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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy

Benjamin Barton: has written an essay on Harry Potter for the Michigan Law Review, the link connects to an abstract of the essay.

This Essay examines what the Harry Potter series (and particularly the most recent book, The Half-Blood Prince) tells us about government and bureaucracy. There are two short answers. The first is that Rowling presents a government (The Ministry of Magic) that is 100% bureaucracy. There is no discernable executive or legislative branch, and no elections. There is a modified judicial function, but it appears to be completely dominated by the bureaucracy, and certainly does not serve as an independent check on governmental excess. Second, government is controlled by and for the benefit of the self-interested bureaucrat. The most cold-blooded public choice theorist could not present a bleaker portrait of a government captured by special interests and motivated solely by a desire to increase bureaucratic power and influence. Consider this partial list of government activities: a) torturing children for lying; b) utilizing a prison designed and staffed specifically to suck all life and hope out of the inmates; c) placing citizens in that prison without a hearing; d) allows the death penalty without a trial; e) allowing the powerful, rich or famous to control policy and practice; f) selective prosecution (the powerful go unpunished and the unpopular face trumped-up charges); g) conducting criminal trials without independent defense counsel; h) using truth serum to force confessions; i) maintaining constant surveillance over all citizens; j) allowing no elections whatsoever and no democratic lawmaking process; k) controlling the press.
I certainly agree with Barton that Rowling is presenting a decidedly pro-libertarian view of the world (by creating a world that is the opposite of what a libertarian would desire) and it will be interesting to see what, if any, effect this has on politics as millions of Harry Potter fans grow up. One aspect of this that is interesting, and very applicable to our world, is how governments respond to threats. Lord Voldemort and Bin Laden share many of the same methods. Both use fear is a primary weapon and both operate from hiding. In both worlds, the threat is ignored as long as possible, even in the face of mounting evidence and then, when the illusion of safety cannot be maintained extreme measures, and an increase in government power are widely touted as the answer to this threat. In Rowling's world at least, this is clearly not the correct answer. Albert Einstein said "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." Rowling seems to present a similar theme in regards to the Ministry of Magic being able to combat Voldemort fully returned when it was so incapable of preventing his return or acknowledging the danger. In the Harry Potter world, it falls to Dumbledore, Harry himself, and other brave individuals, acting on their own to confront (and presumably eventually stop) the threat. Of course Rowling is writing fiction. Fiction is filled with the lone heroes who change the course of destiny while in the real world it is seldom so romantic. Armies, wealth and raw power tend to have a greater influence on the course of history than raw heroism does. (via Instapundit)


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