Robin Hood and Ayn Rand

14 05 2010

Checked out the new Robin Hood movie starring Russell Crowe and directed by Ridley Scott for a couple of reasons. One, because I love Gladiator, which involved both men in the exact same roles. But even more so, because I have always loved the Robin Hood stories and have tried to partake of them in every form imaginable – even the whole Kevin Costner Robin Hood: Cardboard American Midwestern Prince of Thieves.

Recently, I have read a couple of Steven Lawhead’s King Raven Trilogy books, which is a re-imagining of the base legend elements of the story, unsterilized by the glorification of time, re-telling, and blond men with chin dimples and perfectly groomed mustaches in emerald green tights. (Speaking of … yes, I of course have seen the Mel Brooks movie as well).

I know we are all familiar with the story so stop me if you’ve heard this one before. (actually, keep reading if you have … that’s really just a figure of speech for emphasis of the point). There is a ruler fighting a war against the Muslims which he desires to believe is justified by God. He strays from that original war to begin warring in another country – one that would have no affiliation to the original Crusade but just an old rival that apparently needs to be conquered for the good of his kingdom. His successor is not a “war-maker” and is actually interested in decreasing the military strength of his country and raising the already exorbitant tax burden on his citizenry so that he can increase his own status and tyranny in the land. After all, he will know better what to do with  the money than will the “honest, brave, but naive” unwashed masses who are trying to live their lives by the sweat of their brow and hard work. “A kingdom,” he reminds us is after all, “expensive to run.”

This causes great unrest among the people who have now been pushed beyond what they can handle in order to feed the whims of the king. They decide to begin a revolution against the king, and there is a spirit of division which the country’s enemy is attempting to use to conquer it. Upon realizing his throne is in danger – not only from the outside – but even more so from within his own kingdom, he steps in and “promises on his mother’s life” sweeping reforms based on the ideas of democracy and personal “liberty by law”. He is assured by Robin and the revolutionaries this will bring not only a forced loyalty to the throne but actually admiration and love from the governed. The country unites under these promises and fights against their external foe, beating them back once again. But, of course, once the threat from outside is defeated the king rescinds his commitment to the ideas of liberty for the people, claiming a divine right to rule.

Sound familiar? Even a little bit?

I don’t know that Ridley Scott intended on reflecting the recent events of American history in this movie, even a little bit. I don’t know what his political leanings are. However, if nothing else, it reminds us that whatever the form of government in whatever time period you may view it is a self-propagating, self-promoting, personal freedom-squashing entity by nature. No matter what good intentions it may boast or believe it has, freedom shrinks as government grows, changing a strong independence for an abusive dependency. What is also evident is that no matter the form of government or whatever time period you are examining, the human spirit  and the quest for freedom and liberty is always in conflict with it. It can be repressed, warred against, beaten-down, over-taxed, insulted for its “naivety,” berated for its lack of education or understanding, or decried for its lack of compassion; yet it still beats under the surface, rising from time to time to flex its muscle over those who would rule it or claim a divine right to hold it down, a God-given or human-achieved superiority by which to rule. Interestingly, our American Constitution acknowledges divine rights to the citizenry and not to the governors. Ironically, our government continues to struggle understanding this.

I have always felt a little strange (sometimes even duped) that we have “hero-ized” Robin Hood, a guy known primarily for the re-distribution of wealth. But this Robin Hood story doesn’t emphasize that aspect of the tale, being more of a back-story on his pre-outlaw days. Sure, you can see Robin has a very egalitarian point of view and a sense of what seems fair for all people; but, in this movie, it is more along the lines of letting a man be a man, letting him live according to his work, letting him accept the responsibility given to him by the enjoyment of liberty. “Fairness” to Ridley’s Robin is not in an equally- divided outcome, but in the equally available opportunity to work and reap the benefits of it, which may include sharing it willingly with others.

I left the movie thinking about Ayn Rand and her libertarian philosophies, focusing on individual rights and limited government. From her book, Atlas Shrugged, she would say, “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” That statement seems to be the entire basis of the new Robin Hood movie, and, to be honest, we could use a fresh dose of it in our approach to government and society. We hear much today about the evils of capitalism and the need for governement to expand in order to provide an endless array of things for its people , but Rand found “laissez-faire capitalism” to be the only compassionate economic system. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “That government governs best which governs least” (and most Americans – even Congress – say they like Jefferson).

Rand was deeply humanist, and I certainly don’t agree whole-heartedly with all her philosophy. However, I found much of her ideas in this new Robin Hood movie set in the context of what seems to be a recurring theme in history – the pull of tyranny and the push for freedom. Go see it and keep pushing.

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5 responses

15 05 2010
Ed B

Glad to hear that the new Robin Hood movie has something besides swords and arrows doing what swords and arrows do. Guess I’ll have to check out how it and Rand combine … should be interesting now that you have pointed it out. Thanks !
Ed

15 05 2010
kdekker

Thanks for taking the time to read. I am often accused of reading too much into movies, but I hope at least your senses will be attuned to some of those themes when you go see it.

17 05 2010
Chonnawonga

A very interesting parallel, and not far from what I was thinking when I saw the film!

You make some very intriguing points. I would add one: Ayn Rand is deeply ignorant of American economic history. The last quarter of the nineteenth century is a shining example of laissez-faire government. The result was wild economic swings, and a gigantic rift between rich and poor. Corporations battled it out and the big fish ate the smaller ones, until monopolies could squeeze their customers and their workers alike.

Sound familiar?

17 05 2010
kdekker

It does sound familiar. A lot like we’ve seen recently from government over-regulation and controls. As always, extremes are rarely the answer. As always, however, governments of all types and deeply greedy men don’t know how to control their thirst for power or wealth enough to avoid them.
As you can probably tell from the blog, I lean heavily toward limited government – which is different from no government, though I often joke about being an anarchist. Ultimately, people will act for their own gain and create problems that need to be overcome and that is when government should appropriately step in (as in monopoly laws, etc.). However, government inevitably acts as well to maintain its own power by creating dependence on it. But there is greater danger here because its actions are backed by the power, authority, and military of the state. Even worse, when government realizes it may have messed up (i.e. – sub-prime lending binges), it tries to fix government problems with government solutions (i.e. – failing bailouts, etc. that create a larger tax burden/deficit and lead to even greater economic issues) . And the cycle continues …

Oh for simpler times when one could live in the woods as an outlaw and rob rich people when you needed something.

17 05 2010
Chonnawonga

It’s true: a government tends toward self-perpetuation. At least that comes up for a vote, though. Corporations are answerable to no one but their shareholders, and sometimes they even screw them over.

But that’s neither here nor there. Ideology doesn’t tell us much. The facts are simple: mixed economies improve GDP and the general standard of living. The US is currently the most un-regulated country in the developed world, and policy is set by oil and weapons corporations. Average height is actually dropping for the first time in decades, thanks to the crappy American diet fueled by the corn lobby. Government has been part of the problem, yes–but mostly because it doesn’t answer to anyone but lobbyists.

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