“For the Greater Good”: In Defense of Albus Dumbledore
Throughout the books, fans discovered, along with Harry, the murky past and dubious personality of Albus Dumbledore, a man once generally accepted as a wise mentor. Many of those fans now call his influence toxic and his character irredeemable. Harry and I recoiled when we realized the true extent of Dumbledore’s abuses in the pages of Deathly Hallows. But ultimately, like Harry, I chose to forgive Dumbledore when I realized that his every decision was made according to the motto he shared with Grindelwald. I believe Albus Dumbledore was a good man because he tried to work “for the greater good.”
In young Dumbledore’s and Grindelwald’s hands, this motto caused true devastation. But it was the consequences of Dumbledore’s own vanity and carelessness that allowed him to later wield this motto successfully. The pain of his sister’s death and of the deaths caused by his unwillingness to face Grindelwald forced him to accept responsibility for his actions. He held that pain close throughout his life as a reminder to work “for the greater good.” In short, as he later imparted to Harry, it was his ability to feel pain that became his greatest strength.
But it is Dumbledore’s knack for causing pain that fans take issue with. He asked people to risk everything for his designs, kept his secrets close and his allies in the dark, and sent many friends to their deaths. Perhaps most chilling of all, Dumbledore sentenced an orphaned infant Harry to 16 years in an abusive home. He pulled the strings just right so that Harry would walk willingly to his death when the time came, raising him, as Snape put it, “like a pig for slaughter” (DH 33).
It would seem as though these are the cold-blooded machinations of Voldemort or Umbridge, both of whom relished abusing people. Dumbledore may have manipulated like a villain, but he was never so villainous as to enjoy doing so. Of course he deeply cared; of course it pained him to ask people to sacrifice so much and to see so many die on his orders. But to make the painless choice would be selfish and irresponsible on his part and would have caused far more destruction. Throughout his life, Dumbledore was looked upon as a leader, and thus he took upon himself the burden of making the most excruciating but ultimately necessary decisions for the greater good.
The damage Dumbledore did to Harry is the hardest to stomach. Why did Dumbledore burden a child with a tragic destiny he couldn’t fully explain to him? Harry himself grew increasingly furious as he followed the dangerous, uncertain path Dumbledore laid out for him. He finally chose to trust him completely only to find that Dumbledore had never meant for him to survive. But Harry ultimately realized that the blame for his fate lay on Voldemort, not Dumbledore. Harry was made a weapon, a tool, the minute Voldemort attacked him. Dumbledore is only guilty of immediately realizing that Voldemort had sealed Harry’s fate, of giving him the strongest protection possible, and of using against Voldemort the weapon he created. Could any of us have made the decision to spare Harry’s life at the cost of potentially hundreds more? It took a man like Dumbledore, a good man, to realize that the greater good could not include Harry’s safety, no matter how unconscionable the idea.
In the last chapters of Deathly Hallows, Harry and I came to this realization together. When we met Dumbledore at King’s Cross, we could not truly despise him as we watched him break down crying and implore our forgiveness. Dumbledore was a deeply flawed man who made many grave mistakes, but he used the pain of those mistakes to overcome his arrogance and become one of the few true servants of the greater good. And so like Harry, I choose to remember Albus Dumbledore as a good man.