Keith Hawk (KH) John Granger (JG) Daniel Nexon (DN) Kara Szames (KS)
[Show music begins]
Eric: Hey! Josée! Wait up!
Josée: Oh hi, Eric! I'm sorry, I really can't talk right now. I'm running late.
Eric: Late? Late for what?
Josée: Oh, it's because I have to go meet Keith and John Granger. I'm actually going to listen to a Harry Potter literature lesson at MuggleNet Academia.
Eric: Oh cool, that sounds awesome. Can I come with?
Josée: Yes, of course you can. Just come with me.
Eric: Okay. Let's go!
[Show music continues]
KH: Welcome back to the next episode of MuggleNet Academia. This is Lesson 13: Harry Potter and Political Science. John, how are you today?
JG: Very well, Keith. I'm in recovery from late nights watching all the election results and such. It was not quite the cliffhanger that we all were expecting, but here we are at the end of it. We survived. We're still a country. Hooray!
KH: Yeah, and we're moving on strong. I don't know about you, but it was pretty tight up until maybe about 8:00 or so...
KH: ...and then all of a sudden it was just a landslide from there on out. Now, for those of you in other parts of the world, maybe you didn't have your eye on the election, but it sounds like many people in foreign countries were desperately watching the election to see who would be the next President of the United States. It seems to be almost like an Olympic event.
KH: It just goes on and on and on and then eventually there's a winner. But the reason that we are recording this show - and we were hoping to record it before the election - is this subject of political science. And we are joined today by Associate Professor of Government at Georgetown University, Daniel Nexon, and also Kara Szames from Toronto. How are you, Dan?
DN: I'm well, how are you?
KH: Good. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
DN: Well, as you've already pointed out, I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service - and I have to say them both or one of the units gets angry...
DN: ...at Georgetown University. I specialize in lots of arcane things of virtually no interest to our listeners...
DN: ...but I did once upon a time co-edit a volume called Harry Potter and World Politics, which unfortunately we had wanted to title Broomstick Diplomacy but the press wouldn't allow that.
[JG and KH laugh]
DN: And so I proudly display on my website that I am entirely, by default, one of the world's leading authorities on the intersection of Harry Potter and international affairs. Seriously, I work on comparative historical international politics which means I look a lot at things like why empires work the way they do and how religious forces have shaped political development in the international arena.
KH: Well, that sounds great. It's going to be an exciting show. I'm kind of anxious to hear all your stories on this, and how you relate the governments of the world and the past and current to how Harry Potter's government lays out. It's going to be an interesting show. Kara, welcome to the show! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
KS: So, I recently completed my Masters in Public Administration at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
KH: Woo-hoo! Congratulations!
KS: Thank you very much. And I currently work as a policy advisor in my provincial public service here in Ontario.
KH: How long have you been doing that?
KS: Since July, so not very long.
KH: Oh, congratulations. The new career is off and running.
KS: I hope so. [laughs]
KH: That sounds great. So, before we get into the show, I wanted to just go over a couple of things. John, we had a great, great show last time when we talked about the house-elves. It was an extremely fun show. Katy McDaniel was just a blast and Abigail Robertson did a great job as the student guest. And we had a lot of feedback on that show. I'd like to read you one, if you don't mind.
JG: You're the man, go ahead. What have we got?
KH: Actually, we had a couple of good ones, but I'm going to give you one right off the post that we did on MuggleNet Academia. It said:
"In response to Keith asking where the house-elves are today, I wonder if Kreacher is still calling Harry 'master' and serving the Potter family. If so, I can just imagine Hermione's face when she comes to dinner. Also, the happy house slaves issue reminded me of Plato's Allegory of the Cave. In that story, a prisoner breaks free from a dark cave and sees the sun for the first time. But when he goes back to the cave to free the other prisoners and tells them about the sun, they make fun of him and refuse to leave the cave. Plato suggested that the stubborn people in the cave couldn't understand the free man's 'form of the good' until they experienced it for themselves. Maybe JKR thought that each elf needed to follow his or her own journey to freedom or else they'd never truly appreciate it."
And that was from Cassandra. We had a bunch of good feedback from that show. A lot of different viewpoints and a lot of people actually referred to Plato in their critiques. What did you think of it, John?
JG: I'm delighted, we're being followed by a crowd of Straussians. What do you think, Dan? [laughs] We've got all these plays. Really, that's a good point that Cassandra makes about Rowling trying not to talk about ideological groups. Definitely, Dobby is an outlier. Winky is much more of a typical house-elf, and how the other house-elves relate to the two of them. And because he's an outlier, his experience is very much like the man in the parable of the cave in Plato's Republic. Except they do a lot more... they do more than make fun of that guy when he comes back. They essentially kill him. He's sacrificed. [laughs] That's a great analogy except it has a happier... well, maybe it doesn't have a happier ending. Dobby does die in the books, sacrificially, for the vision that he has following Harry Potter. So, that's an important distinction. Really, this show is now doing what we wanted it to do, Keith, is that we're raising the bar of the conversation in fandom, and people that want that conversation are obviously finding some satisfaction in what we're doing here. No pressure on our guests tonight, though. [laughs]
KH: Absolutely not. And actually, you're absolutely right because the people... a majority of the fans that we have today are probably in Kara's age group. They grew up on the books, they read the books from childhood through college, and when they hit their college years they start diving into deeper aspects of literature, or, in this case, political science, or law, or whatever they might have, and they can still find a way to revert that area of study back to Harry Potter. And the nice thing about this show is that it brings out that majority of people that are in that college atmosphere, and it helps them along in their studies. No matter what the subject is, it's kind of neat that you can dive into one series and find all of these areas of expertise that we've been doing over the last, I don't know, seven months now, I think, we've been on here.
JG: Wow. I feel bad for the microbiologists, maybe, and others. [laughs] But yeah, I think for political philosophy and international relations, even, or feminist theory and stuff like that, Harry Potter is definitely a gold mine for us. It gives us a language because it is the shared text that everybody has some idea of who Snape is and such. We have a language about the characters, about their world and things, and we can speak to each other about larger ideas using that language. And I hope tonight we get to do that. I'm looking forward to hearing Professor Nexon's take on the latest election, on international relationships, if there are any reset buttons and how that can be understood in light of what Rowling says in Harry Potter. It's going to be a great show!
KH: I think it's going to be a great show, too. In fact, let's get it going. I just want to go over a couple of announcements on MuggleNet Academia. Head on over to mugglenet.com/academia/index.shtml. It's our home base on the Academia show, and all of the news posts that we put up link to that. And on there, you can find the RSS feeds, the current lesson that's being played, a place to write your quibbles about a show. We do like getting those quibbles and we do put them up on the site. In addition to that, you can find our mobile apps on the website. If you have an iOS device - meaning you have an iPhone, iPod, or iPad device - you can go on to the iTunes, download Podcast Box app, which is a free app, and then you search for MuggleNet Academia. There is a one-time charge of $1.99, download the app, and get some great bonus features. Right now, there are about five different bonus tracks on there for you to listen to. I have gotten some good feedback on those as well. Also, if you are on the Android devices, you just simply go to Amazon.com, look for MuggleNet Academia, and download it there.
JG: I've got two things, too, Keith! We've got to start promoting 2013 events. People are planning 2013. First, real quickly, you and I are going to be, I hope, at MISTI-Con, 9th to 13th May. Our listeners can go to MISTI-Con.org and read all about the big thing. Keith is going to be doing Family Feud and Jeopardy shows and Alohomora! will be there. It's going to be a big MuggleNet show. I hope to be there as well, I'm still talking to them. And then Wizards at Sea.
JG: There's going to be a Harry Potter cruise, Keith, in July. July 6th to 13th, from Seattle up and down to Alaska. That's WizardsAtSea.com, if anybody wants to head up there for that. I'm going to be there, Chris Rankin will be there, The Hillywood Show will be there. A lot of fun folks will be there.
KH: We actually did put a post up on the Wizards at Sea thing to get it kicked off.
JG: Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo! So, we've got MISTI-Con and Wizards at Sea, and there's also stuff going in the summer, so...
KH: It's going to be a whole bunch of stuff. I mean, I have a full plate next year. April, I have the Quidditch World Cup with Alex Benepe and the IQA down in Kissimmee, Florida. That's in April. And then we have MISTI-Con in May, as you said. We have LeakyCon Portland in June, LeakyCon London in August, and then Camp 9 3/4...
[Show music begins]
KH: ...with my buddy Keith Cardin and the myHogwarts staff down in Texas in October. A full plate, and we will be promoting these things throughout the year. So yeah, great idea to throw those in there.
KH: All right, so let's kick this show off! From MuggleNet.com, my name is Keith Hawk.
JG: I'm John Granger, the Hogwarts Professor and author of The Deathly Hallows Lectures.
DN: I'm Dan Nexon, I'm an Associate Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and I am the co-editor of the now somewhat queery Harry Potter and International Relations.
KS: And I'm Kara Szames, recent Masters in Public Administration graduate from Queen's University.
KH: All right, let's get right into jumping into Lesson 13: Harry Potter and Political Science. On the show with us today is Daniel Nexon, Associate Professor of Government at Georgetown University and co-editor of Harry Potter and International Relations. Additionally, Professor Nexon is a blogger for Duck of Minerva and a podcaster at NewBooksInScienceFiction.com. So, extremely busy man and we are privileged to have him here with us today on MuggleNet Academia. Now, Professor Nexon believes that ideas are a driving force in political science and specifically in global relationships between nations. This constructivist position invites a discussion of the political ideas implicit and explicit to JK Rowling's Harry Potter books, and how they simultaneously reflect our political thinking and shape and inform our changing ideas. On this lesson of MuggleNet Academia, John and I will be asking Professor Nexon about the Nazi allegory of the books, the take-away message from the war on terrorism, even which candidate Luna Lovegood would have voted for in this past American Presidential Election...
KH: ...based on foreign policy platforms of the two parties. So, tune in your Wizarding Wireless Network and listen to "Harry Potter and Political Science." Professor Nexon, you're so busy as a political representative, a professor, a blogger, a podcaster. I've got to ask, where did this fascination for Harry Potter come from? When did you find time to dive into Harry Potter? I mean, you've gone to Harvard, Columbia, you're teaching at Georgetown... I mean, we're talking about some major, major academic schools here, and friends and family are probably saying, "What the heck, he's reading Harry Potter!" How did that start for you?
DN: Well, I'm a long-term fan of science fiction and fantasy literature and particularly of classic young adult fantasy. So, really the way that I got into Harry Potter was - there's no great story behind it - my mother used to teach middle school English, and she kept on bugging my wife and I about these great books that we had to read called Harry Potter, and we were kind of like, "Ehh."
DN: And eventually... well, we were in our twenties, we were living in New York, we had plenty of stuff to read.
DN: But my parents finally were so annoyed with us that they bought us the first three books as a gift, and we started reading them and loved them, and so my wife and I read them aloud to one another at bedtime for quite some time. And then when Goblet of Fire came out, we devoured it. In fact, I got annoyed because my wife kept falling asleep because...
DN: ...I was a grad student and she worked, so she had to get up in the morning. So, I would sneak into the bathroom in our town house and I would read ahead because I was so taken with what was going on.
KH:[laughs] Well, Kara, tell us about you. How did you get involved in the Harry Potter series? And did you grow up on this series, or was it like a late-teen thing for you?
KS: No, I definitely grew up on it. I read the first book the summer of 1999...
KS: ...when I was just about to turn eleven.
KH: Wow! Awesome!
KS: A friend of mine had just recently... had done a book report on it, actually. And she had read her book report aloud the last month of school, and when I was then in the bookstore with my family and I was allowed to pick whatever book I wanted, I saw it on the shelf, I thought, "Hey, my friend read that book. She really like it." And it all started there, I guess.
JG: Wow, that's great. I mean, talk about word of mouth. Word of mouth by aural book report.
JG: There's the marketing niche that we want to fill. We need to start buying time in third and fourth grade classrooms around America.
JG: Seriously, that's not an unusual story. Maybe a little unusual, Daniel, that your parents felt the need to buy their married children copies of these books to get them on board. I want to meet the mom and dad here because they're trés cool. They're really into this.
KH: Yeah, I've been trying to get my parents to read them and they will not touch them. They've seen the movies with me and they're like, "Ehh, whatever."
KH: They are just not into it and I say, "Look at how great these things are!" and they're like, "Ehh, whatever."
KH: And they read all the time, but I just can't get them to do it!
JG: But here's the follow-up, the natural follow-up question to you, Professor Nexon. After you read the books - you came out of the bathroom having devoured Goblet[laughs] - what made you think, "Hey, this is an important vehicle for conversions about international relations and poli-sci?" I mean, I have to guess this wasn't a big plus for your ten-year track advisor to Georgetown. I know that because James Thomas at Pepperdine who's taught English there for thirty years told me that he had colleagues come into his office and say, "Really? Are you out of your minds? You're a Faulkner man. You don't do YA kid lit." And he's an English professor who already had thirty years under his belt. How do you as a young guy at Georgetown say, "Oh yeah, I've got something important to say here about political philosophy and Harry Potter." Where did that come from?
DN: So, the long story is that I... one of the things I did on the side was what I like to call following Trevor Barnes post prefix social theory, which means linguistic turn stuff, so stuff that comes out of a continental political theory and continental social theory that actually was most influential in the humanities. So, I kind of did that on the side for a while and that got me mixed up with some people in my field who were working on science fiction and international politics, and that sort of... Stew produced eventually an edited volume called To Seek Out New Worlds for which I wrote a piece on with a friend of mine, on the Borg in Star Trek, looking at the way in which change... sort of looking at how the writers of Star Trek evolved the Borg over time as a way of thinking about threat construction in American foreign policy. So, we did that book and it was fun, but we never felt like the book had really cohered as a major statement of what it would mean to do popular culture in international politics. And there were people doing it, but we wanted to be agenda setters. So, it all sort of went to the side and one year I was asked to be a discussant on a Harry Potter panel at the International Studies Association Annual Convention, and I said, "Sure."
DN: And I got the papers, and I wrote up some comments, and the comments were kind of a framework for how we might make sense of how these papers interact. So, we did the panel and the room wasn't a big room but it was the first panel of the first day which is usually pretty dead, and it was completely overflowing. And the panel was very successful, and I walked out with a good friend of mine - a Norwegian scholar named Iver Neumann, who wound up co-editing the volume - and he said, "We should do a volume." And so we literally wrote up on a laptop a proposal and shopped it around to the book acquisition editors who were at that conference, and they said, "Sure..." or they didn't say sure. We actually had a lot of trouble and we now had some acquisition editors tell us afterwards that they're really sorry they turned it down. But eventually we did find somebody and I thought it would be a good experience to edit a volume, and I thought it would be kind of fun to do this and Harry Potter is, for a variety of reasons we could go into. Just a natural... if you're going to choose a kind of young... any kind of fantasy or science fiction written in the last fifteen or twenty years and try to relate that to world politics, it's hard to do better than Harry Potter. Maybe Left Behind, but since we're not...
DN: ...Evangelical Christians - or since we're not premillennial dispensationalists...
DN: ...Harry Potter was much more up our alley.
JG: I get that.
KH: I do want to dive into the difference of the political science areas of this, but I do have to ask a question because a lot of listeners have wrote into me at various points throughout the time and they say, "Hey, we want to compare Voldemort to Hitler." And to me it's almost a natural comparison when you sit down and you actually think about it. So, let me ask you about some of these story history parallels, if you don't mind. What do you make of the World War II analogies of the Hogwarts saga? Voldemort is Hitler, the Death Eaters are Nazis, Fudge is Neville Chamberlain, Scrimgeour is Churchill, et cetera. Do you think that this is actually a legitimate argument to parallel some of natural history that we study versus the story of Harry Potter?
DN: Well, there's no question that the ideology of the Death Eaters and of Voldemort is fascist and very similar, not just to fascism which is a broader political movement but to national socialism. There's very little question about that. They have a racialist ideology, they celebrate purity of blood, they have a kind of... how do I want to put it? A kind of notion of the followers of Voldemort as a kind of collective force that will purify the wizarding world. Now, Voldemort himself, there's some question about the rate at which for him this is all kind of instrumental or whether or not he really deep in his heart believes everything that his followers do, but we can set that aside. So, I think there's no question that the ideologies at play are fascism against small-l liberalism. But that being said, you could run those analogies and certainly World War II looms even larger for the British than it does for the Americans, so it wouldn't surprise me if those historical figures form a kind of background knowledge that informs the saga as it unfolds. On the other hand, we know that there's a timeline in Harry Potter and that that timeline places the first struggle against a Death Easter-like movement. That is the struggle against... oh my God, I'm going to upset every fan on the planet because I'm now blanking...
DN: ...on the... Grindelwald! Because Grindelwald, the struggle with Grindelwald, is a struggle that was set during World War II, and in fact it is strongly implied that World War II is some sort of a spillover consequence of that struggle, which is something that actually some people have found problematic with the books. So, it can't be literally World War II, but it is certainly playing through themes deep in the British psyche that are related to the Second World War.
KH: What do you think about it, Kara?
KS: I actually... I would absolutely agree with that. I'm not certain that she intended to draw precise, but it definitely informs the story and informs the way that we understand the story, the way we read it and the way we take it in. And I do agree that World War II plays a much - as far as I can tell - stronger role even in current British popular culture and British political discussion than it does in North America, so...
JG: Here's a question for both of you, really. There are no Ministry of Magic heroes in this battle with the Dark Lord. I mean, Rufus Scrimgeour sacrifices himself at the end and doesn't betray the good guys, as it will - the Dumbledore's Army and the Order of the Phoenix when he's killed - but he's a bad guy all through Half-Blood Prince. Is Rowling saying that she doesn't think Churchill is really a hero? That she has problems with him and that... the message of the books seems to be that you have to win the interior battle, the spiritual battle, in order to win the exterior battle. Harry has to triumph within. He has to choose to go for the Horcruxes in obedience rather than the Hallows. But is that... does that play into this political analogy in that she's saying that the Ministry people and the media and such aren't necessarily evil, and that the real battle is the interior one? I mean, how does that play in terms of the World War II analogy, Daniel?
DN: Oh, this is for me? I was going to... I thought we might invert the order of the answer.
[DN and JG laugh]
DN: Well, there were... there was a fascist movement in Britain. It did not have the degree of penetration, obviously, of the fascist movements in continental Europe, but I don't really think that's what's going on. I mean, what's going on for Rowling's...
JG: If I can interrupt there, Daniel, Cornelius Fudge's middle name is Oswald and he was the head of the English fascist movement, so I mean... wasn't he? Wasn't he sort of the brown-shirter for the English?
DN: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
JG: So, there is a note there at least that Cornelius Oswald Fudge points to his being that kind of person. But anyway, forgive me for interrupting.
DN: Sure, I think that's exactly right, and I hadn't even thought about that so clearly you've read the text with much more historical detail than I have. But I think that it's important to recognize that this is not a strict analogy and it won't be very fun or interesting or accurate if we simply map World War II onto the conflict in the Harry Potter world. I think what's there is a broader criticism of existing institutions and a recognition that you can fight an existential evil, but that doesn't mean that your own government, your own state, is going to be pure. And so, I think you might talk about that as an internal, spriritual battle. We might talk about that as a battle over domestic ideology or domestic institutions or the domestic soul rather than the individual soul. But whatever you want to call it, sure. There's a notion here that state institutions... the sort of world of people who are kind of... the normal people... is never going to be pure, is never going to be purely good, is always going to be problematic, is always going to have the seeds of evil within it. And in fact, it's those seeds of evil within the Ministry of Magic and within the wizarding world that enable and give rise in many ways to Voldemort in these novels. So, I think that's exactly right and I think in some respects by the end of the books, what's happening... the critique of the Ministry of Magic is much more interesting than the straight-up struggle against Voldemort.
KH: I want to ask Kara a question because Dan brought something up regarding Grindelwald, and I've often thought about Grindelwald in the World War II era and Dumbledore defeating Grindelwald in 1945 at the same time that the World War II is ending. It's just... can you imagine what Britain and basically the Eastern European countries were like when you have World War II battling on, yet you still have what I would consider Wizarding War I? We don't know much about Grindelwald, we don't know much about how his followers were, whether they were Death Eater type Nazi people or whether they were just something else and it was just him alone. But it was a big defeat at the same time as Hitler, so I wonder if she parallels the Grindelwald story more so to Nazi Germany versus the current day and age of the Harry Potter series. What are your thoughts on that?
KS: I'm not certain if it was just convenient for her to do so, or if it really was intended to be a parallel. To me, it feels like she was using a timeline that was familiar for readers in the real world from our own history. If you were going to create a first war, if you were going to create that, why not place it at the same time that we ourselves placed a great war? That has always been how I've considered that.
JG: That makes perfect sense. Keith, we're going to have to get a World War II historian. I'm going to try and get the guy that wrote Savage Continent about the end of Second World War, and see if he can come on the show. Let's go on to more current events here. The first four books, Kara and Daniel, are written before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the last three novels are published in the wake of those events and the consequent war, American war, on Islamist terror, though the author insists - truthfully, I think - the seven parts were plotted well before the Twin Towers and Pentagon were attacked. Do you see a change in the political story arc between Goblet and Phoenix, reflecting these real-world crises? Do you feel 9/11 reverberate in the story?
KS: I'm not certain that you feel 9/11, but you do feel a sense of fear and you feel a sense of concern about the role of government and the sort of just the gray... the mass psyche, the society as a whole. So, I feel like perhaps the feel of the time transferred into her writing, but I believe her in that the story arc itself was all plotted out. Perhaps it provided a real-world example from which she could draw emotion.
DN: And let's remember a couple of things which is that the British have gone through prior to 9/11 a very frightening time with IRA terrorism.
DN: That terrorism that was sponsored by Libya in other countries in the 1980s reverberate across Europe. So, 9/11 is our moment and our very startling moment of terrorism, foreign terrorism on US soil, because of course we have domestic terrorism prior to that bringing down in the Oklahoma City bombing. But I think what's more important is exactly what Kara said, that it's now impossible to read those novels without the echoes of 9/11 and what's particularly interesting about that is that you didn't need 9/11 to get those kinds of concerns because they were already present for countries that had been dealing with terrorism in a much more real and visceral way than the United States had been on their soil prior to the 21st century.
JG: Agreed. I believe that... was it the fifth book, Keith, that was being released when the subway bombings happened in London?
KH: No, the subway bombings were in 2007. July 7th, 2007. So, that was right as Deathly Hallows was coming out. I know it was July 7th.
DN: I think 2007 is right because didn't they have the fifth anniversary this summer?
JG: Okay, that's great. Wonderful.
DN: I'm not sure though.
JG: I knew it was around a book release and it would make sense if it was around the seventh book release because that was by far the...
KH: No, it's 2005. You're right.
JG: It's 2005.
DN: So, it was Order.
JG: It was the Book 6.
KH: Yeah, so it was Order of the Phoenix.
JG: I said "5", you said "7". [laughs] We'll split the difference.
KH:[laughs] Yeah, we'll split the moots and we'll meet at "6".
JG: So, that... yeah, the books are difficult to read now. We started off by asking about the World War II analogies. I think Kara's generation reads the book and it's much more an atmosphere of our time rather than a historical feel. Am I wrong there, Kara?
KS: I would agree with that. It feels like it's meant to be set in the modern day, and I think that she did an excellent job in not dating the book in any way to any particular time, for the most part.
JG: Yeah, when the bridges are being blown up by the Death Eaters and such at the opening of Book 6, we definitely feel like, "Oh my goodness, they're blowing things up." [laughs] We're used to reading about that in our newspapers, and could this be the dark forces doing this rather than these Islamic terrorists or whatever? There's definitely a front-page feel to that kind of thing. Daniel, in the books we don't get a "the Death Eaters being bad" thing, we get... you would suspect that they would be painted in the big fanged bad guys role that as you said at the Prophecy conference in Toronto where we first met, that you thought Rowling was advocating - between the lines, at least - for a mean or middle ground stance between the two contrary positions about fighting the war on terror, namely the denial of evil, "head in the sand" posture, and "to sacrifice all our liberties to destroy them" policy. Can you tell us what that meant? What that mean or middle ground is, and how it shows in the Harry Potter story? I mean, you talked a little bit about government not being some sort of cardboard good guy, bad guy figure. How do we see the war on terror, or government response to danger, play out inside these books?
DN: Well, it's important to keep in mind that the sort of what I would call the evolution of the Death Eater fight in the books because... from The Goblet of Fire on - at least in The Goblet of Fire through The Order of the Phoenix - the Death Eaters... in fact, into The Half-Blood Prince. The Death Eaters are a terrorist organization, right? They have a self structure, they engage in acts of terror to instill fear, and we see the first real image of that in The Goblet of Fire, right? In the attack on the Quidditch World Cup.
JG: Right, the Dark Mark.
DN: So, they spend time as a terrorist organization, and they provoke a response from the Ministry of Magic, which is itself a kind of reign of terror, right? They provoke suspicion, fear, and they in fact empower the Ministry of Magic to begin to restrict civil liberties and do things to people. I mean, we know it's already done this from the last wave of the dark days because that's when Azkaban is set up, that's when the Ministry of Magic makes its deal with various forces that maybe it shouldn't. So, they provoke the Ministry of Magic into having the capabilities that then when they actually take over the Ministry of Magic, they're able to exploit to really bring about a fascistic role and to try to destroy the last remaining resistance from the Order of the Phoenix, or at least the loose successor of the Order of the Phoenix.
So, this is really a story about how the overreaction... that the terrorists can be really evil. These are really evil people. But the overreaction to them can, in fact, transform the state into something just as bad, or at least a kind of vehicle for state terror. And that's a very sophisticated position to articulate because usually in political debates that developed over the war on terror, you had people who focused on state terrorism and states' suspension of civil liberties who were... would sort of make the argument that, "Yes, al-Qaeda is evil," or, "Yes, the terrorists are evil," but they would really be focusing on what they saw as the wrongs been done by the state as an overreaction, and you had the other side saying, "No, this is an existential threat to our way of life." So, her position is in sense to say, "You are both right," and that's why wars on terror as they are, or struggles against very bad movements, can be quite dangerous. Not just because they are, but because what you do to fight them can bring about its own dangers.
JG: That's great. So, she's saying that both of the positions counter-terrorism are right, but both of them have their own dangers in excess. And she calls for some sort of measured position. Am I mis-stating what you're saying?
DN: No, I think that's right. I mean, I think that her argument is that you cannot put your head in your sand, and in fact the Ministry is mocked for its bureaucratic inaction. But then you cannot respond to the threat once you recognize it by engaging in state terrorism by...
JG: Putting Stan Shunpike in Azkaban with the Dementors because you have to show you're doing something.
DN: Right. Scapegoating people... the strategy we call that in political science is "draining the sea," which is you don't really care if you're getting lots of innocent people because you'll also be getting some of the bad people, too.
JG: I get it.
KS: JKR makes very clear her ideas on how "the greater good" can't be used as a justification for action, and how it's really a very dangerous position to take, to justify things using the idea of the greater good. And it can lead to some very serious consequences, where you're able to pursue action that otherwise would be morally reprehensible, would otherwise be entirely illegitimate, but when oftentimes the idea of the greater good can be used in a way to mask those otherwise morally reprehensible actions.
JG: Yeah, that's perfect, that "greater good" moment, because I think we see Grindewald use those words and yet Harry, in his conversation with Albus Dumbledore's brother in Hogsmeade near the end of Deathly Hallows before the Battle of Hogwarts begins, uses those same words to say, "Yes, we are battling for the greater good," but by that point you've realized that this is not an easy position to take, that it has these dangers in it, and that Harry has taken it... he's taken it from very different reasons because of his experiences with Dobby and stuff. It's... I think we agree, Keith - correct me if I'm wrong - that this is a relatively nuanced and subtle position for a young adult novel with this kind of popularity to take. Am I wrong in that?
KH: No, I think you're absolutely right.
JG: Especially because I think Rowling is known as almost a cartoon liberal. She's famous for her advocacy of liberal causes, candidates, in addition to politically neutral charities, she's chums with Gordon Brown, she gave a million pounds to the Labour Party...
DN: John, we've got to be careful here, though, because she's a social democrat which is not the same thing as a liberal, and I think that European social democrats would be very appalled to hear you call them liberals.
JG: And I want you to clarify that because that's a critical point. Because in the United States, she is perceived because of her endorsement of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama against any Republican. In 2008, she's seen as a one-dimensional politics thing, that she only sees things this way, and yet we see a relatively nuanced politics in both, believe it or not, Casual Vacancy and the Hogwarts saga. If I understand what you said though, Dan, it seems you're suggesting the Hogwarts saga of books are more moderate than liberal - and I want to hear more about this social democratic thing - and maybe even what we call conservative on some points. Explain how I'm right or wrong here, especially this social democrat thing.
DN: Yeah, this is just a hobbyhorse. I actually don't know how she characterizes herself, but if she's tight with Gordon Brown and the Labour Party, she would be much more on the social democratic side of things. The United States has a very stunted political spectrum. Basically everybody in the United States, with a couple of exceptions on the extremes, has really embraced a kind of liberalism. That is, a belief in markets, a belief in individualism, and a belief in kind of a contract theory of the state where the individual is the primary political unit of analysis.
JG: You're saying this is Berkeleian liberalism rather than the strawman liberalism that conservatives use as a bad word.
DN: So, we have these people who call themselves classical liberals in the United States, who are kind of economic conservatives, and that's a little simplistic but it's not entirely right. To be a liberal in the 19th century was to... liberalism emerged as a pejorative, by essentially advocates of monarchical authority and natural hierarchy against those who thought human beings were essentially equal. And so they said, "Well, you're a bunch of liberals because if human beings are equal and there's no natural order of things, then people will run amok and behave in all sorts of immoral ways," which is why John Locke in the Second Treatise says that the state of nature, which is a state of equality, is not a state of license, right? [Which means] that equality does not mean that people will behave horribly or will be immoral or licentious in various ways. So, "liberal" sort of in its very early meaning just means a belief that human beings are created equal, right? Which is, of course, part of the American creed and the Declaration of Independence...
DN: ...and enshrined in the Constitution. So, I subscribe to a view which is common in some interpretations of American history, which says that Americans are sort of "irrational Lockeans"...
DN: ... is the term for basically all... we all sort of buy liberalism, and the big debate in this country is about what moment of liberalism is right? So, a lot of contemporary conservatives say that we had the kind of liberal equilibrium right before, but we went astray. For some people, we went astray at the New Deal, which did import social democratic policies into the United States, or some people say we went astray at the Great Society. But everybody in this country, pretty much, who fits within the political mainstream, agrees that we believe in individual rights, the individual as the political unit, a contractarian view of the state, where the state is there to preserve liberties and is a minimal state, and agrees that... at least pays lip service to a kind of natural rights perspective. But they disagree on how to cash that out, and one of the big disagreements is about whether... so what we call "liberals," which is apparently, I'm told, a term that people appropriated after Teddy Roosevelt destroyed Progressivism as a term. [laughs]
JG: Exactly, yeah. [laughs]
DN: To describe what was before Progressivism, essentially are people who came to the conclusion that the only way to preserve liberalism, what was good about liberalism, against some of its excesses was to regulate markets, regulate trusts, to stop the excesses of the market, right? That would be the New Deal view, is that the unfettered market, in fact, is destructive, ultimately, both to the market and to political liberalism, and so, in order to preserve it, you need to soften its edges and soften its impact. So, that's really the sort of debate in the United States. Everybody adopts a kind of... pretty much adopts a liberal view, they just disagree on what the policy implications are and on what is the kind of ideal state of liberalism. But in Europe, you have a very vibrant social democratic tradition and social democracy is an outgrowth, really, of socialism. And, in some respects, social democratic parties may have evolved from Marxist parties, from Marxist parties that adopted the view that parliamentary competition rather than the revolution of the working class was the way to go. And so, social democratic ideology, although some of the policies do look a lot like some of the policies that liberals in this country advocate, basically, are much more communitarian in their view about what politics are, right? So, it's not about the rugged individual. It's about the community and producing community goods. And that is, I think, not a position... there is a communitarian movement here, but it's not a position that really has strong advocates within the United States.
JG: And we can see this in Rowling's story, in that she really celebrates what the Brits call "Fabian Socialism" - that's a universal - in that she has Molly Weasley's brother... they're Fabians. [laughs] He has the same name as the Fabians. Almost all the people in the Order of the Phoenix have names of members of the original Fabian Society. And, we see this, what you call the gradual change without revolution, instead of "workers of the world unite and call it a revolution," it's "we'll get this by gradual implementation through time." That's not a position that you see people say openly in the United States because of its connections to Marxism, certainly, and yet, Rowling... we would definitely... if you put her into the restricted spectrum, as you called it, of American politics, she would definitely be to the left side of things in this communitarian, Fabian position. Am I wrong in that?
DN: No, I think that's right, and I think... I gave an overlong explanation, but the fact of the matter is that the Democratic Party in the United States is a center-right party by European standards and even a center-right party by the historical standards of the Democratic party.
KH: Well, isn't a center-right party over in England... isn't that the Conservatives and the Unionist Party?
DN: Yeah, the Conservatives are closer... it gets funny, though, in Britain because you do have the Hayekian moment with Thatcherism.
DN: So Thatcherism, right? And, in fact, Cameron has done things that are much further than what Thatcher anticipated, and that's a whole other set of debates. But yeah, the people who call themselves liberals in a European context are much more... they are comparatively advocates of free markets and of minimal government, but their policy prescriptions wind up looking a lot like the mainstream of the Democratic Party over here. [laughs] And there's also no Christian democratic movement here to speak of, which there is in continental Europe, which really changes the political equation. But to come back to that, to Rowling, I think it's why... it's funny, you all started out by talking about Dobby the house-elf, right? And I think it's very central to understanding some of the politics of Harry Potter, that ultimately even the magical world relies on class exploitation, right? On a class... essentially a slave class who gets by on "bare subsistence makes everything run." And not only are they... does it resolve around class oppression or a metaphor for class oppression, but further than that the people who are being exploited have a form of what Marxist would call false consciousness. They don't recognize their own exploitation and that creates dilemmas for people who... very classic dilemmas for people like Hermione who would like them to wake up to their servitude but really looks patronizing [laughs] in trying to get them to do so.
JG: Absolutely, and Dumbledore's... am I wrong in thinking that Rowling celebrates Dumbledore's position of, really, a patronizing condescension to the house-elves to have them all together in one place and to give them good conditions to work in? He's not trying to force a new consciousness on them. He's trying to foster their better ideas of themselves or whatever, but he's not doing the "let's turn this thing over overnight and give these house-elves wands." It's... that's, again, that gradualism that we see in Fabian politics that I think is Rowling's signature. Kara, what do you think?
Kara: I've just been very interested listening to the conversation. Being in Canada, being a Canadian, I think I have a weird middle position. We often times look to American politics in bafflement, though we follow it very closely as a general rule because of the limited political spectrum in the United States. Though, I would say that in recent years Canada has come closer to mimicking that. Given her own personal view of the role of government that was clear in The Casual Vacancy, that she's spoken about, that she truly believes in a government that... she embraces collectivism to an extent, and she embraces the welfare state, she embraces all those things. And yet, she portrays a government that is often times seen as quite evil and awful, while also being a very central role in people's lives in a way that doesn't seem strange. We see very, very few adult people who work in the wizarding world and most of them work for the Ministry, and that isn't presented as anything that would be awed or a problem in any way. She's clearly embracing big government, but big government that is portrayed in a very negative light.
KH: Well yeah, I do see how most of the wizards that come out of school, that come out of Hogwarts, are looking at jobs in the Ministry. In fact, most of the leaflets that they have that they give out deal with Ministry jobs. Even though there's the Healers, the Curse-Breakers, and everything else, it seems like a lot of those leaflets have to deal with different departments in the Ministry. So, it is big game.
JG: I get it. I want to switch the subject here a little bit to foreign policy because I know that Daniel is much more a foreign policy guy than an Americanist, [laughs] as they say in the field. We've got something going on right now, at least the last year or so, this being tagged as the Arab Spring, though it's a series of different movements in different countries. And we've had a...
DN: Yeah, now it's the Arab Fall and the Arab Winter and...
JG:[laughs] That's... yeah, it's going to be at least the seven-book series. This... and most recently, of course, we've had the Benghazi events in which an American representative was murdered by al-Qaida terrorists. What is the... given the anti-appeasement message implicit to Cornelius Fudge and the anti-political posturing thing we have in Rufus Scrimgeour, what do you think Hermione and friends would advocate post-Benghazi about US responses to the Arab Spring?
DN: Okay, I'm going to say something that might infuriate some of your listeners, but I think that...
JG: Hooray! [laughs]
DN: Let's take Benghazi and then let's move out more broadly to the Arab Spring. So, I think that Hermione and... so the heroic impulse would be to rush to the defense, right? To try to rescue the ambassador. And that might make good plot, but I think that probably the moral or ethical compass that we see within Harry Potter would suggest that indiscriminately going into a populated area, guns blazing, is probably not something that they would... that Dumbledore would want them to do, although they might do it themselves. And if they did it, I'm sure that it would all work out wonderfully because they always seem to manage to succeed.
DN: But I do think that there is a kind of constant concern with collateral damage by Dumbledore, probably for his own psychological reasons since his great...
JG: His sister.
DN: His sister's death is a form of collateral damage in his... so anyway, but I think that that's one way of reading kind of where the ethics are. But the ethics are kind of all over, nicely ambiguous. I mean, Rowling raises more questions than she answers in some of these issues. So, I think it's really hard to... this is not the kind of answer you want me to give, but it's very hard to map Potter onto things like the Arab Spring because to be honest, it's not very... it's great on kind of this domestic British struggle, and it's awful on foreign policy, right? It's very hard to figure out how the heck international relations in the Rowling universe works because on the one hand the Ministry of Magic is supposed to be the British Ministry of Magic, on the other hand they appear to have jurisdiction that extends well beyond their territorial boundaries. One of the constant discussions that I have with people when they want to... international relations professors when they want to talk Harry Potter is why there was no American intervention [laughs] to stop the Death Eaters. So, this is a world where there are references largely to international trading standards and sporting agreements but that's sort of it for international politics, and then it's a very British centric world. I do think, though, that if you wanted to think about the Arab Spring in terms of the struggles of people against their government for free freedom, the obvious analogy you would draw would be with the final incarnation of the ex-Order of the Phoenix, the band of rebels that Harry has assembled, leads at some points and is a symbol for fighting against an oppressive government, and the sympathies of Potter are clearly with those people whose rights are being denied by an authoritarian or totalitarian regime.
KH: That's great. I like hearing that. I have a question to throw in here, it's related to this: If you were to take a character from the series - and I don't care which one you take; you could take a whole bunch of them, you have the Dumbledores, the Hermiones, the Harrys, Scrimgeours, Fudges - do you think she relates them to what, at that point in time, would be modern day British government as we compared before?
JG: I can give you more specific than that. I mean, Aunt Marge has been described as being Aunt March from Little Women, that Jo, in that story, has problems with. And there is Aunt Marge, who would be Margaret Thatcher, and she has a little bulldog, she's sort of a John Bull figure. Do you think that... having described where Rowling stands politically, do you think that that depiction of Margaret Thatcher is probably how Rowling feels on the social democratic side?
DN: Well, I'm sure that Rowling probably despises everything that Thatcher stood for. [laughs]
JG: Okay, so...
KH: So, that's a yes!
[JG and KH laugh]
DN: You could ask her, but given where she stands politically... I mean, Thatcher is where it all went wrong for... if you're a social democratic labor supporter living in Scotland, right? Where the major pressure for succession in Scotland now is being characterized along the ways of if we can get away from the Tories we can have a nice, Norway style social democracy with North Sea oil revenue.
JG: I get it, I get it. Did that answer your... was that...
KH: Yeah, that's where I was going. I mean, you have to remember that she was writing these books in the '90s, and a lot of these figures that she has represented throughout the books, the Scrimgeour and everything else, were already formulated in her head in the '90s, so I was wondering if there was a correlation between somebody in the current British government or within the last twenty years that she related to Scrimgeour, that she related to Fudge, that she related to Millicent Bagnold, who was before Fudge.
DN: Yeah, I don't know. I mean, it's... you're stretching my knowledge of British politics and then you're asking me to speculate about analogies that JK Rowling might be drawing. Kara, do you have any thoughts?
KS: I don't. I mean, I don't see the major British political players of the last few decades in these characters. That doesn't mean that there might not be subtle references, but based on my sort of high-level knowledge of British politics, I don't see a way to map the Potter characters onto the...
KH: That's fine. So, basically Rowling created her own world with her own Ministry of Magic, with her own government interactions between who would be the Minister of Magic, and Harry and Fudge relationships, where he's the naive person in government. And then you have the Scrimgeour who is the "I've got to take command and I've got to change this around and we've got to fight these Death Eaters" and all that stuff. And then you have the Shacklebolt, who is what I would consider the greatest leader of them all.
JG: I guess, but how about the Prime Minister who actually appears in the books? The Muggle Prime Minister, who friends in the UK said sounded exactly like, what, Tony Blair? That this was how he will be remembered forever, is the cartoon representation inside Harry Potter. So am I wrong in that, Kara?
KS: Well, the time period is right, and the British public does seem to have quite a very specific caricature of Tony Blair, [laughs] which may or may not line up with the Muggle Prime Minister we see in the books. I can understand how that parallel has been drawn, a hundred percent.
DN: I don't want to sound like a proverbial broken record, but I think that we can make too much of trying to... to some degree it's an interesting exercise to try these mapping analogies, but I think that it actually detracts in some ways from thinking about the politics of the books, and working with the interesting ambiguity that's there. I did want to come back and stress one thing, which is that Americans, I think, don't really have a full understanding of what top-down British bureaucracy is like. I have a lot of friends who now work in Britain and in British academia, and they are just consistently shock by the degree of hierarchy in British public institutions. And that you see laced throughout all of Harry Potter, and one of the things that might be a little bit difficult to work with is the idea that this is... both kind of makes the Ministry when it's dysfunctional really dysfunctional, but it's also kind of normal in just the way that things work, and I think that's sometimes hard for Americans reading the Harry Potter books to kind of wrap their minds around.
KH: That's exactly what I wanted to get into because this is a British book, this is a show that's based on a British book. And even though we're all over here in North America, we have to understand what's actually going on in the writer's mind, who comes from the UK, and what the British government is like over there, and how she might relate or not relate to her characters. So, I'm glad you went into that.
KS: I obviously don't have any experience in the American system, but I believe that my system here in Canada... I live "Yes, Minister" every day, if anyone has... our system very closely maps onto their system. There's less of a public complete disregard for the... we're more deferential. Canadians are more deferential that Brits, and Canadians don't like to make fun of their government quite as much as Brits do, but the hierarchy, the occasional incompetence... though not in those forms. It's not incompetence, but it's the way the system works is the way that I believe I interact with the public service every day. [laughs] So...
DN: The obvious thing that I'm sure you've talked about before is the fact that these are, at heart, British boarding school novels, and I find it just fascinating. Maybe it's American anglophilia.
[DN and JG laugh]
DN: But how much they resonate despite the fact that this is a really alien environment for 99.99999 percent of Americans.
JG: I mean, how many of us have read Billy Bunter books, that really can get... the Enid Blyton type schoolboy novel background that these books are really... it's their whole scaffolding and skeletal system, and yet we love them. We don't get most of the jokes, really, that are implicit to this type of novel, and yet we get it. I'm going to switch gears on you again, Daniel, because I want to get to international relations, [laughs] which is really your field. We were talking basically about the American system and now the Brit system. You were quoted in Time magazine as saying the Potter books - I'm quoting here - are "like a Rorschach blot for people articulating concerns about globalization in their cultural setting." Can you explain what you mean by that with some examples?
DN: So, this was a chapter in the volume I edited that was done by two other scholars, so I'm sort of piggybacking on their work. But in essence, they looked at comparative reception of Harry Potter in Sweden and Turkey because one of the scholars was Swedish and the other one was Turkish. And the interesting thing about the Swedish reception was that it was very caught up... the debates about Harry Potter and what might be wrong with Harry Potter, very much viewed it as a kind of stalking horse, or Trojan horse, for Anglo-American capitalism, right? Understood as being the globalization of the Washington consensus of the American market at the expense of social democracy. And there's a whole line of criticisms of globalization that are not very well known in the United States but are very common overseas, which is that globalization is a cudgel used by governments to break down social democracy, democratic socialism, Christian democracy, and other kinds of approaches to government that allow people to make decisions about their economic system. So, it was very much read in that way, and I find this completely incomprehensible.
DN: I do not understand the argument. But that argument has been made there and there are similar kinds of arguments, sort of new imperialist arguments, made by some French intellectuals. So, in that sense, there's a way in which Harry Potter was such a global phenomenon, and so successful and reached so many people's consciousness, that it became... because itself was an instance of globalization, right? [laughs] It was a commercial product, a cultural product, that went global. And so, it's not at all surprising that some of the public debate and discussion about it became a kind of discussion about globalization and about feelings about globalization. So, that could be about economic globalization in Sweden, it could be about cultural globalization in Turkey and other places where some people argue that Harry Potter was a threat, a kind of invasion of Western mythology and Western folklore and Western fictional folklore and "Isn't ours good enough?" and "Why can't we look to our own stories? Why do we have to look to this British woman's stories?" In other places, it was kind of locally adapted or there were unauthorized versions that explicitly appropriated Harry Potter for local audiences - a very famous example in India - and in other places, it got caught up in what I would call dynamics of globalization against... and I use this term cautiously but "traditional religious beliefs," so that it was seen as a force - in some places in the Middle East where it was actually banned - that promoted witchcraft, which is also caught up in the politics of heresy within certain forms of Islam and certain views. Wahhabism, for example, views Sufism as a kind of witchcraft in some respects and some of the other major sects. So, it got caught up in those kinds of politics, and there it's not so much that people are reading globalization into it, but you're actually seeing dynamics that are quite familiar with globalization going on, surrounding Potter.
JG: That's great. So, basically Harry Potter becomes this litmus strip, if you will - you said Rorschach blot, but it's just as much a litmus strip - but you can gauge people's response to anything that's global by what their take was on this commercial cultural product that swept the world for a decade. And for us, in the United States, because we embrace all commercial cultural products as being just another thing in the marketplace, it was not perceived that way, just as we don't see globalization as a threat because [laughs] we are globalization. Am I overstating what you're saying?
DN: Well, we think of ourselves as globalization. I'm not sure if we really are, but that's a whole other take.
[DN and JG laugh]
DN: But certainly globalization has an American flavor to it, let's put it that way. But I actually think that in a way, it was not using the language of globalization because you spent a lot of your time trying to talk conservative Christians into understanding that Harry Potter was not a threat, right?
JG: Absolutely. [laughs]
DN: And if you look at that debate, that debate was very much the kind of debate... it was a debate about the forces of modernity that are... secular modernity that are going to lead us astray or corrupt us or get our kids to contact demons or what have you, right?
JG: Right. It was a cultural war token, eventually.
DN: Right. But one way to understand that culture war is actually situated within what we call globalization more broadly, right? If globalization is the globalization of commercial culture, a certain kind of western modernity, et cetera, et cetera... if that's part of globalization, then that happens to the west as well, it happens to the United States as well. We just don't recognize it.
JG: Absolutely. Yeah, this is the Christian sect resistance to modernity, is that everything commercial or not inside specific categories comes at the cost of character and your life in Christ.
DN: And we don't necessarily recognize that as much as... it's weird in the United States because so many conservative evangelicals have embraced the market as sort of God's order.
JG: Absolutely. [laughs]
DN: And we don't have what I mentioned, this Christian democratic movement, which would say you can't say that Hollywood and other kinds of commercial cultural sources are corrupting us and causing us to lose our values and our Christian community on the one hand, and on the other hand embrace unfettered capitalism. These are the same things, that would be the argument.
JG: Right. I get it. You're saying that my saying that we were oblivious to it is wrong because the whole Potter panic was evidence that we were going through the same kind of Rorschach experience where we were showing resistance to this globalization internally, and we experienced it as this Potter panic phenomenon that really cast a shadow over Potter mania for at least five of the ten years of the height of Harry Potter.
DN: Yeah. I think it's more complex than that, but yes. What I said was that. [laughs] I would then want to begin academic caveat to death and talk about how, in fact...
DN: ...this is a whole set of debates going back to Augusten, right? And all this sort of stuff.
JG: This is great. Keith, we've run for an hour here and this could go on all night. I love... I met Professor Nexon in Toronto at a Harry Potter conference and I thought... I was actually leading a panel that he was on and I wanted to turn it just into a conversation between him and me on the panel. So, we adjourned the panel and went to a bar, and he introduced me to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all sorts of ideas that I'd never heard of before. Forgive me for turning this into a John and Dan conversation here. Kara, what's your response to this idea of Harry Potter as a Rorschach test for how people experience globalization? Is that a value for political science students who want to use this shared text to say, "Look, you can understand how people see the world differently and how they respond to Harry Potter."
KS: I think it's fascinating. I think it's probably not just true for Harry Potter. It's true of, I'm sure, a whole host of cultural products. But it's [unintelligible] conversation. I don't know that I really have anything that I can add to the conversation but it's a very, very interesting one, and I think that it could be a very interesting field to study further.
JG: Dan, have you seen this with other things? Has there been a Twilight or Hunger Games or any other thing you've seen that has a similar effect? Or is Harry Potter just the one thing that's big enough that you can actually track it across all of these countries?
DN: Well, Harry Potter's global scale is pretty much unparalleled except for the Left Behind series in recent memory, as far as I know. Now there may have been... but I don't think that either Twilight... you'd have to look at the sales figures and adjust them for inflation, but I don't think that either Twilight or Hunger Games have had the same global impact. If they have, it's been through the films less than the books, I believe.
DN: I think The Hunger Games are fascinating and I actually have a book proposal sitting around. You've talked about for the politics of The Hunger Games and in fact whether or not it's global, it's very much central to the lived experience of a lot of my students. For some of my youngest students in college, these books seem to have a kind of stature that was like Harry Potter had five or six years ago.
JG: And do you think they have a similar message about these things? Is she advocating... and I'm going to say that I think she is. She's advocating a relatively nuanced view on war where war seems absolutely justified and yet war comes at horrific costs. It's startling to me that these young adult books have such nuanced presentations of difficult material, where you can have a book that gives almost a Hardy Boys enthusiasm for being patriotic and resisting the evil, and yet give you a All Quiet on the Western Front pitch about the horrors of war. Do you think that the bravery to print that kind of thing in the young adult novel is consequent to the Harry Potter nuance about terrorism and such?
DN: I don't know. I do know... and I would hope that you've talked about this before, but I do know that Harry Potter exploded the YA genre. It really created it...
DN: ...as the central money making genre... I mean money making segment, it's not a genre. I interview science fiction and fantasy authors for the New Books Network, and I've had conversations with some of them where they've talked about how a lot of people see YA as really where the money is now. So, everybody wants the next big YA hit.
JG: YA basically means that there's no explicit sex inside the books. So, it's basically 19th century parameters for fiction that allows the kind of engagement for readers, that allows them to suspend disbelief, et cetera. That's one of my pet peeves, is the whole YA title when it's not young adults reading this, it's all people that want that kind of reading experience from 6 to 60.
DN: We're also skimming the best... we have to be careful because I'm sure that if we got into this, with the exception of some very influential books... I'm not a big Twilight fan, I'll tell you. [laughs] But if we were to talk about some of these books, we'd probably wind up talking about, I think, some of the books that are like Harry Potter, that is that are very sophisticated, layered, and have interesting dynamics. I mean, The Hunger Games is really multi-layered in ways that I find incredibly disquieting. I found the experience of reading it both compelling and unpleasant.
JG:[laughs] Oh, boy.
DN: Which I never found Harry Potter. I always enjoyed reading Harry Potter.
JG: I wanted therapy and medication after Mockingjay. [It was] a profound reading experience, and then to be that unsettling...
DN: Some people called it the... maybe this was one of my grad students, but I think this is more a general thing. It's the first extended young adult trilogy about post traumatic stress disorder.
JG: Absolutely, absolutely. Anyway, but that I think, as you say, Harry Potter... to understand Hunger Games outside the context of a world created by Harry Potter in terms of the political... the ability to speak about political themes, political history, mores, how to react to terror, to access government, to government that doesn't work, et cetera. I mean, all of those things were not surprising or not unwelcome in this kind of fiction because of the world created by Harry Potter. Keith, do you think that's an overstatement or do you think that's fair?
KH: I think that's a really fair statement. I think it's perfectly put.
JG:[laughs] Thank you. I mean, we talk about these books... and I am a Twilight fan, Daniel. I'm not embarrassed to say that. I'm not quite a Twihard, but I'm pretty close.
KH: I'm sorry to hear that.
JG:[laughs] Everybody blushes for poor John when he says that. But these books, Twilight and Hunger Games and Chaos Walking and others, I think they really have their existence largely... and in the Divergent books that have just come out by Veronica Roth - we love those books - those exist largely in the wake of Harry Potter. We're living in a Harry Potter world, even when we're talking about different books. Politically, though, I'm curious about this globalization idea. Really, that's the fascinating takeaway, I think, from this show, is the idea that people have experienced Harry Potter very much as a threat. Sort of as a UK Anglo-American threat to them. Can you say some more about that, Daniel?
DN: Well, I don't know how much I can add to that in terms of... as I said, there is a sense... there is a real valence that the notion of Anglo-American capitalism has in some places in the world where it is a kind of assault on social-democratic values. So, if you believe in social democracy - as you do if you live in Scandinavia, quite likely - [laughs] you are worried about that kind of... the intrusion of that kind of unfettered market, and you're worried that you may not be able to resist it because it is a very powerful system and it is a very successful system in a lot of respects. And so, I don't really... that I found difficult to get because I don't see what in Harry Potter is an advocacy of neoliberalism, which is the preferred academic term for this stuff. One of those academic terms that means everything and nothing...
DN: ...at the same time. But I do think that we just come back to the fact that this is... that it's so successful and it's such a calming currency across so many places where people are literate. And it's got content in it which is distinctively British, which does get into difficult issues of magic and witchcraft, which is always going to be problematic in a lot of places in the world. And also has these political dynamics to it. It's not surprising that people who find something objectionable or imagine something objectionable in them would see them as an example of the way in which their way of life or their culture is under assault.
JG: Is that... forgive me, the irony is jumping out at me. It sounds like the causes of Islamic terrorism and reaction are largely what you're saying people experience when they read Harry Potter in certain places in the world, this reaction to neoliberalism.
JG: Right, but if the Islamic response to the West is a rejection of this globalization of culture in some respects, isn't that what you're saying? That some people feel, even in social-democratic states, about Harry Potter? They're having the same kind of "hey, we don't want that much of who you are rammed down our throats"?
DN: Yeah. This is the thing about... there's this great... I'm going to mutilate it so I'm not going to really try to quote it, but globalization... there's this wonderful phrase by one of the earliest... his name is alluding me, but one of the earliest theorists of globalization - because we didn't really have this as a term until the early '90s; we used to talk about interdependence and stuff like that - which was that it's the universalization of particularisms and the particularization of universalisms, right? And the idea here was that...
DN: What was happening in globalization was we were, on the one hand, getting kind of a development of "we are a world culture, a universal cultural world cities," all that sort of stuff, right? So, in that sense, you have a kind of... things that had been particular. Certain kinds of cultural elements. Whether it's Japanese anime or it's American blue jeans and rock and roll music, which are being... which are particulars but then they are universalized through globalizing processes, and then they are hybridized and all sorts of cool things happen to them, right? So that you wind up with Japanese westerns that... essentially Japanese westerns involving samurai being remade as Americans westerns in Spain by Italian directors and stuff like that.
DN: So, you have that kind of element of it, but then you also have the fact that you have all these universalisms - quote, unquote - world religions, for example. Ways of life that claim universal validity, whether that's the American Creed, which is always claiming universal validity, or whether that the Christianity or Islam or any other religion that claims to be the one true religion. And those things are universalized, so those things... so that's the particularization of universalism. The sudden awareness that there are other competing cosmological world views that have very strong claims... just as strong claims to validity as your own that you are suddenly forced to confront, and that can be very disquieting, and that can, in fact - the argument is - encourage a kind of retrenchment, right? That we see in certain forms of fundamentalism. So, that's the argument. Whether or not that's a strictly accurate causeway, I think it's a useful lens to think about some of this stuff in terms of that... really enough in terms of the Harry Potter effect, right? Which is... if you think about it, it's got universal maxims but it's also a...
DN: ...very particular cultural product.
JG: I love it. I love it. Keith, this is the show we expected. This is knock-the-lights-out stuff. Is there more here? We're sort of running long, but I'm loving...
KH: I have no more. We ran out of my notes a long time ago.
[JG and KH laugh]
JG: Kara and Dan, thank you so much for this. I'm going to let Keith go into his wrap-up because he does this the best, but one more question, though, about what you're doing, Professor Nexon, is... I'm not a big Hannah Arendt fan, but I know that she was really into her science fiction and I see what... she used to say that's the only way to understand America, is to read their science fiction. But I'm excited that men like you in political science departments at places like the School of Government in Georgetown are talking about these things and not saying to themselves these books aren't worth reading. In fact, you're really on the cutting edge of this with new books and science fiction and such, and all the things you cover at DuckOfMinerva.com and that wonderful podcast. This is a very good thing, that people in academia are not the cartoon stuffed shirts that are only reading books written by dead white men hundreds of years ago, but are taking whatever they've learned from those texts and applying them to exciting things and facts on the ground like Harry Potter. So, I know I speak for Keith...
DN: I just want to make a plug here. So, I teach a science fiction and politics class...
DN: ...where we read Plato and Schmitt and Todorov along with watching movies like Avatar, and I have to say that the kind of program you do, I think, is in that spirit, which is that there's no better way to have conversations about political theory or political philosophy than through shared fictional texts that stand on their own as political commentary, but also allow people to think about things... the term in science fiction is cognitive estrangement, right? But essentially to think about political issues from perspectives that they would not have had because the stakes aren't the same because they're imagined universes.
JG: That's great.
KH: Well, that's one of the best things about this show, is that we... like I said in the beginning of this show, is that we're taking the kids who grew up on Harry Potter and who are now in the college academia courses, no matter what their field is, there's a lot of different aspects that they can dive back into Harry Potter and relate to their field in so many different ways, and this show definitely dives into that with them. And what's really neat is just the enthusiasm of all the professors that we've had on the show, all the experts that we've had, and how they take the Harry Potter books and use them in their classrooms, and I can obviously see that you do that great at Georgetown with your science fiction class. It's got to be an excellent class to go into and listen to.
JG: Any chance that Georgetown is going to offer it in their MOOCs program here, Daniel, so we can all tune in?
DN: Umm, we don't have one. [laughs]
JG: Oh, you're not MOOCs yet. I thought...
DN: Not to my knowledge. We have a couple, actually. This is the... our new provost is really into this, so it's the new initiative. It's actually a seminar class so it wouldn't work like that...
JG: You don't want 150,000 people tuning in.
DN: I am totally committed to liberal arts education, which you wouldn't think because I'm talking... Kara, poor Kara, because I won't shut up, but...
DN: I really think it's much more fun when the students do the talking, and when they are working through their own ideas, and that is one thing that's unfortunate about a podcast environment.
JG: Hey, Kara, we've been talking back and forth here and you're the person who actually has just come through not only an undergraduate career during the height of Potterdom, but also a postgraduate career and now a professional career. Is this the kind of conversation that you see around these kind of ideas in academia in Canada, in your experience?
KS: I think unfortunately not. I think... well, I happen to go to a very serious grad school, but I don't think that there... in my experience, there wasn't enough of an embracer, there wasn't much of an embrace of modern popular culture or perhaps popular culture in any real sense in my academic experience. [laughs] I happened to put myself through quite a structured academic experience...
KS: ...but I think that a lot of academia could benefit from embracing these kinds of topics and these kinds of discussions to a broader extent because I do think that it is an excellent way to help engage students today.
KH: If you could take a student and relate something to whatever it is - whether it's Harry Potter, whether it's Star Wars or whatever - if you can relate what they've grown up on into the classroom to teach what they want to teach and refer it back to things like we do here... when we go to Chaucer or to Dickens and everybody else, it's kind of cool to just see how that all relates back and forth to other areas of subjects. I think that's just what is so great about this show. So anyway, to close it all up, I do want to thank Professor Nexon. You can read... he is a co-editor of Harry Potter and International Relations, he is a blogger for Duck of Minerva, and a podcaster on New Books In, so there's plenty of ways to listen and read more about Professor Nexon. And Kara, we want to thank you for coming on the show as our student guest this week. I hope you had a good time.
KS: I had a very good time.
KH: I'm glad you did. Professor, how did we do for you?
DN: Oh, this was terrific.
KH: Good, I'm glad to hear that. So anyway, our next show we're not really sure about. And the reason I say that is we do have our next show scheduled, however Hurricane Sandy decided to come in and wipe out half of New Jersey and New York, and our next professor was going to be Carrie-Ann Biondi, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Marymount Manhattan College, and she got hit pretty hard. So, I think we're going to push her show back one, and try and sneak another one in between those shows. So, at this point in time, our next show is up in the air. Is that right, John?
JG: Yup, I've got somebody in mind, Keith, but you know how that goes. I'll have to nail it down before we can announce it.
KH: So, we're going to scramble for a little bit...
KH: ...and we'll have our next show up in just a couple of weeks, but in the meantime check out all of our past shows.
KH: We want you to get registered for MISTI-Con. Right now they are at about eighty percent of their rooms have been booked.
KH: So, if you are looking to go to MISTI-Con, it is going to be one of the most fabulous conventions you'll ever go to. It's very small, it's very intimate, there's 500 to 600 people and that's it. And before you leave, you end up knowing everybody's first name, and it's just... it's an incredibly good time, something that I am just looking forward to and I know John is as well. You may see both of us there.
JG: Oh yeah. And check out WizardsAtSea.com, too, for... if MISTI-Con is intimate, I don't know what you want to call Wizards at Sea because we'll be on a boat for seven days seeing some of the most beautiful sights in the world and talking Harry Potter.
KH: I think I'm going to have to get a book on that one.
KH: I'm going to figure out how I'm going to get on that ship. I love cruises. So anyway, check out all the stuff on MuggleNet Academia and MuggleNet.com, and also take a look over at the Hogwarts Professor website. If you have finished Casual Vacancy, John has about fourteen posts...
[Show music begins]
KH: ...that last I saw on The Casual Vacancy. They are extremely excellent reads and it dives a little bit further into The Casual Vacancy. If you are a Rowling fan, it's a must read. So, head on over there and check him out. And I think that's going to do it for today's show. So, from MuggleNet.com, my name is Keith Hawk.
JG: I'm John Granger, the Hogwarts Professor and author of The Deathly Hallows Lectures.
DH: This is Dan Nexon, Associate Professor at Georgetown University.
KS: And I'm Kara Szames, recent graduate from Queen's University.