I never understood why anyone thought Robin Hood was some kind of socialist. He robbed from the tax collectors and gave the money back to the people who earned it. But Cathy Young goes even further, saying the Ridley Scott libertarian Robin Hood is the closest thing to the original legend we’ve seen.
The Ridley Scott film Robin Hood has drawn some critics’ political ire. In The Village Voice, Karina Longworth laments that “instead of robbing from the rich to give to the poor, this Robin Hood preaches about ‘liberty’ and the rights of the individual” and battles against “government greed.” New York Times critic A.O. Scott strikes a similar note, mocking the movie as a “medieval tea party” and declaring: “You may have heard that Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor, but that was just liberal media propaganda. This Robin is…a manly libertarian rebel striking out against high taxes and a big government scheme to trample the ancient liberties of property owners and provincial nobles.”
Whatever you may think of Scott’s newest incarnation of the Robin Hood legend, it is more than a little troubling to see alleged liberals speaking of liberty and individual rights in a tone of sarcastic dismissal. This is especially ironic since the Robin Hood of myth and folklore probably has much more in common with the “libertarian rebel” played by Russell Crowe than the medieval socialist of the “rob from the rich, give to the poor” cliché. At heart, the noble-outlaw legend that has captured the human imagination for centuries is about freedom, not redistribution, a fact that is reflected in many previous screen versions of the Robin Hood story.
The earliest Robin Hood ballads, which date back to the 13th or 14th century, contain no mention of robbing the rich to give to the poor. The one person Robin assists financially is a knight who is about to lose his lands to the machinations of greedy and unscrupulous monks at an abbey. (Corrupt clerics using the political power of the Church are among Robin Hood’s frequent targets in the ballads.) The Sheriff of Nottingham is Robin’s chief opponent; at the time, it was the sheriffs’ role as tax collectors in particular that made them objects of popular loathing. Robin Hood is also frequently shown helping men who face barbaric punishments for hunting in the royal forests, a pursuit that was permitted to English nobles but strictly forbidden to the lower classes. In other words, he opposes privilege bestowed by political power rather than earned wealth.