Harry Potter and the Basis of Political Power

In the Harry Potter series Lord Voldemort is presented as the biggest baddie, the greatest evil. He is bent on his quest to mold society into his vision of order and perfection. In this quest he does not hesitate to intimidate, torture, and kill if it advances his agenda. In his vision of order pure-blood wizards are at the top of a rigid hierarchy with mixed-blood, and muggle-born wizards below them along with other races of intelligent beings.

Lord Voldemort
Lord Voldemort Warner Brothers Entertainment

Voldemort seeks to create his own regime through the use of force, and threats of force. If you do not share Voldemort’s vision or, at least, simply obey his commands he may perform the crucio curse and inflict pain beyond description on you or your family. Furthermore, he may simply kill with little or no provocation. In short, if you refuse to bow to Voldemort’s every whim he’s going to use violence to procure his desired outcome.

Voldemort’s threats of force are apparent and unambiguous, but his goal of domination through open regime change is a risky one. Most people see Voldemort as an illegitimate authority and are likely to oppose his rise to power, even if that opposition is only expressed privately. His violent methods attract a lot of opposition, as can be seen in the battle of Hogwarts and the order of the Phoenix.

Dolores Umbridge shares essentially the same goals as Voldemort, but takes a more subtle approach to achieving her goals. Umbridge, has the same disdain for Muggles, Half-breeds, and muggle-born witches and wizards that Voldemort does. She is seen on multiple occasions to condone and encourage threats of violence, the use of torture and even murder to get her way. 

Dolores Umbridge Warner Brothers Entertainment
Dolores Umbridge
Warner Brothers Entertainment

 

The key difference between Voldemort and Umbridge is this: Umbridge’s acquisition of power comes not from establishing a new regime, but a takeover of the current regime, which people already see as legitimate. It is telling that when confronted by Professor McGonagall, Umbridge’s instinct is to make explicitly clear that to question her is to bring into question your own loyalty to the Ministry.

 

Umbridge: Pardon me, Professor, but what exactly are you insinuating?

McGonagall: I am merely requesting that when it comes to my students you conform to the prescribed disciplinary practices.

Umbridge: So silly of me, but it sounds as if you’re questioning my authority in my own classroom, Minerva.

McGonagall: Not at all, Dolores, merely your medieval methods.

Umbridge: I am sorry, dear, but to question my practices is to question the Ministry, and by extension, the Minister himself. I am a tolerant woman, but the one thing I will not stand for is disloyalty.

McGonagall: Disloyalty?

Umbridge: Things at Hogwarts are far worse than I feared.

 

 

Though it may not be apparent, The Ministry of Magic is based, like Voldemort’s regime, on violence to ensure that its edicts are obeyed. For example, Dolores Umbridge herself, in her disdain for Half-breeds, pushed and was able to pass legislation that banned any werewolf from obtaining employment in the wizarding world. Remus Lupin,

Remus Lupin Warner Brothers Entertainment
Remus Lupin
Warner Brothers Entertainment

arguably the wisest and kindest character in the series is a werewolf and obtains employment at Hogwarts during Harry’s third year. If the Ministry had found out that the headmaster of Hogwarts had knowingly hired a werewolf the ministry, presumably, would have shown up and forcibly punished Lupin or Dumbledore, or both.

 

 

The Ministry’s reliance on force is further demonstrated by the regime’s reliance on taxes (which as been confirmed by J.K. Rowling herself). Imagine if Ollivander kept all the money earned for making wands and chose to not pay taxes. Agents of the MInistry would show up at Ollivander’s at diagon alley and demand payment, if he continues to refuse they would use force to take what he “owed”, or they may take him away to Azkaban. All governmental legislation (including taxes) are executed with the threat of force.

 

In the real world, in many municipalities it is illegal to operate a business out of your home without first seeking a small-business license from the city. People who decide to operate a business out of their home without one will, if found out, be issued a warning and eventually a fine. If the fine is not paid there will likely be a warrant for the arrest of this person and men with guns (police officers) will detain them and put that person in a cage (jail/prison) by force. All this happens even if the seller, on his or her own property, and the customer have interacted voluntarily. Whenever a government passes a law, whether it be a constitutional democracy or a monarchy, must be enforced by violence.

 

randy-Other_Spooner_Hi_ResPolitical philosopher and legal commentator Lysander Spooner wrote extensively on the violent nature of government. In the first of a series of essays entitled “No Treason” he said: “A man’s natural rights are his own, against the whole world; and any infringement of them is equally a crime; whether committed by one man, or by millions; whether committed by one man, calling himself a robber, (or by any other name indicating his true character), or by millions calling themselves a government.” Spooner understood that a government, like any other organization is simply an organization of people and that if a person as a private individual has no right to use force against another person, then multiple people who are organized and call themselves government, which is to say an organization of people, cannot have that right either regardless of whether a majority of people find that organization legitimate.

Considering the fact that government is built on force and coercion, there is no moral difference between Voldemort’s rise to power through regime change, and Umbridge’s “House of Cards” style rise to the second most powerful seat in the wizarding government. The only difference that exists is Umbridge’s acknowledgement that it is easier take control of an organization built on violence that is already seen as legitimate than to build one from scratch, and that makes her all the more dangerous.

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