Good and Evil, Fascism and Hogwarts
This is the first of two essays (both published in rec.arts.books) offering different perspectives on the Harry Potter phenomenon. The second essay deconstructs the first.
Harry Potter is definitely in. The intellectuals have abandoned their customary seats in the ivory tower from which they look down upon the hoi polloi to take their place in the stands at the quidditch match. The professional sneerers, they with the permanently curled lips, content themselves with muttering about Rowling being a pedestrian writer and not nearly as worthy an author of young adult fantasy as others whom they are only to willing to name. Harry Potter is in. That seems to settle it and yet …
Perhaps it is time to look at the seamier side of Rowling’s engaging fantasies. These magic folk are an unsavory lot. Their society includes integral and unremarked slavery. Hermione Grainger recognizes this and is indignant. That she can see that the house elves are no more than slaves can be explained by her being of muggle parentage. She didn’t have the chance to absorb the cultural values of the magic folk. It is notable that her abolitionism is treated as a joke by all and sundry. The social conscience of the best of the wizards and witches is lamentable; it goes downhill from there.
The magic folk are real ubermensch; they have talents and abilities beyond those of ordinary human beings. One might expect great things from them. One would be disappointed. Quite clearly they do not use their abilities for the betterment and welfare of humanity in general. We are told that they retreat into their enclaves (rather like gated communities) because they do not want to be bothered by muggles who would want them to do useful magic.
They are not culturally productive in their hidden fastnesses. Their games, culture, artifacts, and practices are cribbed from the larger muggle culture – suitably modified, of course, to reflect their peculiar abilities. In short, culturally speaking, they are parasites. One suspects that they are economic parasites as well, leaching off the muggle world. One would expect them to be – they have the slaveholding mentality – but there is not enough evidence in the extant narratives from which to make a judgement.
Indeed the very lack of evidence tells its own tale. Nobody is interested in where the wealth comes from. There are no occupations except institutional roles – bureaucrats and academics. The attitudes are those of the feudal landed aristocracies including the emphasis on blood, i.e., ancestry within the privileged class.
It would be unfair and incorrect to characterize Hogwarts as being fascist – its attitudes and practices are direct equivalents of older traditions, albeit ones no less unsavory than those of fascism. On the other hand Voldemort will do very well as a Hitler figure and the death eaters as fascists.
The question presents itself: Why is the magic community susceptible to the disease of fascism? Among the muggles the fascist movements were natural children of the earlier age of aristocracy – racism is little more than a modernized version of noble blood, and force applied to one’s lessers was the basis for aristocratic privilege. One recognizes in the Malfoys and company the privileged classes, disaffected by modernism, who flocked to the support of the Hitlers and Mussolinis.
There are differences though. The magic folk do not seem to have a lumpen proletariat to serve as the body of the movement. (The muggles clearly are not a substitute.) The movement seems to be making do with the resentful old aristocracy. Seemingly with magic that is enough. One infers, though, that the old aristocracy has reason for resentment which implies that they are losing power and privilege as a consequence of social forces that they do not understand.
Where does Harry Potter fit in this? Harry clearly is a Machiavellian lion, brave, filled with the knightly virtues, accepting privilege without question, and not too bright. Yes, Harry is somewhat of a boob. In book I whatever did he think he was going to accomplish in that last desperate adventure? Did he think that he was up to confronting Snape? (Quirrell and Voldemort as it turned out – another error by Harry.) Indeed his actions gave Voldemort the chance to acquire the stone – without Harry on the scene the stone was quite safe. Harry, of course, has something much better and much more effective than brains – he has luck and the blessing of destiny.
In the movie Voldemort (in the book, Quirrell) tells Harry, “There is no good and evil; there is only power and those too weak to seek it.” That speech is comic book morality and yet it is a real truth. The magic folk exist by and live by the privilege of power. Their “good and evil” is little more than social conventions to ensure the stability of the society that their power-grasping parasitism has produced.
This page was last updated January 1, 2002.