To Rule or Not to Rule? That Is the Question: Ruling Power and Wizard Corruption
Voldemort, Grindelwald, Fudge, Saruman: What do these wizards have in common? All, to some degree, are interested in ruling power and when they attain it, are corrupted by it. Which got me thinking: Is ruling power always conducive to corruption, or does the seductive outlet that ruling power provides exacerbate the beholder’s weaknesses? I mean, let’s look no further than current political climates in certain Countries-That-Must-Not-Be-Named. And where does this leave Headmaster Dumbledore on the power spectrum?
From the outside, it appears our Dumbledore is much more at home focusing on his knitting patterns and eating his sherbet lemons than ruling the general (wizarding) masses. But wait, isn’t he ruling anyway? It is clear that Dumbledore doesn’t need prestigious titles or a throne in order to rule, though he has many: Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, and Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, to name a few. Dumbledore doesn’t need the ruling title – Minister of Magic – in order to be aptly named “the greatest wizard of all time” (CoS 313). In Fudge’s defense, having someone as persuasive as Dumbledore as a political rival has to be pretty intimidating; no wonder Fudge is a wee bit fussy.
Dumbledore, however, does not want the role. It is clear he does not trust himself with supreme power. He tells Harry, “I had proven, as a young man, that power was my weakness and my temptation” (DH 720). Which leaves me with the conclusion that “good” wizards acknowledge power but do not attempt to meddle with it. Dumbledore hints at this when he notes, “… only a person who wanted to find the Stone – find it, but not use it – would be able to get it” (SS 242). This sounds awfully symbolic, does it not?
Indeed, we’re reminded of another great wizard who turned down ruling power when it was offered to him: Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Interestingly, Dumbledore’s confession to Harry that power was his “weakness” and “temptation” mirrors Gandalf’s speech to Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring after Frodo offers Gandalf the One Ring (to rule them all): “With that power I should have power too great and terrible… Do not tempt me! …The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength” (LotR Fellowship 95). Both Dumbledore and Gandalf confess that accepting such ruling power would tempt them to their own detriment. In this respect, I argue that they are far stronger in their refusal (of power) than their surrender (to power).
Indeed, Dumbledore tells Harry in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, “… perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it” (DH 718). Yes and no. You could argue Harry, Frodo, and Bilbo fit the bill. But wait – all, at some point, were corrupted by power nonetheless.
I would argue that Dumbledore is active in decentralizing a dangerously singular near-totalitarian power afforded to the Ministry of Magic and Fudge himself without taking any political ruling seat of power, proving that ruling power can be intrinsic; Dumbledore does not have to publicly rule in order to rule.
I am sure that if you were a student at Hogwarts and had the chance to ask him what he thinks about his many titles, he’d smile warmly, look up at you through his half-moon spectacles, and offer you a Licorice Snap before enquiring about your wool socks. This is what makes Dumbledore so brilliant and arguably omnipotent, even after his physical death.
You see where I’m going, right? Dumbledore doesn’t have power. Dumbledore is power embodied. He is feared, loved, and overall highly regarded by the wizarding community. This is why Fudge painstakingly attempts to discredit him as the “Crackpot old fool” Vernon makes him out to be by way of the Daily Prophet. Not even the attempts to besmirch his reputation had him shook! Dumbledore: What type of brilliant being ARE you? Share some of that self-assured power!
Now, is there such thing as unselfish, non-self-deprecating ruling power in literature, a power wholly good? Some of you are shaking your heads behind your keyboards, agreeing with Snape’s poignant outlook: “… you have been raising him like a pig for slaughter!” (DH 129).
Or perhaps it truly is as Dumbledore says: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities” (CoS 333).