Ragnar Danneskjöld on Robin Hood

“It is said that [Robin Hood] fought against the looting rulers and returned the loot to those who had been robbed, but that is not the meaning of the legend which has survived. He is remembered, not as a champion of property, but as a champion of need, not as a defender of the robbed, but as a provider of the poor. He is held to be the first man who assumed a halo of virtue by practicing charity with wealth which he did not own, by giving away goods which he had not produced, by making others pay for the luxury of his pity. He is the man who became the symbol of the idea that need, not achievement, is the source of rights, that we don’t have to produce, only to want, that the earned does not belong to us, but the unearned does. He became a justification for every mediocrity who, unable to make his own living, has demanded the power to dispose of the property of his betters, by proclaiming his willingness to devote his life to his inferiors at the price of robbing his superiors. It is this foulest of creatures — the double-parasite who lives on the sores of the poor and the blood of the rich — whom men have come to regard as a moral ideal. And this has brought us to a world where the more a man produces, the closer he comes to the loss of all his rights, until, if his ability is great enough, he becomes a rightless creature delivered as prey to any claimant — while in order to be placed above rights, above principles, above morality, placed where anything is permitted to him, even plunder and murder, all a man has to do is be in need. Do you wonder why the world is collapsing around us? That is what I am fighting… Until men learn that of all human symbols, Robin Hood is the most immoral and the most contemptible, there will be no justice on earth and no way for mankind to survive.”

– Ragnar Danneskjöld in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Part II, Chapter VII

9 Comments

July 10, 2009 · 2:46 pm

9 responses to “Ragnar Danneskjöld on Robin Hood

  1. Bill Matson

    The Robin Hood fable (originally, about a commoner who stole from the aristocrats, later gentrified into an aristocrat himself) is pretty much like the worship of criminals in any time – because they are colourful and don’t conform, and because when times are hard they hit the fat cats where it hurts. Same kind of legends were spread about Pretty Boy Floyd in the 30’s. The “helping the needy” bits of the legend were just to show what a good regular guy he was, not the central point of the story.

    How did the medieval rich become rich? The Church, by the contributions and labour of the peasants. The aristocracy, by the heavy taxation and forced labour of the peasants. Some peasants became relatively prosperous by their hard work, but they were not even remotely rich by the standards of the rich. They didn’t become aristocrats, either. There was very limited social mobility and little opportunity for financial improvement. The rich were born rich.

    Today we’re approaching that situation in the U.S. more and more. Ayn Rand’s historical distortions have become the template for the new feudalism of the 21st century. Pretty Boy Floyd, where are you?

  2. Ragnar_Mandalore

    @ Bill:
    You don’t understand Rand. Clearly you have not been paying attention. Yes, we are facing a dire future, but it is not because we are following anything close to Rand’s philosophy. Quite the opposite in fact. The new feudalism will be divided between those who work for, or are beholden to, government, and those who are not favored by the statists. Rand did not advocate statism. The people leading mankind into slavery are. Statism prevents social mobility. Freedom and capitalism enable it. We are moving closer to statism and further from capitalism. They cannot coexist. That is the root of the nightmare facing us today.

    • Rand doesn’t understand Rand.

      The peasants were impoverished by the Enclosure Acts, which seized the commons and made it the exclusive domain of the lords. Robin Hood “stole” by hunting what peasants had always been allowed to hunt, but which had been declared to be “the king’s game.” Ayn Rand’s error is that she did not understand the difference between law-made property and labor-made property.

      In *Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal*, she rightly chastised the Encyclopaedia Brittanica’s definition of capitalism for confusing land and capital, which she quoted as follows:

      “Fundamental to any system called capitalist are the relations between private owners of nonpersonal means of production (land, mines, *industrial plants*, etc.,) collectively known as capital.” [emphasis Rand’s]

      Then she quoted a John Galt speech in Atlas Shrugged in which Galt stated sarcastically, “A factory is a `natural resource’, like a tree, a rock or a mud puddle.”

      So, when it came to showing capital was not like land, she took one stance, but when it came to seeing that land was not like capital, we have John Hospers (the first LP Presidential nominee) writing the following:

      “My memories now go back to Christmas vacation 1961. I am at home in Iowa with my parents, and the phone rings. Ayn is calling me, to respond to something I had written to her. I had raised with her a problem about land-ownership in connection with Peruvian peasants. The Spaniards, descendants of the Conquistadors, to own all the best land – large tracts of fertile acreage which they allowed to lie fallow, forcing the native Indians to scratch for a living further up in the inhospitable Andes. Shouldn’t those large idle tracts be forcibly divided, I asked, so that the native Indians would have a chance to survive? No! Ayn exclaimed so loudly that I could hear the microphone rattle. My father wondered what all the fuss was about, and suggested that she call when we weren’t at dinner. But Ayn, unaware of this, would not be deterred. “They can sell it off piece by piece until everyone has something!” she said. “But they choose not to do that – they want to hold on to these unused lands as a matter of personal prestige. They don’t care about economic development or the condition of the Indians. After the war, MacArthur divided up the feudal estates in Japan in that way, and opened Japan to democracy.” But Ayn would have none of it: “That’s land redistribution!” she said. “Coming from the Soviet Union, do I have to tell you about the evils of compulsory land redistribution? You have been perverted by utilitarianism!” That stopped me. But I still wasn’t convinced. I still wanted to say “It all depends….”

      Rothbard, Rand and Mises mark the death of classical libertarianism and its replacement with reactionary anti-socialist neolibertarianism, a right-wing caricature of what libertariansm used to be.

      Ironically, it was Marx who confounded land with capital, and the reactionary anti-socialists have, wittingly or unwittingly, embraced Marx’s core economic error.

  3. You see, this is interesting. I have come to a conclusion suggesting Ayn Rand was WRONG to say Ragnar Danneskjöld should kill Robin Hood. The two are extremely similar. Ragnar and Robin Hood are both stealing money that has been taxed away from the people who rightfully earnt it. Robin Hood was stealing all the tax that the rich aristocrats had taxed away from the productive peasants. Ragnar was stealing income taxed away from the industrialists. The two are very similar. So if anything, I would say Ayn Rand should admire Robin Hood.

    • James

      The Robin Hood arguments going on here are missing a key line by Ragnar where he explains what Robin Hood did, but how people distorted his actions and turned his legend into the champion of need. It is a short and quick passage which can be easily missed, and if you do miss it then you make the mistake of condemning Rand for Ragnar’s speech.

  4. Brad V.

    The Norman Sheriff was a statist who bullied his wealth. He did not earn it through labor. Rand is sooo mistaken. The Normans stole Saxon Britain at the point of a sword. Robin Hood acted not out of charity for his inferiors, but out of justice to collect the rent for the true owners- the peasants who worked the land! I understand Rand’s contempt for statism, but here she defends the true statists! She is sooo mistaken!

  5. Michael

    Brad,

    Rand packs so much into every sentence, carefully choosing each word. If you skim through and miss words and skip sentences you then miss vital information.

    This is what you are missing, reread this until you understand the premise Rand is making:

    “It is said that [Robin Hood] fought against the looting rulers and returned the loot to those who had been robbed, but that is not the meaning of the legend which has survived. He is remembered, not as a champion of property, but as a champion of need, not as a defender of the robbed, but as a provider of the poor. ”

    Rand is saying the legend of Robin Hood that exists now, is not the story that created the legend of Robin Hood originally.

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