In this twilight of its declining age, it too frequently mistakes the colours of good and evil.
– George Mackenzie, 1667
Regarding the idea that men, ready to use violence to defend their honour would equate to pillars of society: There is a historical backside to this notion too, and it was a topic hotly debated back in the day with a number of books treating the subject greatly outnumbering the fencing treatises. In fact, it was even at times considered a *threat* to the very stability of society, leading to harsh punishment and restrictions against such behaviour, ranging all the way up to the death penalty.
And contemporary critics argued that this kind of violent behaviour went against morality, religion, common sense and was even in opposition to honour itself. Proponents, of course, saw it differently.
In 1667, George Mackenzie wrote that the world was becoming old as “in this twilight of its declining age, it too frequently mistakes the colours of good and evil” and argued that by far the most dangerous of these conflations concerned honour. Daniel Defoe argued that duels were fought over “mistaken point of honour” and a later anonymous 18th cent writer declared that “the Notion of Honour is certainly very corrupt.. more in fault than our Duelling, which is chiefly occasioned through its falsehood”. All these regarded this as false perceptions of honour, kept by vain and proud people, as mere masquerade and shadow appearance, not being actual true honour, which according to 17th cent writer William Darrell was based on conscience.
In a wider context, the concept of honour in connection with duelling is a hugely complicated topic that has always been controversial and hotly debated since violence was always a potential threat to stability in society, something which also at times affected the public view of young fencers, duelists and prize fighters. The fencing guilds can be regarded as a way of harnessing and controlling this potential for violence.
If honour is rooted in conscience, then it is strong and can live on its own. This is how most of societies have worked for most daily life with behaviour and conflict management. Actual threat and use of violence hasn’t been as big a part in this as some would like to make it up to be. Not counting drunken brawling or the distorted honour duels.
If, however it is primarily rooted in the perception of others, then the perception, not actual honour is what is defended, and the whole systems quickly gets corrupted with violence for the smallest perceived slight. This is what happened and how it got distorted. Which is why it had to be managed.
In an ideal world both the internal virtue and external reputation could act to build a working honour culture. Unfortunately, since the former is often lacking, the second can’t take its place, and thus it just becomes a fantasy that would lead down the same path again, with duels fought more for pride and vanity than actual serious matters.
Ideals are tricky like that. We need them, but the world we apply them to can never be. Especially not today with so many other changes, and fractioned cities and population hundredfold bigger than in the fairly small towns and tight communities where these honour systems originated.