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The baron is standing up to be shot down.

Tease: The baron is standing up to be shot down.


Intro: Welcome to “Dumb Ideas that Changed the World.” The views expressed are solely those of the host and do not reflect the opinions of this station or its funders.


Austrian Count Bissingen had a quarrel with one of his best friends, who challenged him to a duel. After accepting, the two immediately made up. But their seconds insisted they proceed. Both men tried to shoot in the air, but the Count was mortally wounded. He left behind a wife, two small children and another on the way.


You’re thinking, hey that’s ancient history. But this fight to the death didn’t happen in 1600, or even 1800, but the spring of 1900. How could the right of private war last into modern times? Blame the code of chivalry: death before dishonor. Scholar Raquel Sanchez says “The respectable aristocrat [had] to defend his honor against all aggressions." This semi-legal method of conflict resolution helped preserve the ruling class.


Why didn’t good men just say no? It wasn’t that simple. Also in 1900, Marquis Antoine de Tacoli refused to take-up arms against his antagonist. Not only was he demoted to the rank of private due to cowardice, a fellow officer who simply defended his choice met the same fate. They were now social outcasts. Even poets and philosophers gunned each other down.


Today we don’t fathom the death toll because duels were vastly underreported. Noble families were sworn to silence. Sure, it was hard to ignore Vice President Aaron Burr killing Alexander Hamilton in 1804, but most duels are lost to history. An 1838 pamphlet howled that it “kept all Europe in ceaseless bloodshed.”


Things got so bad that anti-duelist societies sprang up everywhere. In 1908 Prince Alfonso de Borbón organized an international conference in Budapest, saying he knew of no outrage more idiotic or barbarous. The meeting helped turn the tide against duelling and toward the rule of law. --Lucky that none of my ancestors were prestigious enough for this deadly game.


I’m Jeff Gentry


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Best reference:

Sánchez, R. (2022). Aristocrats for Peace: The Anti-Duellist Conference of Budapest (1908). Ler Historia, 80, 137–158. https://doi.org/10.4000/lerhistoria.9754



Dumb Ideas that Changed the World copyright 2024 by Jeff Gentry. All rights reserved.

Host of Dumb Ideas the Changed the World
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