NO DUTY TO RETREAT by Richard Maxwell Brown


Violence and Values in American History and Society
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 A confused and tedious treatment of the legal doctrine and moral tradition in America of ``no duty to retreat''--the doctrine that one need not retreat when attacked, but may stand one's ground and defend oneself. Brown (Northwest & Pacific History/Univ. of Oregon; Strain of Violence, 1975) points out that under English common law, a murder defendant, in order to successfully argue self-defense, had first to convince the jury that he had used all available means of avoiding the situation. Brown also recognizes that American courts have vitiated and, in most cases, eliminated this requirement. In several long, digressive chapters, he examines the role of the gunfighter in the Old West, particularly in a war between settlers and railroad interests in California in the 1870's. Advancing a historical theory seemingly irrelevant to his subject, Brown reduces the history of the West to a confrontation of socioeconomic forces (he repeatedly labels it the ``Western Civil War of Incorporation,'' a war between industrial and agrarian forces) but fails to explain clearly how a ``duty to retreat'' would have applied in these cases. He goes on to advance a number of sociological theories about the crime surge in American society (although choosing not to mention drugs, demographics, or the proliferation of guns), and argues, finally, that America's refusal to retreat has embroiled it in foreign wars (though one could make a similar argument about the foreign policy of Britain, which has retained the duty to retreat). Brown's information and theories are interesting enough, but too little logical thread holds the various arguments together as the author digresses from his legal argument to sociohistorical theorizing.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-19-504310-6
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1991