Love, Not Fear: The Ministry of Magic as an Allegory for Discriminative Politics
The principles on which the wizarding world is built are inherently isolationist and segregative. Consider terms such as “pure-blood” and “half-blood,” which, through their prefixes, show that there is a cultural tendency to overemphasize the importance of blood purity. The purpose of the Ministry of Magic, Hagrid tells Harry in Sorcerer’s Stone, “is to keep it from the Muggles that there’s still witches an’ wizards up an’ down the country.” This was an early indication that the Harry Potter novels would be steeped in politics.
The Ministry of Magic’s values are founded on fear and control. It is wizards’ fear and mistrust of Muggles that led to the creation of the International Statute of Secrecy, a law that dictates the Ministry’s policies. As such, Harry Potter can be taken as a cautionary tale of what could happen to a society that allows its government to form decisions based on fear and mistrust. Aviva Chomsky is an advocator of this sentiment. In her 2007 article “Harry Potter and [I]mmigration,” she argues that US immigration and citizenship laws that “are based explicitly on discrimination” are reflected in attitudes toward individuals with Muggle heritage. She suggests that viewing the Harry Potter novels as a “parable of immigrants’ rights” is “Rowling’s most important lesson.”
The British wizarding world is portrayed as nationalistic, authoritative, and flawed. According to Pottermore, the Minister of Magic is democratically elected, with elections typically held at seven-year intervals. From Sirius, in Goblet of Fire, we learn that Cornelius Fudge and Barty Crouch, Sr. ran against each other for the highest political office in wizarding Britain. It seems that Crouch and Fudge were both senior figures at the Ministry prior to these elections. It’s unlikely that Crouch or Fudge represented different political parties because these are never mentioned in the novels. My conjecture is that the Minister of Magic is selected through internal elections by Ministry employees. This would suggest that these elections are not entirely democratic. However, most of the adults that we come across in the series work for or have some affiliation with the Ministry.
Other than elections, it appears that the Minister of Magic can be chosen by the Wizengamot. As the highest court of law in the British wizarding community, the Wizengamot has executive powers to remove and appoint Ministers of Magic, as in the cases of Fudge and Scrimgeour, respectively. This would suggest that the Wizengamot exists as a system of checks and balances to regulate the amount of power that the Minister of Magic holds. However, Fudge is shown to subvert the authority of the Wizengamot. In Order of the Phoenix, Lupin states that “Ministry wizards… demoted” Dumbledore “from Chief Warlock on the Wizengamot” (OotP 5). Dumbledore’s position as Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot suggests that the position is meritocratically chosen. Furthermore, the fact that Dumbledore held that particular position implies that the Wizengamot does not actually have as much power as we are led to believe. This assumption is based on Dumbledore’s avoidance of power throughout most of his life.
The Ministry of Magic also seems to lack legislative bodies as far as we can observe from the novels. It appears that the heads of Ministry departments have substantial power to pass laws related to their departments. For example, in Chamber of Secrets, it’s revealed that Arthur Weasley wrote and placed a loophole in a law related to Muggle artifacts so that he “could carry on tinkering with all that Muggle rubbish.” More prominent in the series, in Order of the Phoenix, Fudge is able to pass educational decrees with apparently no opposition. On the Ministry’s relationship with Hogwarts, we know that education in the wizarding world is socialist. In 2015, Rowling confirmed on Twitter that “the Ministry of Magic covers the cost of all magical education!” While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it explains how Fudge is able to spread his influence over the day-to-day running of Hogwarts.
Ultimately, the themes of Harry Potter are increasingly relevant given the current political landscape. J.K. Rowling’s portrayal of the Ministry of Magic shows us that when a society values fear and mistrust over love and compassion, this will be reflected in its politics.
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