Harry Potter And The Half-Crazed Bureaucracy

I was going to blog about the libertarian themes in Harry Potter, particularly book V, but it looks like Ben Barton has already taken care of it here (via Instapundit). It begins:

What would you think of a government that engaged in this list of tyrannical activities: tortured children for lying; designed its prison specifically to suck all life and hope out of the inmates; placed citizens in that prison without a hearing; ordered the death penalty without a trial; allowed the powerful, rich or famous to control policy;selectively prosecuted crimes (the powerful go unpunished and the unpopular face trumped-up charges); conducted criminal trials without defense counsel; used truth serum to force confessions; maintained constant surveillance over all citizens; offered no elections and no democratic lawmaking process; and controlled the press?

You might assume that the above list is the work of some despotic central African nation, but it is actually the product of the Ministry of Magic, the magician’s government in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. When Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released this summer I, along with many others, bought and read it on the day of its release. I was immediately struck by Rowling’s unsparingly negative portrait of the Ministry of Magic and its bureaucrats. I decided to sit down and reread each of the Harry Potter books with an eye towards discerning what exactly J.K. Rowling’s most recent novel tells us about the nature, societal role, and legitimacy of government.

I did this for several reasons. First, with all due respect to Richard Posner, Cass Sunstein or Peter Schuck, no book released in 2005 will have more influence on what kids and adults around the world think about government than The Half-Blood Prince. It would be difficult to overstate the influence and market penetration of The Harry Potter series. Somewhere over the last few years the Harry Potter novels passed from a children’s literature sensation to a bona fide international happening.

Second, Rowling’s scathing portrait of government is surprisingly strident and effective. This is partially because her critique works on so many levels: what the government does (see above), how the government is structured, and the bureaucrats who run the show. All three elements work together to depict a Ministry of Magic run by selfinterested bureaucrats bent on increasing and protecting their power, often to the detriment of the public at large. In other words, Rowling creates a public-interest scholar’s dream (or nightmare) government.

Related prior posts:

Harry Potter And The Free Market
Harry Potter And The Sorcerers' Bank

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Harry Potter and Walter

Having not read the book,

Having not read the book, could this be a manifestation of the typical lefty response to the current righty government in both the UK and US? The realization that government is tyrannical and abusive, but that everything would be better if only we had the right people in power.

I decided to sit down and

I decided to sit down and reread each of the Harry Potter books with an eye towards discerning what exactly J.K. Rowling’s most recent novel tells us about the nature, societal role, and legitimacy of government.

And you decided this would be worth your time because...?

Cornelius - Except that

Cornelius - Except that Dumbledore turns down an offer to head the Ministry of Magic, because he feels he can accomplish more as an independent. The protagonists in the books make it very clear that operating independently, using your own morals as a guide to choose which rules to follow and which to break, is the way to go.

Dumbledore's power is exerted by teaching young people, the Ministry's by telling them what to do.

Dumbledore’s power is

Dumbledore’s power is exerted by teaching young people, the Ministry’s by telling them what to do.

I can't resist; so Patri, does this mean libertarians should approve of professors like Hoppe who take "stolen money" from the state? Or is being a net tax recipient not very much different than working for a corporation or small-business?

Is Hogwarts a public school?

Is Hogwarts a public school? I don't think its source of funding was every made clear.

Deficit spending, probably.

Deficit spending, probably.