by David Erskine
I see the Harry Potter alternative world as being how our world will be in say fifty years. Magic stands for science and engineering. Arthur C Clarke suggested that a sufficiently advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic.
An action looks like magic if the method is out of sight. Changing television channels with a remote control would have looked like magic fifty years ago. Michael Moorcock wrote a remarkable SF novel “The Dancers at the End of Time”, where people had extraordinary powers, greater than the powers of the wizards in the Rowling world, and where the machinery that performed tasks was not visible. It was a literary technique. It is instructive to compare “Dancers” with the Rowlings world. The social atmosphere of “Dancers” is much more amiable than that of the Rowlings world.
Rowlings likes to tell a good story, and some aspects of the wizard world do not make much sense, but do make a good story. There is presumably no economic or technical reason for elves to be slaves, but it makes a good subplot. Early in Book 2, Mrs Weasley uses magic to help her with housework. Wizards move about by broomstick or by Floo powder, so it is presumably not really necessary for them to use owls as carriers of letters. Nor is there any reason to suppose that the wizards exploit Muggles. Suppose all Muggles suddenly disappeared. Would life be better or worse for the wizards? I suspect it would be about the same.
The political intrigue and rivalry do not make much sense where everyone has plenty and can presumably supply the necessities of life by magic. The political intrigue makes a good story. The same goes for the attitudes of the Malfoy family and other purebloods. Muggle born wizards seem to do as well as purebloods, so there is no apparent reason for the attitudes of the purebloods.
I regard the slavery of elves, the political intrigue, and the class distinction between purebloods and Muggle born as inconsistencies in the Rowlings world, and not to be taken seriously.
An advanced society will explore the furthest reaches of knowledge, art and experience, supported by an automated economy, living the good life in surroundings and landscapes of beauty and grandeur. An advanced society is an automated Arcadia with a world population of, say, 100 million.
This is the long term goal of modernity, and has been for a century. Any technical advance and political change should be used to move us closer to this long term goal.
Rowling’s wizard world is close to this vision, leaving aside the pointless internal power struggles. I can see wizards living in the foothills of the Himalayas, the Alps, or any other grand mountain range in the world.
Back to our world. These specifications of an advanced society make it clear that the vast majority of the world’s people will be unable or unwilling to participate in an advanced society. Scientists (wizards) have been offering ordinary people (Muggles) the chance to move towards an automate Arcadia for the last fifty years. The Muggles have rejected this offer. They actually prefer the global business world we live in.
I see our world and the Rowlings world as interchangeable, so I will use “wizard” as meaning modernist or noble, and “Muggle” as meaning ordinary person, commoner.
This paves the way for a future where wizards break away into new societies based on modernity (mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology) and ordinary people stay as they are. The wizards will have all the nuclear weapons, reconnaissance satellites, cruise missiles, satellite navigation and aircraft carriers. The Muggles are just shopkeepers. If the world does not “make it” as suggested in your essay “Not Making It”, this will give wizards a strong motive to break away from a failing Muggle world. In the sixties, Singapore broke away from Malaysia, so this political move is possible. Such a breakaway will be the French Revolution in reverse, where the nobles liberate themselves from the peasants.
It will be in the interest of the wizards to keep recruiting young wizards from Muggle society, so that the wizard world will eventually have all the wizards, and the Muggle world will have all the commoners. Anyone will be able to be a wizard if they are able and willing to pass the examinations.
Modern education is politically popular world wide, and also seems to be a reliable and accurate way of selecting wizards. Wizards can be defined as those in the top say ten percent as measured by school performance in mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology, and who take modernity seriously. Education does not narrow the gap between wizards and Muggles; it widens it.
Nietzsche suggested that man is a bridge between beast and the superhuman. Wizards, both in our world and in the HP world, are getting close to being superhuman, and close to Plato’s idea of philosopher kings. Your jaundiced view of the society in the Rowlings world is largely due to the Slytherins. No Slytherins, and the social tone of the Rowlings world improve a lot. Plato worried about military security of his proposed society, and keeping unskilled workers in their place. Both problems have disappeared. War nowadays is done by fighting machines, on sea, land and air. Only wizards, in the form of technicians, can operate and maintain fighting machines. Mechanization and automation have largely eliminated manual labour.
This page was last updated May 6, 2004.