Saturday, February 4, 2012

Reclaiming Robin Hood

By Tim Dunkin

Maybe it's just a personal idiosyncrasy, but one thing that annoys me greatly is when people draw misleading or overblown historical analogies to try to support some argument they want to make. For instance, the way some writers try to fit American history into the mold of the Roman Empire – now we're in the Imperial Era, with George Bush as our Claudius, and Obama as our Nero, mourning the lost days of the old Republic. Nevermind that the Roman Republic was an aristocratic oligarchy which was in the habit of bestowing absolute dictatorial powers onto noteworthy individuals in times of crisis, which obviously in no way resembled the early days of America. Nor that the present day circus we call a "government", as bad as it is, in any way approaches the autocratic imperialism of the Roman Principate. Yet, the obtuse analogy persists; usually it is bandied about by Pat Buchanan's acolytes.

But I digress. One analogy that finds a lot of currency in our modern political discourse is the story of Robin Hood. You may remember the story – Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men, traipsing about Sherwood Forest, robbing the rich and giving to the poor, right? The references to this story in connection with wealth redistributionary schemes hatched by Democrats are legion. "Robin Hood Tax" is a stock in trade term for the press corp, and Robin himself is lionized as a shining example for every good and decent Democrat who ever selflessly picked the pocket of a productive person to give to a lazy welfare bum sitting at home on his couch watching Jerry Springer. One would almost think that instead of wearing his traditional Lincoln green, Robin should have been decked out in deep, deep red.

There's only one snag with all of this – the analogy is completely false. If you remember the story as it actually appears in the source documents, the enemies of Robin Hood were not "the rich" in general, but two rich guys in particular – Sir Guy of Gisborne and his toadyish lackey, the Sheriff of Nottingham. Now, the reason why these two were the enemies of our selfless hero Robin (himself, in some of the older ballads, portrayed as a dispossessed noble seeking revenge for his treatment at the hands of Sir Guy) was because of the extensive levying of taxes upon the common people of Nottingham. Robin would steal the shipments of oppressively-obtained tax monies – intended to be distributed by Sir Guy (after the evil usurper King John got his cut) to all the rest of his toadyish lackeys – and return them to those from whom they had been assessed to begin with. Far from "robbing the rich to give to the poor", Robin Hood robbed burdensome government levies as they were being transported to the treasury to be squandered by medieval bureaucrats and hangers-on, and initiated his own on-the-spot tax refund system.

In other words, folks, Robin Hood was a right-wing Republican.

There's a reason the Robin Hood story – as it actually is – resonates with conservatives. It's because we know that wealth redistribution, and the ever-increasing burden of taxation upon the productive classes needed to sustain it, are inherently unjust. The story of Robin Hood is about the righting of wrongs, bringing justice to those who have suffered seemingly unredressable injustice. What conservative hasn't secretly fantasized about putting an arrow into the overfed rump of an IRS agent while "repossessing" his bags of gold to fling back to the adoring masses of the people who make this country work?

But alas, we're not really into the archery thing anymore. Instead, we work through what is called "the legislative process," as glacial and unsatisfying as it may be. Unfortunately, this process has largely worked against us since Reagan left office. Nevertheless, we need to remind our elected officials of the principles surrounding taxation and the use of our monies, so that if we ever do get Republicans back into full control of the government, maybe we can scare a few good years of fiscal morality out of them.

I will grant that some taxation is necessary for civil society – we have to have some way to pay for roads, the military, etc. In this sense, the low level of taxation theoretically needed to sustain these is the price we pay for the mutual security of the commonwealth envisioned by Locke. At the same time, I will state unequivocably that taxation for the purposes of wealth redistribution is theft – pure and simple. Welfare is theft. Corporate welfare is theft. Bailing out losers who took out way more mortgage than they could ever possibly afford to pay back, that's theft too.

This brings us to the moral aspect of fiscal policy. Theft is not only inconvenient (even when it's legal), it is also morally wrong. I don't just mean this in an hyperbolic sense, I mean that literally. Politicians who use the power of government to shake down the productive classes as a means of securing the perpetual support of the unproductive are guilty of violating the 8th commandment – thou shalt not steal. Further – and I've actually preached this in the course of a series of messages on the Ten Commandments – voting for someone who promises to give you goodies for nothing is ALSO a violation of this commandment. You're still stealing, even when the actual act is done by a guy with a gun and a badge on your behalf.

Likewise, living your life with the expectation that other people are always going to give you things and support you, and in fact are obligated to do so, when you could jolly well provide for yourself is immoral as well. The Bible tells us in II Thessalonians 3:10,

"For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat."

What does this mean? It means that it's GOD'S opinion that if you're a lazy good-for-nothing who refuses to work for your bread, then you deserve every hunger pang you suffer. Somehow, the "progressive," social-gospel teaching religious leaders on the Left always seem to miss this verse. But it's right there, and it's very clear – morality includes working for a living if you are capable of doing so. Again, this would condemn the welfare state and the welfare mentality.

So you see, Robin Hood is not just an exciting adventure about right-wing Republicans in funny clothing. It's a timeless morality play about the wrongness of the government taking away from the workers, the productive, the people who make society run, and giving it to shiftless playboys and rapacious bureaucrats. Robin Hood speaks to the innate sense of right and wrong that each human being has within him or herself, before their consciences are seared with the hot iron of socialism. Opposing wealth redistribution is not just about the simple act of preserving our own possessions – it is indeed a moral and just act which we need to re-instill into our society and conservative elected officials.