Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, which opened to mixed reviews in American movie theaters on May 14, is an excellent educational film for current and future conservative American politicians. It reinforces the importance of championing limited government, individual rights, and freedom over the pursuit of self interest.
If you haven’t yet seen the film, this may confuse you. The countless versions of Robin Hood, from 1938’s Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood onward, portrayed the medieval hero as a liberal. Robin always had the right talking points, but his main activities were the pursuit of his own interests and the redistribution of wealth. He pursued merriment with Lady Marian and his merry men. He fought for his beloved but absent King Richard the Lionheart and to recover his lost estates. And he taunted the Sheriff of Nottingham for entertainment. Most important, he took from the rich to give to the poor—a defining liberal characteristic.
Yes, those other Robin Hoods helped overthrow Richard’s brother, the evil King John, but only to restore Richard to the throne—the exchange of one absolute ruler for another. Taxes went down, temporarily, but nothing changed except barons loyal to Richard confiscated the estates of barons loyal to John; and Robin and Marian lived happily ever after in several large castles like Al and Tipper Gore.
In keeping with a growing trend in Hollywood, and perhaps with an eye on the Tea Party movement, Scott has reinvented the 800-year-old legendary figure. In Scott’s Robin Hood, played by Russell Crowe, Robin is not an outlaw nobleman. He’s a yeoman archer in the Third Crusade and Richard’s army in France.
Upon Richard’s untimely death, from a haphazard crossbow arrow, Robin and the usual cast of characters escape France disguised as noblemen. Robin assumes the dying Sir Robert Loxley’s identity and promises to return Loxley’s sword to his father in Nottingham. Upon his arrival in England, Robin witnesses the crowning of King John, who immediately proceeds to raise taxes and behave like King John.
In Nottingham, Loxley’s father asks Robin to continue impersonating his son to prevent the crown from confiscating his lands. The widow Loxley, Lady Marian (Cate Blanchett), takes a liking to Robin when he recovers confiscated seed. Blanchett’s Marian, of course, is no damsel in distress. She’s more like a 21st-century woman, but what else would you expect?
Cutting to the chase, the rest of the movie isn’t about Robin and Marian’s adventures in the forest; that comes after the movie ends. As one reviewer phrased it, it’s “about the birth pangs of liberty” and something they don’t teach that much any more in our public schools, the Magna Carta. Amidst treachery by a British nobleman and invasion by the ever-pesky French, Robin and Marian concern themselves with defending England and limiting tyrannical government—not with the redistribution of wealth.
Herein lies the lesson for American conservative politicians, especially those in office for many years who behave like the barons of Robin Hood’s era who preferred a different king but not a different spoils system. Kings came and went; some were better than others, but those barons’ principal concerns were their own power and self interest. Their objective was to redirect as many resources as possible to their own fiefdoms and accrue privilege. Today, it’s earmarks, laws that benefit their constituents, and committee chairmanships.
The system worked well in good times and when a king beloved of the people occupied the throne. As long as the people had plenty to eat and the king’s men weren’t raping and pillaging the countryside, the barons as a class were left well enough alone. Today, voters reelect incumbents.
But when war and hard times came and the national treasury was empty, the King Johns, and the barons who owed their titles and allegiance to them, turn on the people. In today’s America, it’s liberals raising taxes on everyone, passing laws to benefit their loyal interest groups, and expanding government.
When things got bad enough, the barons who opposed the king (today it’s conservatives) rose up against him in hope of deposing him, putting a new king on the thrown, and going back to collecting their share of the loot and privileges when good times returned. You get the picture.
In Robin Hood, Scott’s Robin and Marian aren’t opposing the king only to replace him with a different one and return to the status quo. They’re more interested in limited government and freedom than in their own selfish interests.
Granted, in Scott’s Robin Hood, as in 13th-century England, it’s mostly the rights of the barons, not the people they fight for. But it was beginning. It took another 561 years from the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 until the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
In today’s America we no longer have barons and kings, and it’s not just a certain class that has all the rights. Nor do we have to revert to the sword to bring about change. We elect Senators, Representatives, and Presidents. Unfortunately, many of them still behave like barons and kings. And now, when times are tough, conservatives are looking for Robin Hoods and Lady Marians who will defend our rights and stand up against big government. Conservative politicians take note.
Ed Ross is the President and Chief Executive Officer of EWRoss International LLC, a company that provides global consulting services to clients in the international defense marketplace. He publishes commentary at EWRoss.com.