Norbert Elias
The Germans

As in simpler, less pacified societies, there are even in more pacified societies enclaves of ritualized violence which give the physically stronger or more skilful, the more aggressive person, the bully and the ruffian the chance to tyrannize others, and to win great social respect by doing so. The duel as a formalized act of violence was not, as already remarked, an isolated social fact. It was symptomatic of particular social structures, and had specific functions for the social strata to whose behavioural strategies it belonged; it was characteristic of a specific type of social strategy prevalent in these circles, and of a particular way of evaluating people.

When discussing the functions of duelling for the social strata in which it was practised, it should not be thought that for the people who made up these groups these were clearly and unambiguously recognized and explained as the purpose of the practice. One characteristic of such functions deserves to be examined in more detail, but we cannot do so here. It is illustrated by the fact that members of this stratum were probably aware, but only in a rather vague way, that distinguishing institutions such as the duel performed a specific function in their social existence as a class. But their awareness of this function was not explicitly articulated in communication either with each other or with other groups even if it found expression in indirect ways. In addition, however, there were direct legitimations of the duel which usually served more to obscure than to clarify its actual social functions. Thus, for instance, it used to be said that it was a necessity for an officer to prove his courage at every opportunity, and for him always to be ready with weapon in hand to defend his own name and his family's from being sullied by any aspersions cast by others. It was also said that duelling had great educational value for civilians too, as preparation for responsibilities in service to the nation.

The social functions which were hidden behind these and other explicit legitimations were of a different kind. Perhaps this can be seen most clearly by once again comparing the duel as a means of dealing with conflicts between people of the same rank in the upper classes with brawling as a means of dealing with personal conflicts among the lower classes. Take brawling. Whatever the long-term reasons mar be for the
antagonism between two people who are beating each other up, in this case argument is usually quickly followed by violence. Spontaneity of feelings—anger, rage and hate—the full force of the passions comes into play. It is only muted to a small extent through a social training which prescribes a particular pattern of physical fighting in unarmed violent clashes between people. Compared with the duel, the spontaneous scuffle of a brawl is highly informal, even if it is partly shaped by patterns of competitive fighting such as boxing or wrestling. The duel, in contrast, is an example of a relatively highly formalized type of physical confrontation. The opponents in this case do not spontaneously throw themselves at each other under the pressure of their anger and hate. Here, the prescribed ritual demands first of all a strict control of all hostile feelings, shutting off aggressive impulses from the executive organs, the muscles, thus preventing any action being carried out. Here the external constraint of the social code requires a most intensive self-constraint. This is not untypical of the formalization of strategies of feeling and behaviour.

The example of the duel reveals one of the central social functions of formalization. As can be seen, it is a distinguishing mark of standing groups, a symbol of the differentiation between the people of a higher and a lower stratum. The ritual of the duel, like other upper-class rituals, raised the members of the groups which upheld it above the masses of people lower in rank than themselves. It was thus a means of distancing themselves. The difference between the kind of act of violence minutely formalized in a duel and the comparatively informal brawling between people of the simpler strata, and the extent of the formality-informality gradient which it demonstrates, can serve as a criterion of the social distance between the respective strata.

However, the duel also combined the function of differentiating and distancing the higher and lower strata with that of promoting the integration of the higher group itself. Together with their feeling of separation from the lower groups, it reinforced their feeling of belonging to the higher groups and their pride in their membership. This is a recurrent double function of the formalization of behavioural strategies in established groups. They impose upon their members patterns of self-constraint, which vary according to the situation and stage of social development they impose forms of self-denial which also serve as signs of distancing, marks of distinction and symbols of superiority. As reward and compensation for this self-denial, members are offered an increased sense of personal worth, the deep satisfaction to be repeatedly drawn from the awareness of belonging to the higher-ranking group, and the self-conception of being one of 'the better sort of people' which usually goes along with that.

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.