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Rethinking Robin Hood

February 26, 2012

The most famous outlaw-hero in Anglo-American history, subject of countless movies (none as good as the 1938 Errol Flynn classic) is often portrayed as someone who ‘robbed the rich and gave to the poor,’ and thus is held to be a hero of wealth redistribution and other causes dear to those on what’s generally considered to be the left side of the political spectrum.  [The ‘left-right’ political model, itself an artifact of seating arrangements in revolutionary France, is outmoded and inaccurate; I use it here because it is a common short-hand terminology that is still much in use.]

Is the portrait of Loxley of Sherwood and his Merry Men an accurate one?   Did he support the ‘99%’ by robbing from the equivalent of the ‘1%’ of his time?  Ayn Rand thought so, claiming that Robin Hood legend represented an archetype of the ‘looter’ mentality that she despised.  The reality, however, is different:  Robin Hood took from an alien invading class of Norman overlords who had looted his fellow Saxons and returned the ill-gotten gain to them.  (As a landowner himself, Robin could hardly be expected to be an enemy of private property, per se.)  As Norman methods of expropriation didn’t have the consent of those they governed by force, this was really a case of ‘taxation without representation.’  That representation was soon forthcoming, when Prince John ‘Lackland’ succeeded his brother Richard I Lionheart as King of England.  His usurpations and abuses of power so tried the patience of all of his subjects, Normal and Saxon alike, that he bonded them into a nation, as Lord Macaulay retells the story in his ‘History of England.’  The end result was a system of representative government, codified in Magna Carta.  (The ‘Charter of the Forest,’ signed two years later by Henry III, is less well-remembered, but it was also a significant document, as it addressed the rights of the forest-dwellers.  After all, Robin Hood’s first ‘crime’ was to kill the King’s deer.)

Thus, we may conclude that Robin Hood was not really a redistributor of wealth so much as he was a tax protestor; there was less of Jesse James and more Sam Adams (of Boston Tea Party fame) in him.  As such, he belongs to a long line of Anglo-American political activists who opposed unjust taxation, abuse of governmental power, and encroachments upon the rights traditionally held by the people.   This also how Robin Hood has been portrayed in literature, such as Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Ivanhoe,’ as there has never been a canonical legend centering around a storyline that would conclusively support the simple ‘rob the rich’ storyline. Armed resistance has generally given way to protest and litigation in our time, but the animating principles of Robin’s actions still find ready adherents in our own time

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