“Potterversity” Episode 26: “Learning Defense Against the Dark Arts”

Discover how politics can be both Dark Arts and the defense against them in Harry Potter.



Katy and Emily talk to Dr. John S. Nelson, professor of political theory and communication at the University of Iowa and author of Defenses Against the Dark Arts: The Political Education of Harry Potter and His Friends, published by Lexington Books in 2021, about the politics of the series. John feels that the Harry Potter books “hit you over the head” with the interest in politics exhibited by Harry and his friends, even if it doesn’t seem quite as obvious until the later installments. He revels in the “glory” of political styles available in Potter, which perhaps offers even more options than the real world. Politics exist not only in the Ministry of Magic and other explicitly political environments but also in how we interact with people on a daily basis.

The politics of Potter serve as a helpful teaching tool by providing examples that a large number of students will understand. The political applications of the series seem to extend beyond authorial intent, offering readers ways to approach current affairs. John explains how “politics” is a plural noun, encompassing many kinds that Harry and company learn to recognize. The Imperius Curse, for example, resembles nefarious propaganda, soothing the target and making them susceptible to suggestions rather than violently coercing them into following orders.

We discuss the role of “the fool” in the politics of the wizarding world and where folly borders on “chaotic anarchism” – where anarchic behavior, such as that of Peeves, can produce cascading events that turn small spaces for resistance into campaigns that can undo the accomplishments of a fascist regime, like the environment created by Umbridge at Hogwarts.

Touching on a frequently debated part of the series, we explore the political implications of the epilogue. Was all too well? Is there a sense of conformism rather than radical, and necessary, social reform? Does young Albus Potter’s fear of being Sorted into Slytherin indicate that the House has not undergone much-needed structural change?

We’d love to hear what you think! Please send us an email at PotterversityPodcast@gmail.com, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


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Laurie Beckoff

My Harry Potter journey began in 2000 when I was six and continued through a bachelor's thesis and master's dissertation on medievalism in the series. I'm a Gryffindor from New York City with a passion for theatre, fantasy, Arthurian legend, and science fiction.