JK Rowling is well known as an advocate of left-wing causes, and has donated and campaigned for Britain’s Labour Party, yet her classic book series, Harry Potter, makes one of the most powerful cases for libertarianism in children’s literature. No doubt this was unintentional, given her political leanings, but I subscribe to the philosophy that works of art take on lives of their own once they enter the public space.
Here are the libertarian lessons Harry Potter teaches us. There are a multitude of spoilers so, if you haven’t read the series, read no further.
- Government is horribly inefficient and wasteful
For someone who loves the National Health Service and all the other state-run agencies in the UK, Rowling sure does seem to think government sucks at doing its job. Take Arthur Weasley. His whole job is to understand the Muggle (non-magical) world for his government, and yet he does not even understand the most rudimentary human technology. Telephones baffle him, as does the subway system. What the hell is he doing all day?
The answer is that the Ministry government seems willing to employ everyone in all manner of make-work jobs that end up providing no value to the citizenry. Everything we learn about the Ministry of Magic further indicts it as a horribly inefficient and pointless entity. Not that a libertarian has to be told that government is horribly inefficient anyway.
- Stable, commodity-backed currencies prevent fraud and inflation
This one’s for all the gold-bugs out there. The wizarding world clearly values a stable currency, one that is based on gold. In the Harry Potter universe gold cannot be created by magic, so it is an inherently stable commodity currency that would make Ludwig von Mises shed a tear of joy. This seems to lend itself to stable prices, as we never see any currency shocks throughout the series.
We can also surmise that this gold-backed currency regime supports economic stability. We never hear about any recessionary effects or damages to the economy throughout the several years spanning the series. Even during the period of authoritarian repression in the final book, we still see the economy functioning somewhat normally (sans those businesses shuttered by force).
The banking system itself is also libertarian. The Gringott’s Bank appears to enjoy something of a monopoly, but there is no evidence to suggest that this is due to unfair market practices. On that point we must remain libertarianly agnostic. But we can be sure that this clearly private entity is sufficiently popular and successful as to coax most citizens of the wizarding world to leave deposits in their care rather than under their mattresses. So it is definitely a win for a private banking system without need for any government-backed central bank.
- The universal right to bear arms is effective in stopping tyranny
Perhaps the most strikingly libertarian point of the Harry Potter universe is the universal possession of arms in the form of magic wands. Sure, wands can be used for all manner of other non-destructive activities, but their use as weapons, even deadly weapons, is obvious. Even children are given access to these tools and taught from an early age to respect their power.
The society of the wizarding world is most certainly an armed society. And that is certainly why it manages to remain a free one, even in the presence of the tyranny of Voldemort.
While Voldemort does manage to overthrow the sitting government during the events of The Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book, his reign is short-lived. During the climactic battle at the end of the novel Voldemort and his forces are defeated by a coalition of students and ordinary citizens. They are able to stand up to, and defeat, the greatest evil in their world because they are blessed with a parity of arms.
Voldemort may be better at the use of magic, and his supporters more ruthless, but the ability of any citizen to provide deadly resistance to those who would harm them proves the undoing of the evil regime.
The enemies of the Second Amendment say that it is outdated, that that sort of tyranny “can’t happen here”. But if nothing else, the Harry Potter series shows that evil can arise anywhere, and that good people must have the power to confront it.
Learning your lessons
Obviously, Harry Potter isn’t meant to be read through a libertarian lens. But it is very hard for any advocate of liberty to not see many of their most important touchstones reflected in the story. I suggest spreading the message and pointing these things out to fans of the series. It may even win us a few converts.
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