Ministry of Magic as the Authoritarian State

by Dave Wood

The Ministry of Magic had a large part to play in the first five Harry Potter books, particularly in the Order of the Phoenix. It can be conceived that the Ministry will continue to play a key role in the next books, with the back drop of Voldemort’’s return and rumours that there will be a new Minister in place, at some point.

A small number of monologues on the “politics of Harry Potter” have been presented on various websites; this work contends to establish that the Ministry is the Authoritarian State of Great Britain, in the wizarding world, and examines this Leviathan hand of government. In consideration of the books, a lot of questions regarding how the Ministry works are left unanswered: what is the relationship between the Ministry, the population, and the world; how are the Minister and other aspects of government selected; what “parties” exist; how does the Ministry use and abuse its power.

First, the political culture of the wizarding world in Britain will be examined. The general culture in the books seems to reflect that of the country the wizarding world is superimposed on and the country in which the author grew up. In the first instance, the “Ministry” itself seems to reflect a “ministry” of the UK muggle government. In the UK, a ministry is a body of civil servants tasked with looking after an area of public affairs and headed by a minister, who is an elected person appointed to the role by the Prime Minister. In the same way that the muggle “ministry of health” looks after all aspects of public health, the “ministry of magic” seems to control all aspects of magic performed by the wizarding community–such as regulating magical creatures, law enforcement and transportation.

It is reasonable to assume that the civil servants in the various “departments” of the ministry (detailed on various websites) are all appointed by senior civil servants, and ultimately by the Minister him- or herself. The obvious question would be: is the Minister of Magic elected?

There is no evidence of any form of elections in the wizarding community. There is no reference made to any “legislative” body from which a Minister could be drawn. In a departure from the “muggle world” of politics, potential Ministers can be drawn from within the civil service itself–for example, heads of department Cornelius Fudge and Barty Crouch. There is, similarly, no Prime Minister or Monarch evidenced who could appoint the Minister. In the absence of the previous, it is reasonable to assume both that the Minister of Magic is Head of Government and Head of State, and that he or she, with no cabinet to guide them, controls the government in more of a Presidential than Ministerial fashion.

How, then, is the Minister appointed? We have established that there is no higher power (including the International Confederation of Wizards, considered later), or system of elections in place to appoint a Minister (especially as the books state that Albus Dumbledore was previously “asked” to become Minister). It is also improbable that the Ministry officials “below” the Minister could select him or her. The only public body mentioned in the books that exists apart from the Ministry, and indeed can overrule him or her, is the Wizengamot. The Wizengamot appears to act as the single “judicial” body of the wizarding community. In Anglo-Saxon times, Wizengamots generally advised the Monarch. It seems logical that the Wizengamot may indeed “appoint” the Minister, and with pressure from the public and media (such as the Daily Prophet), have the power of a “vote of no confidence” over him or her. The Wizengamot itself is presided over by the Chief Warlock (a position previously held by Albus Dumbledore) and is most likely either self-appointing, or appointed by the Minister, as vacancies arise. The Wizengamot may even be responsible, with the Minister, for making laws. This dual role is similar to the erstwhile powers of the UK unelected House of Lords.

The Wizengamot has been in existence for a number of centuries. This illustrates the “age” of the wizarding political system. Presumably, like the UK, the wizarding community has never fallen victim to revolution and espouses the same gradualism of the UK culture. This would help to explain why the Minister is not elected, because the system has not evolved to model modern democracy. Additionally, since the Ministry is so large, and the population so small, it is reasonable to assume that quite a number of the population are Ministry employees and lack the political will to change the system. For example, when Ministry employees were dissatisfied during the second rise of Voldemort, they were forced to join the secret Order of the Phoenix due to fear of challenging the Ministry openly.

Earlier, the International Confederation of Wizards was ruled out of the role of appointing the Minister. The ICW seems, by virtue of its name, a loose federation of countries. The ICW is evidenced, in the books, to act in certain areas of “creature rights,” but it does not seem to have any directive power over member countries. Indeed, Albus Dumbledore was the Supreme Mugwump of the ICW, a part-time role, and did not seem to have the power to force the Ministry’s hand over the return of Voldemort before his removal from the position.

One final consideration of Ministry operations is that of political parties and representation. The Ministry and wizarding community appears to be free from parties. Indeed, if there are no elections there would seem little impetus for party formation. It is not inconceivable for political cultures to operate without parties, as evidenced by various societies with a population of less than half a million that exist without parties. Some consequences seen in these societies can also be imagined in Harry Potter: the role of personality, the power of personal influences (e.g. Lucius Malfoy), the large volume of critical coverage and, ultimately, influence of the press (e.g. the Daily Prophet), the alienation of a large portion of the electorate and the existence of informal factions.

These latter two ideas lead to the apparent informal factions of “pureblood-philes” and “pureblood-sceptics.” The former group would include members of the Order of the Phoenix and many key players in the books, and the latter, in effect, represents the ruling hegemony in the Ministry, including Cornelius Fudge and Lucius Malfoy. The former are prevented, by the latter, from taking any important positions in the Ministry–for example Arthur Weasley. Presumably, the same applies to many “mudbloods,” who possibly make up much of the population disenfranchised from the Ministry. Conversely, it is the ancient and pureblood families that seem to have most involvement and influence. Indeed, many of those who believe Lord Voldemort had returned (before the end of book five) were mudbloods or muggle-sympathisers, while those who purported to believe he had not returned were pureblood mudblood-sceptics. The power of those who are against rights and education for muggles and mudbloods should not be overestimated, however. Mudbloods are admitted into Hogwarts, after all, and muggles are protected and there is an open dialogue between the Minister of Magic and the Muggle Prime Minister. This is possibly the reason why so many wizards entrenched within the ruling elite became Death Eaters when Voldemort offered a “new order” of victimization of muggles and mudbloods. Mudblood alienation from, and possible resulting dissatisfaction with, political society may form a part of future books. Indeed, rumors abound that a future book (presumably book seven) will be titled Harry Potter and the Mudblood Revolt.

The final aspect of Harry Potter politics to consider is the ability of the Ministry of Magic to abuse its power and the possible effects that might have. Various abuses of power were evident in the Order of the Phoenix, mainly levelled at Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter. The Ministry brought pressure on the press–in the form of the Daily Prophet–to demonize Harry and cover up Dumbledore’s claims that Voldemort had returned. The most overt abuses were the Educational Decrees imposed on the school to create an authoritarian and unjust regime by a Ministry official: Dolores Umbridge. This regime victimized Harry and Dumbledore, and ultimately favored the Slytherins, the house that reflected most the ruling hegemony in the Ministry. The full Wizengamot tried Harry in book five, but instead of being presided over by the Chief Warlock and other members of the Wizengamot, two Ministry officials and the Minister himself presided. This illustrates an absence of separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive branches, which leaves the system open for abuse. Indeed, in Harry’’s trial, the ministry officials pushed hard for a conviction and were only defeated by Dumbledore’’s residual friends on the Wizengamot and Dumbledore’’s ultimate knowledge of wizard law.

The full extent of the consequences of these abuses will likely unfold in book six. The population were willing to “go along with” the authoritarian Ministry when Harry Potter and Dumbledore were discredited and when students’ mail was intercepted. At the end of book five, Harry and Dumbledore were proven right. The discrediting of the Minister, senior Ministry officials who are purebloods and Death Eaters, and that of Lucius Malfoy will follow. In light of this development and full accounts by students to their parents of the atrocities committed by the Umbridge-Ministry regime at Hogwarts, an outcry may follow. The aforementioned hints of Cornelius Fudge being ousted as Minister of Magic may not be the full extent of the “fallout.”

As the UK muggle government reformed as a result of abuse and public outcry, the same may follow in the wizarding community. If the “Mudblood Revolt” does occur, the extent of reform may bring the Ministry in line with the political system they, and their parents, grew up with before their first letter from Hogwarts arrived on their doorstep.