even if the loser is dead.

Proper public decorum has not been achieved by civilization, government, religion, or feminism.  People in fear of physical reprisal tend to comport themselves better.  To paraphrase John Lennon when he sang ‘give peace a chance,’ I would submit that we should give dueling a chance.  It can hardly be worse that the other garbage promulgated for the uplift of mankind.  If you feel that this commentary embraces the sentiment of Jonathan Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal,’ you are correct.

Dennis Garvin is the author of ‘Case Files of an Angel’ and co-author of ‘Growing up in Stephentown,’ both available online through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or

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