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The Duel of Honor: Screening For Unobservable Social Capital

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  • Douglas W. Allen
  • Clyde G. Reed

Abstract

The duel of honor was a highly ritualized violent activity practiced (mostly) by aristocrats from about 1500 to 1900. The duel of honor was held in private, was attended by seconds and other members of society, was illegal, and often resulted from trivial incidents. Duels were fought according to strict codes, their lethality fell over time, and certain members of society were not allowed to duel. We argue dueling functioned as a screen for unobservable investments in social capital. Social capital was used during this period to support political transactions in an age when high civil service appointments were made through patronage. The screening hypothesis explains the puzzling features of the duel of honor, its rise and fall over time and locations, and the differences between European and American duels. In a state of highly polished society, an affront is held to be a serious injury. It must, therefore, be resented, or rather a duel must be fought upon it; as men have agreed to banish from their society one who puts up with an affront without fighting a duel. --Samuel Johnson, quoted in James Boswell Copyright 2006, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Douglas W. Allen & Clyde G. Reed, 2006. "The Duel of Honor: Screening For Unobservable Social Capital," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 8(1), pages 81-115.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:amlawe:v:8:y:2006:i:1:p:81-115
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1093/aler/ahj006
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    Cited by:

    1. Allen, Douglas W., 2009. "A theory of the pre-modern British aristocracy," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 46(3), pages 299-313, July.
    2. Srivastava, Vatsalya, 2017. "The Sorry Clause (revision of CentER DP 2016-008)," Discussion Paper 2017-002, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
    3. Hassani Mahmooei, Behrooz & Vahabi, Mehrdad, 2012. "Dueling for honor and identity economics," MPRA Paper 44370, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Srivastava, Vatsalya, 2017. "The Sorry Clause (Revision of TILEC DP 2016-004)," Discussion Paper 2017-002, Tilburg University, Tilburg Law and Economic Center.
    5. Antony W. Dnes & Nuno Garoupa, 2010. "Behavior, Human Capital and the Formation of Gangs," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 63(4), pages 517-529, November.
    6. Srivastava, Vatsalya, 2016. "The Sorry Clause," Discussion Paper 2016-008, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
    7. Vahabi, Mehrdad & Hassani-Mahmooei, Behrooz, 2016. "The role of identity and authority from anarchy to order: Insights from modeling the trajectory of dueling in Europe," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 55(C), pages 57-72.
    8. Srivastava, Vatsalya, 2016. "The Sorry Clause," Discussion Paper 2016-004, Tilburg University, Tilburg Law and Economic Center.

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