On handling the imprudent man of a class beneath your own

“There are men whom nothing but a physical punishment will bring to reason, and with these we shall have to deal at some time in our lives. A lady is insulted or annoyed by an unwieldy bargee, or an importunate and dishonest cabman. One well-dealt blow settles the whole matter….A man therefore, whether he aspires to be a gentleman or not, should learn to box….There are but few rules for it, and those are suggested by common sense. Strike out, strike straight, strike suddenly; keep one arm to guard, and punish with the other. Two gentlemen never fight; the art of boxing is brought into use in punishing a stronger and more imprudent man of a class beneath your own.” — 1859 British author of The Habits of a Good Society, cited on p. 82 of Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature.

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Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

6 thoughts on “On handling the imprudent man of a class beneath your own”

    1. Don, I would have thought the same thing. The Harvard professor author, who cites this quote, wrote his book to prove the opposite point: that violence has decreased over time in civilized societies. There was a time, he notes, when aristocrats and gentlemen would often fight one another, sometimes taking body guards with them to defend their personal sense of honor. These days, an honorable gentleman never comes to blows. It is the mark of a sophisticated aristocrat that he can walk away from confrontation or, better yet, diffuse the tension of an insult.

      The above quotation represents a transition period, a time when gentlemen would not fight each other but still felt they needed to be ready to deal “a well-dealt blow” to a ruff character beneath one’s social class.

      Its funny to me to think that there was a day when aristocrats would pummel one another….of course, the author would make the point that the fact that this is so abnormal in contemporary society illustrates the fact that our society has become pacified.


      1. That’s very interesting. I suppose it depends upon where you live. I wonder if it wouldn’t be more true of the great liberal democracies of our time, or am I being too judgemental here. I spend quite a bit of time in England so I can only speak from that perspective, besides my own in South Africa. Just rethinking this, it would be true for Britain, but I’m not so sure for South Africa. Interesting point. Although they say that we always live just a step away from barbarism no matter how “civilized” we may profess to be.


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