Dueling and the God of Peer Opinion
Despite repeated laws forbidding dueling, to deny a challenge marked one as unworthy. The abbé de Saint-Pierre charged in 1715 [C.E.] that [a military] officer who refused a challenge would “find himself forced by the other officers and by the commander himself to leave the regiment.”
One counts for nothing that an officer would rather pass for a coward…than to commit a mortal sin and a capital crime in formal disobedience of the law and the will of the prince; one counts for nothing that he does not want to risk his safety and the loss of the good graces of his king; he does not fight, therefore he is a coward; he is a coward, therefore he must be driven away.”
The explanation for duels lay much more in the symbolic than in the real, for by their nature, duels were irrational. Ultimately, the aristocracy’s fighting spirit was driven by the individual’s drive to prove himself within the standard of his own class and thus win gloire. The nobility set standards that must be obeyed, or else the individual would lose caste. As one historian of the duel insists, dueling was “another religion.” A duel was a human sacrifice to the god of peer opinion, and so was a battle.