Guest Contributor Bryan O’Nolan
Recently, Harvard student members of the Hashtag Resistance organized themselves as Dumbledore’s Army. They imagine themselves, like the homonymous association of students in J.K. Rowling’s immersive Harry Potter universe, as an insurgent minority asserting their righteously indignant counter-power against pure evil: a threat existential, shaded by numb conspiracy and suffocatingly pervasive. On social media these students and their supporters are often told, in meme and word, to read another book. While it’s true that the Trump-as-Voldemort, Resistance-as-Potteresque-Insurgency metaphor is worn soft to the level of cliché, there are deeper, more pressing reasons why the metaphor aforesaid is at best counterproductive.
I confess myself a Potter fan, which is good as I’ve two Potter-obsessed boys at home. We have Gryffindor robes and ties about the house; I recently admonished one son for trying to summon the other son’s pockets; I stepped on a wand on my way to the fridge just now. These boys, nine and seven, consume the books, in print, audio and film, in deep, thorough and oft refilled draughts. I remember a younger self-awaiting the pre-order of Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix, tearing the box open, and reading until I was bleary-eyed and dimly aware that my ability to comprehend textual input was dangerously nearing zero. I find J.K. Rowling’s magnum opus, while at turns logically inconsistent or preachy, to be a brilliantly conceived fantasy universe, full of wonder and excitement. It is a world one would be forgiven for wanting, eyes closed and imagining, to live in. It is almost magical, really.
However, the universe of Harry Potter is one in which no rational person should want to live. Even a member of the current iteration of Dumbledore’s Army would find the Harry Potter world oppressive, overbearing and suffocating.
Let us begin with the movement’s sobriquet. It is safe to assume, I will suppose, that members of this new Dumbledore’s Army, being Leftist students on a Leftist campus, are no fans of Betsy DeVoss in particular or school choice in general. Isn’t the name they’ve chosen odd, then? Dumbledore’s Army was organized by Hogwarts students opposed to the national government dictating the curriculum at the school. The Ministry -- more on them later -- chose to change the curriculum to a researched, planned national standard. Students (and, it is safe to assume, some of their parents) objected. The soldiers of this new Dumbledore’s Army see in this student cadre principled resistance. Yet, would they be comfortable with a state’s rejection of Common Core? Are they pro-voucher? We are not far out on a limb in presuming that they would not and are not.
The world of Harry Potter is a world largely moved by a secretive, elite minority who manipulate, belittle and deceive their perceived, and frankly actual, inferiors. If magic is used in the presence of a Muggle, a non-magical person, agents of the government sweep in and fix the situation by modifying the memories of those regular folks -- this is you and me, now -- affected. Do the dorm-bound members of Dumbledore’s Army want a small cabal of self-identified elites to dictate the outcomes of the lives of regular people? Are they openly in favor of the truth being hidden from the people? Given the thoroughly degraded state the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and conscience are on campus these days one would be forgiven for suggesting they might.
It is, however, instructive to remember that the campus thought police see themselves as acting in the name of truth, not in the obfuscating of it. To call the class divisions in Harry Potter rigid would be an understatement. You are either a person of the technologically elite world, or you are not. Characters who have a Muggle parent are looked down on by some. Those who should be magical but are not are likewise marginalized. Those who take an interest in Muggles and their affairs, such as Arthur Weasley, are, themselves, curiosities and may see their professional prospects limited. Muggles are lesser people. Ask a member of Dumbledore’s Army if they really think there should be a permanent lumpenproletariat. Is a permanent underclass something Dumbledore’s Army, Hillary voters and the Octothorpe Resistance want to achieve? No. (Some will argue they have, but this is not a goal any but the extreme fringe espouse. Liberal and Progressive voters have good intentions and poor policy ideas. Don’t agree? Talk to one and ask if they want safe communities, a strong economy and educated kids.)
The Ministry of Magic is a surveillance state. Magical people under the age of seventeen are passively surveilled by a charm put on them to detect the use of magic by or around them. Mail is sent to Harry with his exact location within his house at the time of receipt as his address. Dumbledore is able to listen in on conversations in Harry’s kitchen. This is far beyond warrantless wiretapping, this is the equivalent of having a tracking chip (with audio) embedded into each and every citizen.
Perhaps the most telling moment in the Potter cycle happens at the end of book four. The moment is framed as a deep disappointment to the protagonists, as a valuable source of information has been silenced. Barty Crouch, Jr., an escaped convict, is captured and exposed at Hogwarts. (It is worth noting that the prisoners in the Wizard’s prison are constantly psychologically tortured. Who could blame him, really, for escaping?) Anyhow, while our heroes are dealing with the other fallout from Crouch’s scheme, the Minister for Magic arrives and has Crouch executed (essentially) on the spot. None of the characters seem to think of an extrajudicial killing as anything out of the ordinary; they had just wanted to question Crouch first. Is this the sort of government Those With Her want?
The new Dumbledore’s Army is precious, yes, and naive and, yes, they should read another book. The world of Harry Potter is not the kind of world they would want to bring about. In fact, it is in many ways the opposite of such a world. The students of Harvard and their many sympathizers would do well to recognize that when you try to shoehorn fantasy into reality no good can come of it, and both the reality and the fantasy will suffer for the needless commingling.