7 Things Harry Potter can teach us about libertarianism

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If you had come to my apartment looking for me around midnight this past Friday, I would not have been there. I was, like millions of other fans, sitting in a theater chair, eyes glued to the last new Harry Potter movie I would ever see. It was crazy, it was emotional. It was one hell of a ride.

Though Harry Potter is not something that actively informs my libertarianism, I do see a lot of libertarian themes in the books and movies.

#1 Government is ineffective

In Prisoner of Azkaban, the government takes a crack down on Harry’s life because they think there’s a mass murderer after him. Just how effective is Fudge in keeping this thirteen-year-old boy in the home where he’s safe? If Sirius black had been any sort of real threat, Harry Potter would have been dead. When Voldemort returns, Fudge’s reign is riddled with one crucial mistake after another — and that is even after he admits that Voldemort is alive.

#2 Government is cruel

And who replaces Fudge as minister? One known as Rufus Scrimgeour, who makes George W. Bush’s policies on torture, habeas corpus, and illegal imprisonment look humane. He seizes a will and its contents against the law and threatens violence against a 17-year-old if he doesn’t comply with his wishes. Not to mention all the people sent to a prison (where they also torture you) without trial.

#3 One person can make a difference

If Harry Potter had been meant as a statist’s wet dream, Harry would have been a government agent, trained and working for the Ministry of Magic. We would have heard the successes of the Ministry, instead of its failures all throughout the book.

Instead, we get the understanding that one person, or a group of highly motivated people, can make all the difference in the world. We see Harry, Ron, Hermione coming to face with horrible decisions that will effect not just them but their whole society. We see them make those decisions, and they do the right thing. They overcome adversity as individuals and as a voluntary group, and they change everything.

#4 Civil Society can alleviate suffering

No amount of government prodding, sanctions, taxing, or force could have kept the Dursleys from locking Harry in his room, starving him, or abusing him. The only real solution was for Harry to get out of the home. Yet there is no magical orphanage for young witches and wizards.

Harry is taken out of the Dursleys’ every summer by members in his community — the Weasley family. Even though they are dirt poor and have little room for him, these kind souls take this Harry in every summer to get him away from his abusive caretakers. This crucial kind act is a part of civil society — namely, people organizing to help other people. Rowling shows how this is far superior to any option the government could have offered Harry.

#5 Private School Pwns

We all know that private schools are inherently superior to public ones. But what about the fact that not everyone can afford it? Rowling shows us exactly how private schools compensate for this problem — they have private funds to help children who can’t afford it!

When Tom Riddle (AKA Voldemort) finds out he is a wizard, he is a poor orphan boy without a penny to his name. When Dumbledore visits him and says that he can attend Hogwarts, he also informs Tom that the school will allow him to attend for free, and he can have an allowance to purchase books and the other things he needs. Just one of the other perks of private schooling.

Now, just imagine how a non-private school –potentially lead by Cornelius Fudge — would be.

#6 Parents generally do what’s best for their kids

In the Harry Potter world, children under the age of 17 are not allowed to do magic outside of school. This makes sense: magic is powerful. Kids are dumb.

To keep them from blowing themselves or anyone else up, they are fitted with a magical “trace” that tells the Ministry when they have performed magic. However, we find out later that the trace is proximity-based. That is, if a child does magic while around legal adults, the Ministry can’t sort it out. Their parents are left with the responsibility of making sure they adhere to this rule. And, according to Rowling, it generally works out.

#7 Freedom is always the best option

Whether they are fighting the tyranny of Voldemort, restrictions that the school places on them, or the idiotic government, the characters in Harry Potter are always striving against arbitrary harmful rule. They want freedom, and they are willing to die for it. The world is better place when Voldemort is gone, Umbridge is chased out by the centaurs, and when our favorite trio effectively reform the Ministry of Magic (cite: based on Mugglenet interview after the 7th book).

 What does all this have to do with libertarianism?

Freedom of choice, respecting human life, and the pitfalls of government are all central to libertarian thought. The reason why Harry Potter teaches us about libertarianism is because people buy it. People read it. True the book is a work of fiction, but if the society had not been crafted in a realistic way, we would not love it as much. We would not fall into it as much. Harry Potter teaches us that many of the core libertarian ideals do constitute what we would like to see in our world. And that amazing things can happen when government gets out of the way.

What are some other libertarian elements in Harry Potter? What, if any, are statist elements? Do you think the book, overall, is pro-liberty or anti-liberty?

 

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About the author

Gina Luttrell

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Gina Luttrell is the Editor-in-Chief of the libertarian women’s magazine, Thoughts on Liberty. She is an Arts and Entertainment columnist at PolicyMic, and her writings have also appeared in TownHall, The Blaze, and The Chicago Sun Times. She is also a Young Voices Advocate. When she’s not fighting for the future of the free world, she is probably sleeping. She also occasionally reads science fiction and fantasy, plays video games, and tinkers with web and graphic design. She currently resides in Philadelphia, PA. She graduated cum laude from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, GA with a Bachelor’s in philosophy and political science. You can follow her on Twitter and subscribe to her witticisms on Facebook.

  • Michael Shipley
    • http://thoughtsonliberty.com V.A. Luttrell

      BADASS!

  • Clement Cherlin

    #8 Libertarianism, like Hogwarts, is pure fantasy, and cannot function without radically altering the laws of the universe.

    • Brandon

      LOL, hows statism working out there, the US is flat broke……talk about living in a fantasy world. The status-quo is the real fantasy world here!

      • Mike

        Heh, simple minds like Cherlin who cannot see his hand in front of his face will remain that, simple minds.

        • http://thoughtsonliberty.com V.A. Luttrell

          That’s a bit unfair. We don’t know enough about Cherlin to say that he has a simple mind. 

          I do think, though, that it does dodge the issue a bit to say that HP is a pure fantasy world. Think of it this way. It might be even more evidence of libertarianism that universal-law-altering magic can’t make government effective. And that certain things about the world — like economics — are still going to apply.

    • Pete

      I just wish Clement would mention one of the laws of the universe that would have to be changed in order for libertarianism to work. I don’t know of any, and since there are many different forms of libertarianism, this claim seems awfully vague.

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  • Exponent

    *SPOILER*

    Also, Harry destroys the elder wand at the end, *despite* all the good he could potentially do with it, because whether due to changes in himself or due to the next person to wield it, it’s never clear that concentrated power will always be used for good.  Just as a benevolent monarchy can give way to a malevolent monarchy in a short period of time, or when a powerful executive or legislative branch that forces rules onto all that only some want gets replaced in the next election by a different party that forces different rules that others want.

    • http://thoughtsonliberty.com V.A. Luttrell

      EXCELLENT point!

      There have been mentions, also, that Harry Potter is a magical world and not thus isn’t subject to the same criticisms. I argue back, along the same lines as you do here, that the fact that there is magic even further supports the libertarian hypothesis. That is, even with magic, centralized power is incredibly ineffective.

    • Katrina

      In the MOVIE, he destroys it. In the book, he simply decides not to use it, other than to repair his own wand – because his own wand rocks – and intends to make sure that it never falls into the wrong hands again until his  own natural death, after which the wand will die with him.

      Nothing really to do with your point, but just saying.

  • Eq

    #9 The wizarding world uses true money (ie gold and silver), not a ministry approved medium of exchange. 

  • Ceeby

    What is a “Private School Pwns”?

    • http://thoughtsonliberty.com V.A. Luttrell

      http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=pwn
      pwn basically is a typo of “own” commonly used on the internet. So, I essentially said “private school owns.” That means that it’s really awesome. 

      • Ceeby

        Thank you. Thought it might have been a typo so I was looking on the keyboard to see what the word might have been, but I could not figure it out. I should use that “urban” dictionary since I teach high school and I might need to translate some teen speak.

        • http://thoughtsonliberty.com V.A. Luttrell

          No problem! Kids these days. If they say it out loud it will sound like “pown.”

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  • http://twitter.com/Frances_D Frances Drake

    I’m a HP freak. Love the multiple levels of meaning. Something for all ages. I was very interested to read the comments here.  Those of you who like both the fantasy and multiple levels might enjoy a light hearted review that I wrote during the summer: http://frances-writes.blogspot.com/2011/07/harry-potter-and-power-of-poisoned.html.  It’s just for enjoyment sake, although I think the political layers are extremely applicable.

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