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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Robin Hood and... Politics?

I found a thought provoking comment in my comment box-

My dad pointed out that [Robin Hood] is always "taking from the rich and giving to the poor," which is EXACTLY what liberalism and (in a more extreme sense) Communism do. I console myself by saying that it's more like the American Revolution-- Robin and his men are resisting a government gone bad. What do you think?

Robin Hood the socialist. Hmmmm. First off, in this post I'm referring to England and Nottingham according to how they are depicted in Robin-Hood related legends.

According to legend, Robin Hood's role in redistributing wealth is undeniable. That the local economy was in horrible condition is obvious. Robin does take from the rich and give to the poor.

However, I think that the figure of Robin Hood can be taken at more than one angle.

First, we see his potential communist side. When I think communism, I think of hard earned wealth being re-distributed to the ne'er-do-wells of society as a measure to make sure 'all are provided for.'

While I'm at it, I'll just pull out a formal definition of communism:

Communism. A system of government in which the state plans and controls the economy and a single, often authoritarian party holds power, claiming to make progress toward a higher social order in which all goods are equally shared by the people. ~American Heritage Dictionary.

In which all goods are equally shared by the people. Does Robin Hood want all goods equally shared by the people?

Looking at legend once again-

The people of Nottingham were oppressed. They were impoverished. A very easy way to get them out of their impecunious positions would be to take money from those who had plenty and give it to those who had little. That's what Robin did, right? But the problem wasn't that simple. At its roots, it's obvious that the people who had plenty were the ones who were oppressing those who had little.

Robin-Hood-the-instrument-of-communism- would be told like this-

Lower class people of Nottingham have no money. Upper class people have lots of money. Robin steals from Upper class and gives to Lower class. All have enough.

Sounds fairly accurate, right? And according to my definition of communism, Robin would be taking the place of Government. Just sneak his name in there and we read:

Coomunism. A system of government in which Robin Hood plans and controls the economy and Robin Hood holds power, claiming to make progress toward a higher social order in which all goods are equally shared by the people.

Almost sounds like it would work, doesn't it? But let's take him at a "different angle" now, as I said earlier.

Unlike my definition (which made me laugh), legend doesn't tell us that Robin had any aspirations to rule. Robin Hood often appears as being anti-government. Why? No wonder! The government of his day was really skewed, with governing officials as wealthy men who:

a. Were on good terms with the present ruling monarch (Prince John)


b. Had noble blood and lots of land in the family.

This "Goverment" saw it fit to impose severe taxes on the people. One ballad (I'm going purely by memory here, sorry folks) goes something like this-

Th' hert an' soul were taxed out of them,

referring, of course, to the people of Nottingham. The ballad goes on to tell the classic tale of Robin robbing the rich and giving to the poor which could also be seen as robbing the government and giving to the people.

Simultaneously, the government was robbing the people and giving to... the government! With the government being Prince John and his nobles, of course.

Because he didn't like the way things were being run, Robin made himself anti-government. He was PRO the people earning money for themselves, choosing to fight the wealthy noblemen who interfered with the people's rights. Looking at my communist definition one more time, it appears that the government Robin was fighting was actually more communist in philosophy than he was (bold added by me, as before).

Communism. A system of government in which Prince John plans and controls the economy and he and his noblemen hold power, claiming to make progress toward a higher social order in which all goods are equally shared by the people while really hoarding all the wealth for themselves.

Wow... sadly, now I've depicted the current state of many communist countries. Wasn't originally trying for that...

Ahem. "My" off-hand definition of communism was. "Hard earned wealth being re-distributed to the ne'er-do-wells of society as a measure to make sure that 'all were provided for.'" We can plug this one in with Prince John's government, too. The hard earned wealth was that which rightfully belonged to the lower working class of Nottingham. The Ne'er-do-wells were Prince John and his nobles, who cared only to sit on cushions in their comfortable dwellings while others made their livelihood.

It's worth pointing out that it was originally a Nobleman's job to make sure all his serfs/laborers were provided for, but, just as in many modern day communist societies, it ended with the nobleman hoarding most of it for himself.

I asked earlier, "Does Robin Hood want all goods equally shared by the people?"

No. He wanted justice. He wanted to keep "all goods" that he, individually had rightfully earned and have every other man keep what goods he had rightfully earned. Robin wanted each man to be able to provide for his family without having his wages snatched from under him due to ridiculously high taxes.

He took back from the wealthy and gave his loot to those who had rightfully earned it.

Class distinctions kept the lower class from retrieving the money themselves and becoming involved in the workings of the government.

Prince John's government wasn't caring for the sick, innocent, helpless, or needy, so none of John's taxes were even going to the places the were supposed to go.

Hmmmm... Robin Hood the socialist? I don't think so.

Any more thoughts? This is a "Debate Time," so stop by the comment box...

Ballads were found in Robin Hood, a Mythic Biography.


Anonymous said...

i completely agree. he did want justice. He did not want to oppress the rich people: he wanted to relieve the poor. The poor were rejected and forgotten because they had no money and the rich took advantage of them because of that.
Now-a-days, people like to think they are taking on a "Robin Hood" type atmosphere, but they fail to realize now that people that are "well-off" truly work for their money. And they forget that none of us were always like this: there are hard times in our lives for everyone. i mean, i'm not going to go through my whole history, but my life has been a lot like that. My parents worked like you wouldn't believe to make sure they ended up on top, and there were times when they didn't know whether or not they were going to end up on top. So, in conclusion, this is a touchy issue that doesn't apply to classes but to people.

Marian said...

Good post! That was an especially interesting point you made, about "'Does Robin Hood want all goods equally shared by the people?'

"No. He wanted justice. He wanted to keep 'all goods' that he, individually had rightfully earned and have every other man keep what goods he had rightfully earned."

I think that the problem is, people think of Robin Hood and then they think of the phrase "steal from the rich, give to the poor", and unfortunately using the word "steal" gives the wrong impression. Sure, technically, he's stealing, but he's stealing already-stolen property, and giving it back to the victims. I doubt one could successfully replace that catchy phrase with something more accurate, though. :P But I think it is important to point this difference out to people, like you have.

I would like to add that Robin Hood did support the top level of government of England at the time, King Richard. So he seemed to be more against bad government, rather than all government.

Logan said...

I agree with the idea that Robin Hood simply was against the suffering and injustices against the common man because of corruption in hight places. If the people were starving NOT as a result of having greedy rulership, maybe he wouldn't have gone to such extreme, illegal means to redistribute wealth.

Evergreena said...

Great post! I can feel better about Robin Hood now. :)

And I second what Marian said above: Robin was loyal to the true and good king. He wasn't an anarchist, just as the founding fathers of America weren't anarchists.

Lady Nairam said...

Hear hear! (mind flashes to LotR. Oops.)

I've wrestled with this before, when I've heard my hero lined up with people I don't agree with! Nooo! But when I studied, I came to the same conclusion you did. I didn't say it in so many words, but I agree totally. You said it very well. :)

(And I never once use that cliche phrase in my book! *shudder*)

Bracie said...

A point well made, Marian.

Robin was not for an abolition of all government sanctioned rules.

Order and government have their place... =D

Bracie said...

Nice to see you here, Lady Nai!

Beth Niquette said...

In the book, hard working poor folk were losing their lands, along with being penalized for killing the deer in Sherwood forest to feed their families. I think the penalty of killing a deer was either death or loss of a limb.

I can understand Robin taking things into his own hands at that time.

Also, Prince John was NOT the king--the real king would not have let such injustice (at least according to legend) stand.

(grin) Hmmmm....

This is fun!

Lady Nairam said...

Hi Bracie! I'm having fun, too. :) By the way, my novel is up in entirety on the OYAN website, if you're interested:

I'm the fourth one down. Don't feel obligated, I just thought I'd tell you!

And on the topic of Richard and John...I don't think EITHER ONE of them was a a good king (John did eventually become king...)

Richard taxed horrendously before he went on those crusades, and he hardly spent ANY of his reign in England! I must admit, MY Robin doesn't think much of him. ;)

Calico Zak said...

I agree with you!

I hope you don't mind that I linked to this post.

~Calico Zak

Amanda Flynn said...

Fabulous article! I think you covered the topic very well. :)