Harry Potter and the Politburo of Magic

England: It is the birthplace of modern representative democracy. Many of the ideas that the United States was founded upon had come to the 13 Colonies from Britain. At a time when most of Europe was ruled by absolute monarchs, England had a government with a limited executive, political representation, and guaranteed rights. England was built on a political system based on rights and representation. Therefore, it is quite disturbing that the British Isles are also home to one of the most dysfunctional oligarchies in Europe. I am naturally talking about the Ministry of Magic.

ImageBecause this emblem doesn’t look vaguely sinister at all

Throughout books 5, 6, and 7 of the Harry Potter series, Harry & Co. find themselves increasingly at odds with the generally incompetent and vaguely sinister Ministry of Magic. By Deathly Hallows, Team Voldemort has so thoroughly infiltrated the wizard government to the point where has begun to “disappear” people it doesn’t like. Except this isn’t some third world country we’re talking about. It’s the United fracking Kingdom! How does this bloody happen? The Answer: Lack of Political Accountability.

Somehow England, the location of the mother of parliaments, has given us possibly the worst form of government known to man: a corrupt oligarchic bureaucracy, dominated by party insiders and career bureaucrats that answer not to an electorate, but other party insiders and career bureaucrats. In short, British wizards have a system of government that would seem more fitting in the USSR than in the UK. Good job.

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Coming soon: Harry Potter and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat

First and foremost, the Ministry of Magic is not a democracy, but an oligarchy. The levers of power do not lie with the average wizards and witches of Britain, but within a highly concentrated group of political insiders (the Nomenklatura). This group of influential wizards and witches are those high ranking officials within the Ministry that set the agenda. They have earned these positions not through elections, but through their ability to game the system.

Let us begin with the obvious question: Who is the Ministry accountable to? In any Parliamentary system, like the one that governs most of Great Britain, the executive is accountable to the legislature, who is in turn elected by the citizenry. This ensures that the executive tasked with enforcing and enacting the laws is held accountable by the representatives of the people. This has been one of the foundational principles of the British constitution going back to the 1700s.

Yet this is not the case for the Ministry of Magic. At no point is their any mention of a wizard parliament that selects the Ministry. So it would seem that the Ministry is accountable to…itself? Where is the source of its legitimacy? The Ministry has its own internal hierarchies and mechanisms, but they seem to remain largely unaffected by any input from the average wizard or witch. At least the Soviet Union held elections. Granted you could only vote for the candidate nominated by the Communist Party, but even doing that resulted in more civic participation than was required by the average British wizard or witch. All politics in the Ministry are internal.

A clear example of this is the position of the Minister of Magic. Like his muggle counterpart, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, he must maintain the support of the government to stay in office. It’s clear from the example of Cornelius Fudge that the Minister of Magic can be ousted from office by a vote of no confidence. But the question then becomes: Who is doing the ousting? In the British Parliament, it’s elected MPs. In the Ministry of Magic, it’s simply the Minister’s selectorate.

Vocab Corner: In a democracy, the government is chosen (and is therefore accountable) to the electorate, the body of eligible voters that make up the state’s citizenry. However, in non-democracies, the leader of the state must rely on the support of a selectorate. These are the influential groups in an autocracy from which the dictator draws authority. The selectorate could be the army, the church, a cabal of rich oligarchs, the party. As long as the leader can maintain the support of their selectorate, they can stay in power.

Who is the selectorate for the Minister? We’re never really sure. We know that Fudge has lost their confidence at the start of book 5, but who are they? And on that note, who selects Rufus Scrimgeour as the next Minister? Is there a committee? Does it work like the USSR’s Politburo? Is there a line of succession? We don’t know.

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Scrimgeour barley edged out Leon Trotsky to become the next Minister of Magic

The Ministry also seems to be filled with apparatchiks, members of the bureaucracy that gain their positions not through skill or competence, but by the very nature of being political insiders. In the Ministry, the poster of these apparatchiks is Dolores Umbridge. Over and over again, she receives appointments (Professor of Defense against the Dark Arts, Hogwarts High Inquisitor) not because of her qualifications, but because of her personal loyalty to Minister Fudge. Just like in the Soviet Union, political advancement in the Ministry of Magic comes from ones ability to work the internal politics.

Another terrifying aspect of the Ministry is its lack of an independent judiciary. In all of Harry’s dealing with the Wizengamot, Britain’s highest wizard court, it seemed as if the court was highly susceptible to influence from the Minister’s Office. Its members also seemed to hold other (executive) positions in the Ministry. So now, not only does the Ministry create and enforce the law, but it is also has the power to interpret the law. That’s never a good combination.

Like most good Soviet-style governments, the Ministry also comes complete with its own official mouthpiece: The Daily Pravda…I mean Prophet. Disturbingly, this newspaper 1) only seems to publish what the Ministry wants it to and 2) seems to be the only newspaper of note in the wizard community. The wizard community lacks independent reputable new sources, which are vital to civic engagement.

This discussion doesn’t even address the issue of having two separate governments occupying the same geographic space. Do wizards vote for MPs in Britain’s Parliament? Does the Ministry of Magic draw its legitimacy and prerogatives from Her Majesty the Queen? Can a Wizard be tried in a Muggle Court and visa-verse?

The point is the Ministry of Magic is an unelected clique that possesses legislative, executive, and judicial powers, not to mention the obvious fact that they are also all magic and can mess up our day if we make them angry. Due to the lack of an elected parliament or and independent judiciary, this clique is not subject to any kind of political scrutiny. All reform, if it exists, must come from reformist elements within the Ministry, which still means it is lacking in political legitimacy.

ImageJohn Locke is saddened by the Ministry of Magic’s lack of legitimacy

And the most tragic element of this entire situation: British wizards don’t realize any of this, since political science is not a class offered at Hogwarts.

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2 Responses to Harry Potter and the Politburo of Magic

  1. Pingback: I’m pretty sure I have a new favorite blog | Cirsova

  2. aspenlinmer says:

    Good analogy and interesting connections.

    Thanks for sharing!

    ~Aspen

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