Harry Potter 5: The Order of the Phoenix

J.K. Rowling

I’m starting off discussing the 5th book in the series for a reason: while the earlier books mention some interesting things about politics and ethics, such as Hermione’s quest for the rights of house-elves to not be slaves to their masters or the struggle of racism between the muggles and pure bloods, the 5th book puts the discussion of the Ministry of Magic and the political/legal system of wizards at the fore front.

Changing the Laws

At the very beginning of the book, Harry is accused of using magic outside of school when he’s not old enough to do so. He is marched in front of an entire council in the Ministry, a very unusual proceeding for a child, and is accosted by Cornelius Fudge, the current Minister. Fudge hurls accusations without allowing for any presentation of evidence or rebuttal, as is the case with many kangaroo courts (you can see my review of Kafka’s The Trial for more on that), and is only quieted down by Dumbledore appearing as Harry’s lawyer.

Despite Dumbledore pointing out the particularities and actuality of wizard law, despite Fudge’s attempts at legal contortion, and how Harry’s actions were not in violation of those laws, Fudge sputters out his claim that “Laws can be changed!”. This is the problem with most government legal systems: those who have agendas and wish to carry out their own, potentially hidden plans may alter the laws to achieve those goals.

For Fudge, sentencing Harry to the Wizard prison is his goal: the laws are either a mechanism and means for him to meet that goal, or he must alter the laws in order to meet that goal. Laws in a libertarian society must adhere to the non-aggression principle. Firmly rooted in property rights, they may not be altered at the whim of political expediency or in the face of serious crisis, as is the common excuse given by most tyrants. Property rights may not be changed to suit the fancies of the current ruling class; they are in the libertarian society cemented in the bedrock and are predictable, consistent, and unbreakable. They are not subject to the whims of “men with goals”; they are the foundational structure of individual rights against men with agendas and plans for individuals who may reject those plans.

An example of how Harry’s case might work in a libertarian society would be to inspect the contract that Harry and his parents/guardians entered into when he went to school (despite his fairly despicable guardians being originally overridden by Hagrid’s intimidations in their choice of whether to send Harry to Hogwarts) and comparing the contract to his actions. If the contract clearly stated that Harry may not use magic outside of school except when attacked (especially if the attacker seems to have been ordered to accost Harry by the Ministry itself in order to trap him in legal trouble), then it’s pretty clear. Harry is innocent here regardless of any wailing or gnashing of teeth that Fudge might engage in and threats he may put forward to “change the contract”. Harry’s contract is an explicit agreement between Harry and Hogwarts. The Ministry plays no role whatsoever in that relationship other than to perhaps inspect the contract and make sure it is being followed by both parties, but even then we can hardly expect it to remain unbiased as it claims to be the “ultimate arbitrator” of all disputes even of those disputes involving itself.

Instead, we should consider the legal framework of libertarianism put forth by Walter Block. Competing courts would operate independent of each other to interpret Harry’s contract. If both the accuser’s (Fudge’s) and the accused’s (Harry’s) different courts come up with different rulings, they would submit their case to a higher court. Unlike the Supreme Court, however, this higher court would be one of many competing higher courts, and those who provide more accurate, thorough, and ultimately the most “just” rulings would become more desirable and prevalent, in the same way that all other competing organizations under capitalism strive for excellence and try to best serve their customers in order to outdo their competition and profit.

The Tyrant

Soon after, we are introduced to the newest member of the Hogwart staff this year, a Ms. Dolores Umbridge. Umbridge is the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, and it’s clear by now that Hogwarts seems to have no lack of new professors taking on this role. After her initial speech to the students and faculty, which she rudely interrupting Dumbledore’s speech to make, it’s fairly clear what her goals are: she is a political actor sent to reform the school and reshape it into what politicians would deem as the “greater good”.

In the first class teaching the students, she puts on a full display of her lust for power and domination over them. She demands complete silence unless you are called on, requires the students to read everything she gives them and not question any of the curriculum, and implies there will be no practical use of theory in the real world in any way. Because, as she laments, no one would ever think of attacking students in class, so why should anyone need to learn how to defend themselves? Her claims imply that her classroom is to be the only important thing in their lives.

Later in the book, we know that Dolores leads an assault against Hagrid since he refuses to submit to her, and she flings harmful magical spells all around her at any who defy her attack, and one might even call these spells a form of offensive magic of the “dark arts” she adamantly declared would never be used against the students. Such is the tendency of the State: it needs to be armed to the teeth and always capable of incredible amounts of violence, but it discourages generally that the citizens have the means and knowledge of defending themselves. This is generally because it does not want any actual resistance to it’s omnipotent power over the individual and society.

Hermione is appalled that Umbridge would forbid questioning the lessons, yet what else would a government want but a subservient, unquestioning, defenseless citizen devoid of critical thinking and curiosity? It wants only people to unquestioningly produce wealth which it can then tax away for it’s own purposes.

So it is that the students create their own school outside of school. They call themselves “Dumbledore’s Army” and morph into a group of resistance fighters training secretly in guerilla warfare and defense. Trained by the skillful Harry Potter, they become fairly proficient at defending themselves from attack by dark forces.

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men…” ~Lord Acton

Soon, Umbridge becomes drunk with power as most in government do and demands more and more laws to accumulate more and more power to herself. She becomes a czar or secretary of education, calling herself the Inquisitor and then the Headmaster, over the entire Hogwart’s school, and she banishes teachers that she does not like or does not agree with, orders those who teach in ways she doesn’t like to alter their behavior, and tyrannizes the children with her ever changing laws:

  • no eating sweets
  • no discussing of a recent magazine (forbidding free speech)
  • no having boys and girls close to each other
  • forbidding certain books and restricting access to libraries
  • forbidding all wands
  • forbidding all student organizations outside of approved, authorized groups

She also banishes Harry from ever playing his beloved sport of quidditch again, physically torments him and deforms his hand, and generally reigns in terror over everyone there. There are even rumors of a new and upcoming law which would allow the students to be tortured and whipped as a form of punishment or in order to sequester information from them.

As you can see, many of these laws seize the student’s property, punish them in cruel ways, or attacks their first amendment of free speech. It’s very important to point out how all of these are violations of property rights, and that many of these are embedded into the Bill of Rights of America that ostensibly protect the citizenry from abuses by their governments. The first amendment was also first for a very important reason. It is generally the first thing that governments outlaw, and we are seeing all sorts of attacks on free speech in the new era of Big Tech and the social media censorship going on right now.

In the previous books, it is alluded to that in the original War Against the Death Eaters, the Ministry used all sorts of nefarious means to fight them. Literal witch hunts, kangaroo courts and trials, seizing new government powers, and other means were all used by the Ministry and it’s police force. No one really knew who were the “good” guys anymore. Despite the Death Eaters obvious violation of property rights by attacking and killing muggles and wizards alike, governments can and generally do violate property rights in their lame and completely disingenuous excuse of “protecting” property rights.

Dumbledore’s Arrest

The Ministry’s outright assault on Hogwart’s, done in the name publicly of bettering the education system while privately in the name of suppressing what Fudge thought was insubordination to his rule and a veritable revolution on the behalf of Dumbledore and his newly formed Army, climaxes when Fudge and Umbridge march into Dumbledore’s office to accuse and arrest him. When they make their goal clear, Dumbledore declares quite firmly,

“Well it’s just that you seem to be laboring under the delusion that I am going to – what is the phrase? ‘Come quietly.’ I am afraid I am not going to come quietly, at all, Cornelius… if you attempt to ‘bring me in’ by force, I will have to hurt you.”

This is an affront to the Ministry! Dumbledore is resisting arrest! He is not submitting to the mandates and orders put forth by the Ministry! He is refusing to submit to the law of the land! Yet, if we consider that people like Rosa Parks who refused to obey the law that forced her to sit at the back of the bus or Harriet Tubman who did not obey the law that slavery should be enforced on people who don’t want it, then perhaps there is a case for refusing to obey nonsensical laws and mandates. In fact, as Martin Luther King pronounced:

“One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

What is a just law? That which conforms to the property rights of the individual. Anything else must necessarily be unjust.

The Banks

As a small aside, I just wanted to bring attention to a minor part of the book with a newspaper article claiming that Fudge wanted to take over the Grimgotts banking system and seize all the gold for himself and the Ministry. Sound familiar? The Federal Reserve banking system was a conspiracy to do exactly that: to take all the gold and to issue paper, fiat currency as it’s role of the central banking cartel issuing a legally imposed currency. Gold was to be supplanted in transactions by government paper money.

I thought it was so incredibly observant of Rowling to notice that the tendency of all governments is to take over the money of a society so that they can inflate the currency for their own means. Those that have a money printing machine are seldom inclined to restrain their money printing behavior, and the US since 1913 has certainly wasted no chance to print money for it’s pet projects, wars, and the government’s own enrichment of itself and it’s pals at the expense of the rest of society.

This book was an incredible exploration of politics written for a younger audience. Have lots and lots of conversations with your children about this one. It’s really a beautiful illustration of the dangers of untrammeled government power writ large especially when headed by those drunk with having power over others, and it is written in a way that these concepts can be easily understood by younger minds.

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