Harry Potter and Muggle Fly-Over Country’s Conservative Stories


In a recent New York Times column, Ross Douthat offers similar “topic nobody mentions” analysis of the Harry Potter universe to those reviews pointing out that nobody ever discusses how the robots in Star Wars are basically slaves.  Starting out comparing the simplistic good versus evil vision of liberals (“tolerant progressives and wicked reactionaries”) to the central conflict of the novels, Douthat goes on:

But I’m not sure that sort of Manichaean vision is actually the most important political teaching in the Potter novels.  Because if you take the Potterverse seriously as an allegory for ours, the most noteworthy divide isn’t between the good multicultural wizards and the bad racist ones.  It’s between all the wizards, good and bad, and everybody else — the Muggles. …

… nobody actually wants to see the mass of Muggles (as opposed to their occasional wizardish offspring) integrated into the wizarding society.

Even the most radical of “progressive” wizards doesn’t advocate for opening up Hogwarts’s enrollment, just as nobody wants to make Harvard less exclusive.  Indeed, the magic community has strict rules about letting Muggles know that magic exists.  One might say it’s for their own good — because knowledge of magic would explode their understanding of reality — but could it really be that the magical know that the Muggles will investigate and organize in their own interests, and in one way or another, being magical would cease to be quite so special?

So, about the most open-minded one gets in the novels is Mr. Weasley and his fascination with the ways in which Muggles innovate in order to get around their lack of magical capabilities.  The Muggle world, then, is like a global fly-over country within which somebody produces a magic-capable child but is generally in need of the patronage of the mystical elite.

That interesting point ultimately comes back to what I believe to be the most significant political lesson of the novels — namely, that even progressive writers can’t help but write conservative stories, suggesting that progressivism cannot be fundamentally correct.  Consider that the happy ending involves the heroes all entering into traditional marriages and having children, thus performing the profound role of continuing the species and passing along the world from one generation to the next.

Consider also the implicit reality, in the novels, that a spiritual dimension exists.  And that friendship, loyalty, and hard work still matter, and that bureaucracy is stultifying and easily corrupted, and that the rules of the central planners tend to serve iniquitous interests, and moral actors must break them whenever they, individually, think it necessary.

Without these qualities, the Harry Potter novels wouldn’t have been anywhere near so successful, because they wouldn’t have rung so true.  Sadly, many people want to impose on real life a worldview that doesn’t even work in fiction.

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