It is difficult to think of any other pop culture phenomenon in recent memory as utterly bizarre as that of J.K. Rowlingâ€™s Harry Potter book series. The books and movies have developed a quasi-religious cult surrounding them, reminiscent of the cult surrounding Star Wars. Every book thus far has sold well over 10 million copies, and they are read by people of all ages, all over the world, making J.K. Rowling, who wrote the books on napkins in restraints while on welfare, an overnight celebrity. It is instructive, and not a little bit interesting, particularly only days after the celebrated release of the sixth book in the series, to analyze the ideological messages found within such culturally important texts as the Harry Potter books, to better understand where some of their appeal lies.
The Harry Potter books are set in a society of witches and wizards which is parallel to the society of normal human beings; although the magical community goes to great lengths to ensure that the â€œmugglesâ€ (people without magical ability) do not know of their existence, because they enjoy living elite, privileged lives. Every so often, a child is born to a muggle family who posseâ€™s magical abilities. These children are abducted from their muggle family by the wizarding community and taken to live with other magical people.
The central storyline of the series revolves around a protracted struggle between Lord Voldemortâ€”a dark wizard and a Hitler-esque military leader, who has mobilized his â€œDeath Eaters,â€ (a militia reminiscent of Hitlerâ€™s Storm Troopers) to cleanse the wizarding world of â€œmud-bloodsâ€ (wizards who born into â€œmuggleâ€ families), and to fight to take dictatorial control over the wizarding worldâ€”and Harry Potter, the righteous young school child who was attacked by Voldemort in his infancy with a curse that should have killed him, but miraculously survived, and continues to struggle against him.
Significant parallels can be draw between the battle between Harry Potter and Voldemort and the battle between the Allies and Nazi Germany in World War Two. As previously noted, Lord Voldemort is unabashedly modeled after Hitler, and his Death Eaters are typical fascist paramilitaries. Voldemort and his followers also display other typically fascist characteristics; a hatred of those with â€œimpureâ€ blood (in this case, wizards born into non-wizarding families, instead of Jews in the case of the Nazis); a fetishism for symbols (in this case, the â€œDeath Eatersâ€™ Markâ€ which each Death Eater has tattooed on his arm, as opposed to the Swastika); and a Nietzschean disregard for ethical ideas and a will to power (to quote one of Voldemortâ€™s henchmen: â€œThere is no good or evil: only power and those too weak to seek itâ€). Voldemort also harbors genocidal ambitions. He hopes to purify the wizarding world by exterminating all â€œmud bloods,â€ and to forcibly unite the wizarding community under his totalitarian rule.
In an interview, Rowling even points out psychological similarities between Hitler and Voldemort: â€œ[Voldemort] takes what he perceives to be a defect in himself, in other words the non-purity of his blood [note: one of Voldemortâ€™s parents was born into a family of non-wizards], and he projects it onto others. It’s like Hitler and the Arian ideal, to which he did not conform at all, himself. And so Voldemort is doing this also. He takes his own inferiority, and turns it back on other people and attempts to exterminate in them what he hates in himself.â€ Voldemortâ€™s followers are almost exclusively aristocrats and highly classist, and look down on lower-class wizards. To some extent, Rowling admits, they are â€œneo-Conservative or Thatcherite.â€
Meanwhile, Harry Potter and the other courageous wizards who have taken up the fight against Voldemort represent very well the idealized vision of the United States and Britain during the Second World War. Harry lived with muggles for the first eleven years of his life, and one of his best friends is a â€œmud bloodâ€ (Hermione Granger). Harry and the other anti-Voldemort wizards are very much liberal capitalists, in that they believe in meritocracy: that anyone with wizarding abilities should be able to take part in wizarding society, regardless of who their parents were.
It would be a mistake to simply praise Harry Potter for being anti-fascist. In fact, what is most striking about Rowlingâ€™s story of the battle between the fascists and liberals for control of the magical world (and the standard history of World War Two) is its failure to recognize that fascism and liberal capitalism essentially come from the same ideological strand; that fascism is merely a form of liberalism in distress. This is abundantly apparent in Rowlingâ€™s book. For one thing, the magical society is built upon slavery; supplied by a race of house elves that work constantly for their masters, and who are beaten into complete physical, psychological, and emotional submission to their masters. The one witch who does have a moral problem with the enslavement of the house-elves, Hermione Granger, is ruthlessly ridiculed by the other wizards for her abolitionism. The magical community as a whole is one of â€œubermenschâ€ who posses â€œtalents and abilities beyond those of ordinary human beings,â€ but who â€œquite clearly do not use their abilities for the betterment and welfare of humanity in generalâ€ but instead â€œretreat into their enclaves (rather like gated communities) because they do not want to be bothered by muggles who would want them to do useful magicâ€ that might raise the quality of life of humanity as a whole, to quote from a highly illuminating article on the subject, â€œGood and Evil, Fascism and Hogwarts.â€ Continuing to quote:
â€œThey are not culturally productive in their hidden fastnesses. Their games, culture, artifacts, and practices are cribbed from the larger muggle cultureâ€”suitably modified, of course, to reflect their peculiar abilities. In short, culturally speaking, they are parasites. One suspect that they are economic parasites as well, [that they leach] off the muggle world… There are no occupations except institutional rolesâ€”bureaucrats and academics. The attitudes are those of the feudal landed aristocracies including the emphasis on blood, i.e., ancestry within the privileged class.â€
In other words, Voldemortâ€™s fascism is merely a more extreme version of Harryâ€™s liberalism; both are fundamentally anti-human, oppressive, and elitist. Similar insights could be made regarding the idealized vision of the United Statesâ€™ and Great Britainâ€™s battle against fascism in World War Two. The mainstream historical account of the Second World War is presented in the same â€œgood vs. evilâ€ format that J.K. Rowling is ridiculed for using; in which the noble liberals, who have no blood on their hands whatsoever, altruistically wage war to destroy fascism. Certainly, fascism was monstrous beyond belief, but, as we have seen in American foreign policy since World War Two, liberalism can be murderous enough to rival it more extreme sibling.
Rowlingâ€™s Harry Potter series complements ruling ideology, in that she completely whitewashes the crimes of liberalism, and paints it to be a saintly opponent of fascism; instead of offering a radical critique of both anti-human, elitist systems.