The Duel of Honor: Screening for Unobservable Social Capital

Posted: 29 Feb 2008

See all articles by Douglas W. Allen

Douglas W. Allen

Simon Fraser University

Clyde Reed

Simon Fraser University (SFU) - Department of Economics

Date Written: 2006

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

Suggested Citation

Allen, Douglas W. and Reed, Clyde, The Duel of Honor: Screening for Unobservable Social Capital ( 2006). American Law and Economics Review, Vol. 8, Issue 1, pp. 81-115, 2006. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1095569 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aler/ahj006

Douglas W. Allen (Contact Author)

Simon Fraser University ( email )

8888 University Drive
Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6
Canada
604-291-3445 (Phone)
604-291-5944 (Fax)

Clyde Reed

Simon Fraser University (SFU) - Department of Economics ( email )

8888 University Drive
Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6
Canada

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