Monday, May 24, 2010

A Proper Robin Hood... For Once!

Except for the communist twaddle at the very end of the film, I absolutely loved Ridley Scott's new version of Robin Hood.

All in all, it wasn't remotely what I was expecting... When I first saw the billboards (in Los Angeles, there are forests of them!), I just thought it looked like a generic retelling of the same old story I'd already seen. It was going to be grittier, tougher, and more filled with Russell Crowe than previous versions, but whatever... Nothing new, I thought.

This led me to not even want to see it, because I absolutely loathe the way the Robin Hood myth is presented... Because it's always completely, and incomprehensibly backward.

For the life of me, for the very first time I even saw Disney's cutesy, animated version of Robin Hood - I've never understood how it is that he got held up as this great socialist hero... It seemed to me, and Ridley Scott's version actually gets it right on this point, that he's actually a hero for individualists and limited government power... Even, potentially, anarchy.

Let's think about this - who were the usual enemies?  The Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John.  In other words... The enemy was the tyrannical ruler of the state, and his tax-collector.

So Robin Hood wasn't stealing from the rich and giving to the poor out of any sense of egalitarianism, he was reclaiming property rightfully belonging to the people from an oppressive state that took it from them by force.

The new version makes that element perfectly clear, but it actually takes it a step farther!

A main plot element to the new film is actually that Robin's real father was the author of what I have to assume was the Charter of Liberties, written in the early 12th Century and has been largely forgotten throughout history at this point.  Now... Because I'm such a nerd for the history of liberty, I was actually aware of this document, so when it came up in the movie I was shocked and thrilled.

The Charter of Liberties is one of the precedents for our own Bill of Rights written before the Magna Carta by King Henry I in the year 1100... Like the Magna Carta, it actually didn't apply to the average citizen, but rather was an agreement the King made to the Church and his Noblemen which basically provided a written limitation on the King's power. By today's standards, the guarantees Henry provided were pretty weak. It's little more than a simple contract, and the promises it There were 14 amendments; most of which having to do with debts and marital issues.. Here are a few examples:
3.) Any baron or earl who wishes to betroth his daughter or other women kinsfolk in marriage should consult me first, but I will not stand in the way of any prudent marriage. Any widow who wishes to remarry should consult with me, but I shall abide by the wishes of her close relatives, the other barons and earls. I will not allow her to marry one of my enemies.
and...
7.) If any of my barons should grow feeble, and give away money or other possessions, these shall be honored, so long as the heirs are properly remembered. Gifts given by feeble barons under force of arms shall not be enforced.
Not exactly a protection of life, liberty & property... But hey, it was the year 1100, what do you expect? It was still a lot better than anyone had before that time.  So it was pretty important... Unfortunately, it was also basically ignored for the next 100 years, until there was another uprising and the Magna Carta was written.

Oh well, can't win 'em all, right?

But that's a major component of what this Robin Hood is actually about! It was about getting King John to sign a Charter of Liberties and end the excessive taxation & spending instituted to pay for the previous King Richard's foolish Crusades in Persia which had left the people of England miserable, poor and open to attack from France.

What does that sound like to you?

  1. Oppressive taxation combined with an astronomically expensive 10 years of war in the Middle East which the nation cannot afford.  
  2. Tragic economic conditions at home that are only exacerbated by heavy handed government. 
  3. Widespread uprising against these policies, and special vilification of the tax-collector and the "kings" responsible for imposing these conditions.
  4. General erosion of liberty....

Hmm.

Well, I suppose I get why the New York Times movie folks were so pissed off about this movie... It does hit a little too close to home with modern American anti-government sentiments and it is kind of comical the amount of hysteria that has produced in the mainstream left.

Though, I only get it in the abstract. It's still baffling to me how anyone could be sardonic about such a critical idea as liberty and so cavalier about what essentially amounts to unlimited government powers to tax and control people's lives. How is it that anyone fails to understand how great and important it has been in all of human history to establish meaningful limits on government power? Also, how is it possible that anyone fails to understand that taxation is inherently theft, and continually higher rates of taxation are a gigantic drag on any economy? These things I can't understand...

It's also baffling to me how anyone could have ever gotten the impression that Robin Hood was ever, as author of the Times review believes, a "socialist bandit practicing freelance wealth redistribution".

The reason Robin Hood is a heroic figure, and always has been, is because he stood up to an oppressive regime and reclaimed stolen property - returning it to it's rightful owners. This is kind of the opposite of socialism, since it takes from those who have been productive to give to those who are unproductive by force... Not to mention the fact that while the Sheriff and King were explicitly denying their subjects the right to property (which is one of the key elements of socialism), Robin Hood respected private property enough to defend it at great personal cost against much stronger opponents.

There was no "wealth-redistribution" done by Robin Hood! In fact that's exactly what the Sheriff was engaged in, wasn't it?

As self-owning human beings, the poor people of the 1100s routinely had their inherent rights to their lives, liberty and the product of their labors, (i.e. property) ignored & infringed by their governments - that's been the default condition of mankind for centuries, even thousands of years. Hell, even the noblemen of the time had their rights blatantly ignored by the king - to the extent that charters like the one mentioned above were necessary even 900 years ago.

So this has really always been a positive role-model for libertarians if you actually stop for a second to understand that the proper narrative isn't that he "steals from the rich and gives to the poor", but that the government stole from the people and he and his band of "thieves" took it back.

Robin Hood is actually an analog for Ayn Rand's so-called "pirate" character, Ragnar Danneskj√∂ld - who did exactly the same thing, only he reclaimed the government's ill-gotten gains with boats & guns in the alternate 1940s universe of Atlas Shrugged... Of course, saying this is kind of blasphemous because Rand haaaated Robin Hood.  That said, what she hated was the socialist narrative... I suspect she'd have really enjoyed this version, even though it does turn communist for 3 minutes at the end of the movie.

I think I can overlook 3 stupid minutes for 137 minutes of pro-freedom goodness.  You should too... Good flick ;)

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