Harry Potter
and the Empire of Evil

the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling

There is no good and evil,
there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.

Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
[Scholastic Inc., 1999, p.291, cf. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)]

Imagine this scenario:  Two teenage boys are walking home late at night. They take a shortcut down a dark alley and find themselves set upon by murderous assailants. One of the boys draws a weapon and drives off the attackers. When the authorities learn of the attack, they threaten the boy with legal sanctions and inform him that an official will arrive shortly to seize and destroy his weapon.

This kind of event is similar to many that happen in today's Britain, where self-defense has been all but prohibited. Citizens are now required not to resist criminals. Carrying anything that can be used as an "offensive" weapon is prohibited, and since anything that could be used as a defensive weapon, even a hatpin, could also be used offensively, the carrying or use of defensive weapons is effectively prohibited also. A British citizen has even been arrested for holding burglars at bay with a toy gun. A British citizen has been sentenced to jail for carrying knives in his car -- knives that he actually used to cut the string on newpaper bundles, since his business was to deliver newspapers. In an infamous case, fortunately later reversed, a citizen who shot and killed a burglar in his house was sentenced to life in prison. In California, a burglar in an occupied house is presumptively taken to represent a deadly threat to the occupants, and deadly force is prima facie justified. In British law, it used to be the case that anyone killed in the commission of a felony was justifiably killed. In California law, again, if one accomplice in the commission of a crime is killed by civilians or the police, the other criminal(s) can be charged with murder.

The scenario I have described above, however, is not from the newspapers. It is an event that takes place at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling [Arthur A. Levine Books, 2003]. Harry and his thuggish cousin Dudley are attacked by dementors, horrifying Grim Reaper-like beings who are prepared to kill Harry and his cousin by sucking out their souls. The weapon he carries is his magic wand, which he is not supposed to use while on summer vacation, being a minor. He is allowed, however, as other British subjects (non-magical "Muggles") are not, to carry the wand and to use it in self-defense. The authorities, in this case the Ministry of Magic, do not wish to believe that Harry has actually been attacked; and even though they back down on seizing his wand immediately, they require a hearing on their charges, of his using magic illegally. The hearing, as it happens, is a kind of Star Chamber proceeding, with no counsel, no jury, no spectators, no presumption of innocence, and a chief judge (the Minister of Magic) who acts as prosecutor as well as judge. The time of the trial is moved up at the last minute, with the obvious motive of proceeding without Harry, his defense, or his evidence, and convicting him in absentia. Magicians in Britain, although apparently allowed to carry weapons and act in self-defense, nevertheless do not benefit from the most elementary legal protections of the Magna Carta or the English Bill of Rights. We happen to know in the book that, deliberately or not, the actions of the Ministry are directed or manipulated by a conspiracy designed to destroy opposition to the return of Voldemort, the Dark Lord -- the ultimate agent of evil in the Harry Potter stories (and little inferior in stature to Darth Sidius in the Star Wars movies or Sauron in The Lord of the Rings).

Harry's defense of his person, so contrary to the actual legal situation in modern Britain (though that situation is hinted at in chapter titles of the "Defense Against the Dark Arts" textbook used by Professor Umbridge, e.g. "Non-Retaliation and Negotiation", ibid. p.666), is revealing of the dark and serious themes in the Harry Potter books, which now number five:  Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone [1997, note], Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets [1999], Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban [1999], Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire [2000], and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix [2003]. In the press and in public discussion, these are children's books. However, Rowling has made few concessions to the politically correct and feel good criteria of most children's literature today. The story is as dark and threatening as any wolf in Grimm's Fairy Tales -- traditional literature that is now generally regarded as too frightening and (politically) prejudicial for young children. This may actually help account for the popularity of the Potter books. Children, especially those getting as old as Harry Potter himself (pre-teen and teen), are not dumb. They know when they are being spoken down to or patronized. Not only is there none of that from Rowling, not only is the language pitched at a literate level, but there is definitely a sub-text of non-trivial adult themes and issues. These become more obvious as the series progresses. Indeed, the themes in Harry Potter seem rather more serious than those in the comparable adult fantasy stories of the magical land Xanth (which looks rather like Florida) by Piers Anthony.

As the story has developed, we know that there is a conspiracy on behalf of Lord Voldemort; we know that some people are definitely in it (the "Death Eaters"); we know that some people are definitely against it (the Order of the Phoenix); and we don't know, for certain, about many other people. As Order of the Phoenix begins, the Government, in the person of the Minister of Magic, denies that there is a conspiracy or that Voldemort is a threat (or even exists). The Government is therefore actively trying to obstruct and discredit the people who are alive to the threat and who have called for action against it, with the identities of many of the Death Eaters in hand. The Government thus functions as an effective ally of Voldemort, intentionally or not, believing and corrupted by known Death Eaters.

Once upon a time, there was a situation much like this in Britain and America. Agents of a mass murderer of the first rank in modern history, Josef Stalin [note], including native born British and American sympathizers, had infiltrated the British and American governments, passing along information of the most secret and damaging sort, like plans for the Atomic Bomb, to the Soviet Union. Although much of the evidence was available to them, for many years the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations refused to believe that Stalin would spy on the United States or that the exposed agents could possibly be guilty of what they were doing. In Britain, the most infamous spies, Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, John Cairncross, and Anthony Blunt, were right out of the University Old Boy Net of the British elite (rather like the Malfoys in Harry Potter -- a marvelous name, mal "bad" foi "faith"). Once exposed, there has never been any doubt about their guilt. In the United States, however, Communist spies became a political issue. Since it was Democratic Administrations that were slow and defensive about acknowledging and awakening to the threat, Republicans responded to the political opportunity, as Democrats fought a rear-guard action to dismiss or downplay the danger. Thus, even today, there is a block of "liberal" opinion that still denies the guilt of spies and traitors like Alger Hiss or Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Those who publicly exposed the spies or raised the alarm about the degree of Soviet penetration into the United States Government, like Richard Nixon or Joseph McCarthy, are still vilified by "progressive" opinion. Even Harry Truman, who initially defended Hiss, but later oversaw the prosecution and conviction of the Rosenbergs (who were executed shortly after Eisenhower became President), today tends to be dismissed as a sucker for anti-Communist hysteria -- the famous "witch hunt" of "McCarthyism." Unfortunately, we now know from the Russians themselves, from Soviet archives and surviving officials, that only about half the Soviet agents in the United States were ever identified, and that those who were exposed and caught were all guilty. The thing about the Salem Witch Hunt is that there were no witches. But there actually were Communists; and the rhetoric that continues even today about the evils of "McCarthyism" is merely an echo of the propaganda and misdirection that attempted to protect spies and traitors at the time. Some people may acually have believed that there were no spies or traitors, but it is high time that they wised up. They have no excuse now.

The stark dualism of good and evil in the Harry Potter books, with a few ambiguous or uncertain characters, like Professor Snape, is much that like in the Star Wars movies or The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This is often regarded as infantile, and it is one of the reasons why the cultural elite disparage these works -- and why the Harry Potter books can be safely dismissed as children's literature. When President Ronald Reagan famously characterized the Soviet Union as an "Evil Empire," the snickering from the elite was palpable. Among those who did not think it was funny or absurd were the people of Russia and Eastern Europe. To them it meant hope -- hope that was realized no more than ten years later. As it happens, there is a simple criterion of good and evil in recent history:  monsters and tyrants commit mass murder, unrestrained by niceties like trials, laws, or human rights. When the cultural elite regards good and evil as naive, and then goes to pay their respects to Fidel Castro, both their moral judgment and moral sincerity are open to question. When Josef Stalin starved and slaughtered millions, but Truman is condemned for the execution of two people rightly found guilty of treason through due process of law, while Joe McCarthy is denigrated worse than Stalin, for killing no one, there is a very peculiar reversal of values involved. And when Soviet propaganda (and its ideological successors) dismissed the trials, laws, and human rights of the Western democracies as smoke-screens for capitalist oppression, it is not hard to tell that we have fallen into a very twisted moral universe.

In the Harry Potter books Lord Voldemort himself was once defeated, curiously by Potter himself as a mere infant. But the evil came back. Today, even though the Soviet Union fell in 1991, the radical Left has again revived, with its same old arguments and same old values. Marxism, we now learn, was never really tried. The new Marxists (or, actually, many of the old Marxists), however, have an unlikely ally:  the anti-Americanism, anti-capitalism, and anti-Semitism of radical Islâm -- what I have called "Islâmic Fascism." After all, the 9/11 attacks were against "imperialism" and "globalization." The very first American I saw interviewed on television who was willing to defend the attacks dismissed the victims in the World Trade Center as financiers. Capitalists. In this way the Evil Empire lives. That in power it would be just like the old Empire is already obvious from the way that the politically correct behave on American university campuses:  speech codes, star chamber trials, harrassment, vandalism, and violence, tolerated by university admnistrations, against contrary opinion and speech on campus (like the Inquisitorial regime of Professor Umbridge at Hogwarts School in Order of the Phoenix). It is unmistakably the same bunch -- the Death Eaters. In law, we have the "gun control" movement, whose purpose in the United States is as obvious as its consequences are in Britain:  the denial of the right of self-defense, with an attendant soaring crime rate, which the (British) Government addresses with proposals to abridge historic rights concerning double jeopardy, self-incrimination, and even habeas corpus. The Ministry of Magic couldn't do it any better.

J.K. Rowling has already announced that there will only be seven Harry Potter books, one for each of his years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This leaves two books to come. Since it took three years for Order of the Phoenix to come out, we might not get the whole story until 2009. Presumably Harry will survive, Voldemort will die, and good will triumph. Meanwhile, what will happen to free enterprise, private property, and civil liberties among Muggles is anyone's guess. In real life, things do not look much better than they do at this stage in Harry Potter's story.

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Copyright (c) 2003 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Harry Potter and the Empire of Evil, Note 1

The first Harry Potter book in Britain is Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. In American publication, this was altered to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. There are even separate versions of the 2001 movie made from the book that preserve the difference. I have not noticed any explanation for the change and find it puzzling. Anyone who has done any reading about alchemy, whether ficitonal or non-fictional, is likely to have heard of the Philosopher's Stone. This was not made up by J.K. Rowling. "Sorcerer's Stone," however, was made up, by publishers, editors, lawyers, movie studios (i.e. Warner Brothers), or whoever happens to be behind the change. Were Americans regarded as so stupid or ignorant that coming across the word "philosopher" was expected to perplex them? We know from Theodore Dalrymple [Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass, Ivan R. Dee, Inc., 2001], however, that recent British youth is at least as ignorant as American youth, both as the fruit of dumbed down public education (itself parodied by Rowling in the course content of Professor Umbridge's "Defense Against the Dark Arts" class in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). So the thinking here, if any, is mysterious. My recollection is that I originally heard about the Philosopher's Stone reading Walt Disney comic books back in the 1950's. If true, this would mean that calling recent education "Mickey Mouse" is actually too generous, and an insult to Mickey.

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Harry Potter and the Empire of Evil, Note 2

DictatorIdeologyCountryYearsDeaths
Joseph StalinCommunistSoviet Union1929-195342,672,000
Mao Tse-tungCommunistChina1923-197637,828,000
Adolf HitlerFascistGermany1933-194520,946,000
Chiang Kai-shekMilitarist/FascistChina1921-194810,214,000
Vladimir LeninCommunistSoviet Union1917-19244,017,000
Tojo HidekiMilitarist/FascistJapan1941-19453,990,000
Pol PotCommunistCambodia1968-19872,397,000
Yahya KhanMilitaristPakistan19711,500,000
Josip Broz TitoCommunistYugoslavia1941-19871,172,000
In R.J. Rummel's Death by Government [Transaction Publishers, 1994], Stalin wins the prize as the greatest "megamurderer" of the 20th century. Rummel's table [p.8] is reproduced at right. It includes only civilians and excludes military deaths in wartime. Thus, if Soviet and other Allied war dead are added to Hitler's tally, he rises to Stalin and Mao's league, which is where most people would expect him to be. Other large scale murders or genocides are listed by Rummel, like the Armenian genocide (1,404,000 dead), but not ascribed to a particular dictator, only to a "regime." Also, Japanese atrocities, principally in China, before Tojo came to power add significantly to the total for the Japanese regime, up to 5,964,000 dead. Links are provided for the history of each location. Rummel's ideological category of "militarism" is really more a matter of practice than of ideology. Where a militarist ideology develops, it tends to fascism. Fascism and Communism, as the only two real ideologies here, are both statist and totalitarian. See "
The Fallacy of Moralistic Relativism."

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