Hope and Change in Harry Potter

The following article originally was published by the July 22, 2009, Denver Daily News. It is also available through the Independence Institute website.

Hope and change in Harry Potter

by Ari Armstrong

With Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince breaking movie records, now is a great time to review the political themes of the series.

In the fifth book, Order of the Phoenix, the students of Hogwarts rebel against the Ministry of Magic’s unjust exertion of power over the school.

In the final book, Deathly Hallows, the Ministry falls under the control of the evil Lord Voldemort. The fallen government censors the press, brutalizes wizards and Muggles (non-magical people) alike, and persecutes wizards born to the “wrong” parents through the Muggle-Born Registration Commission, echoing the vicious evils of the Nazi era. The Potter series thus features strong anti-totalitarian themes.

Between those two books rests Half-Blood Prince, which tones down the politics in favor of romance and backstory. Yet politics flows in the undercurrents.

In one important scene in the book (that unfortunately didn’t make it into the film), the Minister of Magic visits Harry and tries to get him to feign support for the Ministry in order to comfort people.

The Minister says, “It’s all perception, isn’t it? It’s what people believe that’s important.” He continues, “You are a symbol of hope for many, Harry. The idea that there is somebody out there who might be able… to destroy [Voldemort]… gives people a lift.” The Minister urges Harry to “stand alongside the Ministry, and give everyone a boost.”

The Minister asks Harry to pop “in and out of the Ministry” to “give the right impression.” He offers Harry a payoff in the form of help getting a job. The Minister says, “It’s all about giving people hope, the feeling that exciting things are happening.”

Harry realizes that misguided “hope” isn’t worth much. He retorts, “I don’t like some of the things the Ministry’s doing. Locking up Stan Shunpike [who is known to be innocent], for instance… You’re making Stan a scapegoat, just like you want to make me a mascot.”

The Minister condescends, “These are dangerous times, and certain measures need to be taken. You are sixteen years old…” In other words, shut up and do what you’re told.

Half-Blood Prince was published in 2005. Four years later, I certainly have the feeling that exciting things are happening here in America. In the name of hope we are offered astronomically expensive new programs that forcibly transfer more wealth from some citizens to others and expand political control over our lives.

These are dangerous times, at least for economic prosperity, and “certain measures need to be taken.” What measures? Not even those voting on the bills quite know. It’s about perception, giving people a lift, not long-term consequences. At least the rivers of political payola are flowing.

I don’t want to pretend that J. K. Rowling, author of the novels, would agree with any of my particular political views. Still, the Minister’s words remind me of a lot of what I’m hearing from American politicians these days.

When Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s Chief of Staff, said politicians should “never let a serious crisis go to waste,” what is that besides putting the politics of perception above the truth?

Vice President Joe Biden said, “We’re going to go bankrupt as a nation. Now when I say that people look at me and say, ‘What are you talking about, Joe? You’re telling me we got to go spend money to keep from going bankrupt?’ The answer is yes, I’m telling you.”

The claim that the way to avoid bankruptcy is to rack up insane deficits insults the intelligence of every American family that has ever made a budget. Ah, but “certain measures need to be taken.” And we are as children, awaiting the guidance of our political guardians.

I don’t like some of the things our government is doing. All the hope in the world cannot compensate for misguided and unjust policies.

Ari Armstrong, a guest writer for the Independence Institute, is the author of Values of Harry Potter and the publisher of FreeColorado.com.