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« More Failure to Lead from Obama | Main | What Happened to Newspapers and Where Are We Going? »
March 14, 2009

Manuscript From ca. 1340 Mentions Robin Hood

Ed Morrissey ties it to politics, though I'm not sure the brief mention...

“Around this time, according to popular opinion, a certain outlaw named Robin Hood, with his accomplices, infested Sherwood and other law-abiding areas of England with continuous robberies..."

...really establishes, as the article he sites headlines, that he was an unpopular figure. Or if Robin Hood is really a political figure with any relevance whatsoever. Yes, he stole from the rich to give to the poor. But what was his main beef? Confiscatory taxation rates. And tyranny.

Seems like a bit of a muddle. And, given that many right-wingers do in fact fear they may be called upon some dark day to take up arms and become outlaws against a tyrannical state, I'm really not seeing the obviousness of deeming him some kind of left-wing icon.* Folklore and fiction can conjure up premises justifying pretty much anything. Start with the fantastical premise of The Matrix -- that everyone around you is in a computer-induced coma and/or an "agent" of the machine itself -- and presto-chango, you've just given your heroes justification to shoot policemen en masse.**

My primary interest in him is, of course, as one of the earlier Pulp Action Heroes. Sure, there were plenty of others before him, but usually connected to religious pantheons no one believes in anymore. Robin Hood's a Pulp Action Hero you can buy into without having to also buy into Zeus and the Babylonian God Marduk.

I knew there was "debate" on whether or not he existed, but I thought it was like the "debate" on whether or not King Arthur existed -- which is to say, look, everyone knows he's wholly invented, but we're going to trot out some scholars offering very vague and weak evidence and pretend they're offering serious evidence because We all want it to be true. In other words, History Channel crowd-pleasers of dubious scholarship.

I really didn't know there was any evidence at all he actually existed. Granted, this isn't strong evidence -- even the chronicler himself attributes the mention to mere "popular opinion" -- but it's surprising, at least to me, that there is any legitimate reason to think he existed at all.

* I know I am conflating folklore with whatever he might really have been, but we have no idea what he really might have been. We know him through folklore. I just never got the Randian thing of casting him as a villain. Given the premise of a tyrannical state, how is Robin Hood cast so easily as a left-winger? Isn't this the sort of thing Rand would have wished kulaks had done in her poor, abused Russia?

Besides that, every thief is first and foremost a capitalist, and if he was "stealing from the rich to give to the poor," let's just say I think he and his men were defined as First Among the Poor, and got almost all of the loot. And tossing out some money to the locals? Buying goodwill and protection. Same thing the Mafia does in its strongholds; same thing, in fact, Hezballah or Hamas do.

John Murtha, too. That's how criminals stay out of jail.

Hey, I like Robin Hood. What can I say. I don't want one of the earliest books I remember reading -- Howard Pyle's account -- tarnished as left-wing propaganda.

** And technically Robin Hood's "rich" -- in this fictional accounting -- were rich primarily because of the state created and state enforced monopoly on everyday activities -- such as hunting in a woods -- and such franchises were corruptly sold to those who would then "tax" the populace for doing stuff that should have been free.

Yeah, kind of all silly and a mixture of truth, exaggeration, and outright fabrication, but again, it's fairly easy to conjure up a starting premise which justifies anything, and that has little to do with real-world politics. It's dangerous to apply real-world politics to any historical period -- liberals kept insisting the Populares in Rome were like the Democrats, and the Optimates like the Republicans, no matter how many times my Roman history professor told them that comparison was jackass and reductivist -- and especially goofy to apply such politics to a fictional millieu which has been dreamt up for no other reason than to give the hero a swell background to swashbuckle about in.

I Seem to Be Unclear: Ken and Ed Morrissey wonder why I'm defending Robin Hood by comparing him to Hezballah, Hamas, and John Murtha, or saying every thief is a capitalist. (Not every capitalist is a thief, note.)

Well, I'm comparing him to those unsavory types just for the proposition that every "revolutionary" is not in fact really a revolutionary. Some "revolutionaries" are just posturing as such. Kinda like Hans Gruber.

I'm making the point that whether Robin Hood -- if such a figure even existed -- was driven by greed, desperation, vengeance, or justice, it would not hurt his PR to toss a few shekels to the locals to buy some goodwill.

An anti-monarchial left-wing revolutionary would toss money to the locals. So would a right-wing anti-tax crusader. So would an everyday thief with no particular purpose other than filling his own pockets.

I'm just questioning how much stock we could put into a thief's posture of "robbing from the rich to give to the poor." Does it indicate his real politics? Actual idealism? Or it just a business expense?

Jesse James and John Dillinger, I'm sure, were quite generous with money in the communities they relied upon to support and shelter them.

For any criminal to become a folk hero, he's got to have some people who like him. And few things make someone more likable than tossing a lot of money around.

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posted by Ace at 03:55 PM

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