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We'll Take Lewis and Tolkien--The Libertarians Can Have Rowling

On the lighter side, here is the abstract of a law review article by one Prof. Benjamin Barton detailing the profoundly negative portrayal of bureaucracy in the Harry Potter novels, showing how this portrayal supports public choice theory and advancing the thesis that there will be increasing "distrust of government and libertarianism" as the Harry Potter generation grows up.

Via Jeffrey Tucker at Mises via Volokh.

I am proud to say that I have never cracked a Harry Potter book, but I have seen the four movies made to date and so have some idea what Prof. Barton is talking about in his review article. The claim that libertarianism will increase in the generation that has been growing up with these stories (section 5 is called "Harry Potter and the Future Libertarian Majority"!) is pretty implausible, as Prof. Volokh has more or less already said. What I find curious is how anyone could view the Harry Potter world as anything other than a dystopia populated with a few heroic figures--more in keeping with the spirit of a saga than with Atlas Shrugged.

Aside from the not infrequent approval of necessary rule-breaking, which serves to provide Rowling's plot devices, it would be hard to find an affirmation of any political idea in these stories (except for the de rigeur affirmation of wizard-'muggle' intermarriage that permeates, say, Chamber of Secrets). As I understand the story, the entire world of wizards is kept hushed up by an immensely intrusive and powerful state (taking the neocon claim that "the government knows things we don't" to a new level), and the sole means of legitimate education comes by means of the Etonian state-run academy that is Hogwarts. Even for the wizards who do not openly despise the 'muggles', a very British condescending elitism is always in the air. The young heroes may occasionally flout the rules in moments of emergency, but seem to fundamentally accept the system, at least until it directly turns on them. Maybe Rowling's books will encourage a new generation of Platonists.

But supposing these books do encourage a small boom in libertarianism, the libertarians are welcome to Rowling and her fans. Lewis and Tolkien, with whose works Rowling's are sometimes rather preposterously compared, may not have directly influenced the politics of the English-speaking world in the ways that they might have liked, but their stories will have a far more enduring significance, as they are founded on structures of revelation and myth that will long outlast the amusing, but ephemeral tales of wizard children.

Daniel Larison | November 22, 2005



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