Dissecting the Robin Hood socialist/Randian divide
You may have heard that Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor, but that was just liberal media propaganda. This Robin is no socialist bandit practicing freelance wealth redistribution, but rather a manly libertarian rebel striking out against high taxes and a big government scheme to trample the ancient liberties of property owners and provincial nobles. Don’t tread on him!
Some, like Ezra Klein and Jon Chait, seem to think this is terribly silly, and that Robin Hood really robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. Conservatives have loudly cheered the movie for its apparently conservative message.
Point one: why do conservatives do this? Every time a movie has any sort of conservative theme they go all crazy touting it not for its quality, its direction, its acting or story, but for how conservative it is. It’s a damn movie. Please stop bringing politics into everything as the supreme good by which all things – people, art, etc. – should be judged. It’s silly.
Point two: Robin Hood robbed from the rich and from the state. This has always been the case. In the Robin Hood legend we have a very different sort of state than we do today, built upon a feudal system. The state was composed of the rich. The two were one and the same. It’s not as though Robin Hood lived in a capitalist democracy. Back in those days if you were rich you were likely part of government. If you were part of government, you were very likely rich.
Trying to argue whether the Robin Hood story was one of redistribution or of property rights is a little silly. The idea is that the rich cronies of the usurper Prince John were benefiting from his extraordinarily high taxes which he used not to provide any of his citizens with any sort of good, but to enrich himself and his friends. This on top of the high taxes incurred from Richard’s foolish war in the Middle East made the poor even poorer. Robin Hood was not out to topple the state, or to oppose the concept of taxes – he was a loyalist of King Richard, and merely opposed unjust tax rates and their misuse. None of this parallels modern times. It makes a fine case against feudalism for whatever that’s worth.
Point three: Didn’t we already cover this with the Disney animated version of Robin Hood? I mean, he wasn’t really robbing from “the rich” there either since all the bad guys are government officials. And there’s some very anti-tax stuff in the Disney version, as well as some religious liberty themes, and probably lots of other red meat in there that would rile up the conservative base if it were released today.
Robin Hood is neither a redistributionist’s parable or a right-winger’s wet dream. It’s a cautionary tale about the abuses of power and more importantly a fun myth for all ages that has made lots and lots of filmmakers a great deal of money over the years. We shouldn’t get too carried away drawing parallels that don’t exist.
Yes, I realize that I am also commenting on the politics of Robin Hood. I’m not saying that people should not comment on movies and their political messages. My point about conservatives’ tendency to do this is that they so often neglect to pay attention to the merits of the film as a film, and hold its political message, however banal or obvious, as good enough to make it a worthy film. Beyond this, all I’m trying to say is that the politics of the Robin Hood story don’t line up nicely with the politics of today’s world given the very different manifestation of the state and its relationship with the rich; with the tax base and how revenue was generated and then distributed, etc. In other words, Robin Hood as political science is not terribly applicable to modern political discussions.
Links to conservatives praising Robin Hood because it is somehow “conservative”:
There are more.