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Sat, Jan. 24th, 2004, 05:12 pm
Expecto Patronus: or How the Wizarding World Really Works (Part 1)

This essay is very long so I'm breaking it up into parts, but it's really meant to be read all together, with each section building on the previous ones.

The wizarding world under the statute: patron and client in the state of emergency

It is only since Order of the Phoenix appeared that it has become clear to everyone that the Wizarding World, for all the wonders it contains, is in fact an extremely lawless place. Until then, the clues had been largely ignored. That Sirius Black could be sentenced to a lifelong torture without a trial was generally put down to a wartime situation, in spite of the awkward truth that the war was in fact already over – not to mention the curious oversight that his case was not once reviewed in twelve whole years of peace, and no one, not even Dumbledore, had any complaints. Moreover, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets exactly the same thing happened to Hagrid. In spite of the fact that the Ministry of Magic didn't really think he was guilty, they casually put him away in Azkaban for psychological torment, without any sort of hearing and for purely cynical reasons: they felt that they had to be seen to be "doing something" in order to reassure the wizarding public.

In the first four books, however, this sort of injustice didn't affect the protagonists much (except for a foretaste in Goblet of Fire) and so the reader was never fully aware of the degree of lawlessness and misuse of power that wizardkind is subject to. This finally happened with Order of the Phoenix, where a whole string of pernicious laws were more or less introduced on the nod, and the misuse of power and propagation of lies were at last directed at Harry himself. 

The reason for this cavalier approach to justice, and for the frightful punishments routinely imposed for almost purely deterrent purposes, is that Wizarding Britain in particular, and the whole Wizarding World in general, has been living under a continuous state of emergency for over three hundred years – ever since the Statute of Wizarding Secrecy was passed in 1692: a state of emergency that has lasted so long that it is taken for granted by everyone. In fact, it seems completely normal; and there's no prospect of ending it, either, because if it ever were relaxed, the Muggles would find out, with unthinkable consequences.

Muggles finding out the secret of what has been really going on – that they have been fed a diet of lies for centuries about the truth of their world, and that they routinely have their memories rearranged by a caste of people completely indifferent to their hopes and fears, their wars and sufferings, would clearly be a catastrophe now. In the long run, in order to prevent the Muggle "Powers That Be" (whether legitimate or criminal) from taking control of their local wizards, adding magic to their arsenals and killing off those that resisted, a wizarding tyranny would have to be established over the Muggle world, ruthlessly wiping out any Muggle authorities strong enough to challenge the wizards. In the meantime there would be every likelihood of genocidal war between various factions of both peoples, fed by panic and revenge – and with hunts for traitors and quislings on both sides. And Muggles are bound to find out in the end, unless the authorities and the population in general are allowed to react quickly and effectively without regard to constitutional niceties. 

And they do. Given the need for secrecy, this is a matter of necessity, because in the end enough people will get careless sufficiently often for even the Muggles to work out what's going on, in spite of all the squads of Obliviators, unless wizards as a whole are really terrified of what will happen to them if they do get careless, and unless there's a habit of sorting out problems quickly and only asking questions afterwards, when the evidence has usually been Obliviated. This is the true cause of the seemingly automatic presumption of guilt in wizarding justice – which Harry Potter came up against twice when accused of performing underage magic in front of Muggles: once when Dobby framed him in Chamber of Secrets, and more recently when he had to drive away the Dementors from Privet Drive. "Innocent until proved guilty, Severus" (Dumbledore’s warning to Snape) is the exception more than the rule.

As a result of these constraints, wizarding society has evolved in a very different manner from our own. Since their society can't have a proper rule of law (as we understand it) without risking its own existence, wizards have found another way of ensuring their safety and protection. One way of describing it is what historians call bastard feudalism, whereby in a lawless age (like England in the Wars of the Roses) unprotected men attached themselves to a powerful baron as his retainers: they would serve in his household and fight on his behalf – and he would make it clear to everyone that they were under his protection from enemies on both sides of the law. No enemy could attack a powerful baron's retainers without being punished, and the baron would make sure their lands weren't seized by a neighbour or confiscated by the government, and they couldn't be jailed on a trumped up charge. In return, they would fight for him whenever he needed a private army. In Chamber of Secrets it's hinted and in Goblet of Fire it becomes quite clear that Lucius Malfoy has just such an army, made up of ex-Death Eater commandos. So, it seems, has Albus Dumbledore, as the Ministry of Magic correctly feared – it's called the Order of the Phoenix, and it's made up not of Dumbledore's most powerful friends (like the Wizengamot elders who resigned in his support) but of those who are completely loyal to him. One of the chief developments in Harry Potter's fifth year at school is that he develops a similar armed force of his own. He calls it Dumbledore's Army, it's true, but in fact it's really his own army. Just a small segment of it (Harry's Inner Circle, in fact) turned out to be surprisingly capable of holding its own against a picked force of Voldemort's own elite Death Eaters.

However, a much closer parallel to the way power seems to work in the Wizarding World is the patron-client system, such as existed in Ancient Rome. Indeed, there are several parallels between Wizarding Britain and the Roman Republic: Crouch's sentencing of his son to Azkaban for plotting to bring back Voldemort is a definite echo of the Roman Magistrate Lucius Junius Brutus condemning his own son to death for plotting to bring back the exiled king and tyrant Tarquin; also, the lack of any official representation for Harry at his trial before the Wizengamot follows Roman practice: he was entirely dependent on what he could say in his own defence and the private efforts of an eminent statesman like Dumbledore. Perhaps this is hardly surprising: ease of communication and small population have made wizarding Britain very like an old city state (it even depends on some sort of slave labour) with large portions of the economy in the hands of outsiders (the goblins). Further parallels lie in the gradual decline of the old noble caste (patricians and pure-bloods, both of which were massive casualties of the last round of civil wars, proscriptions and murders) and the way both Rome and wizarding Britain could culturally absorb new blood (freed slaves and Muggle-born) by bringing them up in Roman households and wizarding boarding schools like Hogwarts.

Still, there is one major difference. In Ancient Rome the patron-client system was a formally recognised part of how government and social relations worked. By contrast, the wizarding version is entirely unofficial, and grew up in response to the simultaneous weakness, corruption and capricious power of the Ministry of Magic – the inevitable consequence of that fact that Secrecy always comes before Justice. The Ministry is weak in that it cannot provide protection from abuse of power coming from either side of the law, and its capricious power is all too evident in the draconian punishments it imposes, which usually leave the victim a physical and emotional wreck if not mad, and which most wizards (like Peter Pettigrew) will do nearly anything to avoid.

Basically, the system works by otherwise unprotected wizards attaching themselves to a powerful "patron" and becoming his "clients." The patron will smooth over any problems his client might have with the Ministry of Magic, and use his money and connections to help him out of his difficulties, and keep him out of Azkaban – as Dumbledore did with Mundungus Fletcher. In return, the client himself becomes a part of the patron's entourage and connections. The patron ends up with a large body of wizards dependent on him whom he can rely on (a private army, in other words) which effectively puts him above the law, because the wizarding world doesn't actually have armies, at least in the Muggle sense of the word. Some patrons may well have an even more powerful patron of their own, and a wizard at the top of a patronage tree is a very powerful figure indeed: such are Dumbledore, and Lucius Malfoy, to whom wizards like Crabbe and Goyle defer. Their sons in turn attend on Draco, as bodyguard and entourage; this makes them part of the same patronage network, because Draco's patron is his father. 

The strength of a particular patronage network depends not only on the patron and clients themselves, but on the strategic resources which they control, and over which the struggle for power is fought. As A.J. Hall explained in her recent paper "Justice in the Wizarding World":

"There exist a number of key strategic pieces over which each primary [patronage] network seeks control or influence, Hogwarts and the Ministry being two, and Harry himself representing a third (others may be Gringotts, The Daily Prophet and possibly St Mungo’s). A network not controlling a particular strategic piece has the options either of outright conflict for possession of it, entering into an alliance with the network that does have control of the strategic piece, or working to discredit or eliminate the importance of the piece concerned."

This is precisely what Fudge's network attempted to do to Harry Potter once they had turned against Dumbledore. Harry was in Dumbledore's pocket, so Fudge's faction in response did all they could to discredit Harry, and so eliminate his importance.

Continued in Part 2...

Fri, Jan. 30th, 2004 12:29 pm (UTC)
pharnabazus: Re:

I’d wondered about that myself.

We don't know how much Cornelius Fudge told the Muggle Prime Minister, do we? He certainly told him about the crisis of Sirius Black's escape, and that Sirius was dangerous, but we don't know how much Fudge told him about the Magical World itself. It's extremely unlikely that Fudge told the PM everything, although to tell him anything at all was clearly enough to worry the International Federation of Warlocks.

"Fudge has been criticized by some members of the International Federation of Warlocks for informing the Muggle Prime Minister of the crisis," the Daily Prophet explained.

Unusual as Fudge's action seems to have been (and the criticism implies that it "was" unusual) it wasn't entirely without a precedent. Newt Scamander, in "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" speaks of the way that "some magical catastrophes or accidents are too glaringly obvious to be explained away by Muggles without the help of an outside authority. The Office of Misinformation will in such a case liase directly with the Muggle Prime Minister to seek a plausible non-magical explanation for the event."

This seems to imply that the wizarding authorities (after three centuries of seclusion) have so little real knowledge about what it is like to live in the Muggle world, that they have to consult with Muggle authorities to construct convincing explanations for magical accidents and catastrophes. It also implies that they prefer to consult with a single Muggle potentate than with several minor ones (which would increase the risk of discovery) and that they tend to choose the Muggle Prime Minister because he’s in the best position to help. Whether the Muggle is afterwards memory-charmed or kept under observation is not clear from Scamander's words.

However, in the Daily Prophet's account in Prisoner of Azkaban, Cornelius Fudge went on to say that he had "the Prime Minister's assurance that he will not breathe a word of Black's true identity to anyone. And let's face it - who'd believe him if he did?" This makes it fairly clear that the Prime Minister has not been Obliviated (and wouldn't be) and that Fudge had told the PM that Sirius Black was a wizard. This displays an astonishingly casual attitude to the Statute of Secrecy, when you remember that keeping magic hidden for Muggles is basically what the Ministry is for! Was there some other (magical) guarantee of the Muggle PM’s silence? Fudge’s words don’t suggest that he was aware of any such thing, but there are clearly many (legal) ways of influencing a Muggle’s behaviour by magic without resorting to forbidden curses like Imperius; Muggle-repellent charms are one, but there may be others.

On the other hand, for such a potentially risky breach of security to go by with so little practical opposition suggests there were limits to what Fudge told the PM about Sirius. Perhaps the PM was only told that a dangerous criminal of known paranormal abilities was now at large. We don't know for sure how much the Muggle Prime Minister really knows about the magical world. It may in fact be very little.

My guess is that there are always some agents of the Office of Misinformation who work within the Muggle government, or are in a position to influence its members. However, to judge by the horror with which the fact Fudge’s revelations were received among international wizardry, it must have been rare for some generations to tell the Muggle Prime Minister anything. It would have been the Voldemort terror that changed that, and forced the Ministry of Magic to let the Muggle PM into their (limited) confidence in order to help to preserve secrecy. This is what Scamander referred to. Somehow (by persuasion or magic, fear or partial ignorance) this partial collaboration with Muggle authority didn't reveal the secret to Muggles.

With Voldemort’s fall, this tradition of gaining the help of Muggle insiders in maintaining secrecy was presumably allowed to lapse, but Cornelius Fudge clearly revived it when faced with Sirius Black’s escape, doubtless because of the pressure to capture him, and the fear that if Black went unrecognised he might hide out in the Muggle world.

Sun, Apr. 18th, 2004 03:21 pm (UTC)
mgafm: Re:

I realize I am way behind when this was posted, but I wanted to say that there are quite a number of muggles who do know about the wizarding world. Think about all the muggle children who go to Hogwarts, there immediate family knows that they are witches. All the witches that marry muggles. The list gets rather extensive. So, it would seem that persons are allowed to know about the wizarding world so long as people don't. Therefore, it is completely within the realms of everything JKR has written for the PM to be given information. It would seem logical that there would be some cooperation between wizarding and muggle worlds, in the government and otherwise. The rule just seems to be "reasonable cause," and govt. falls under that heading.

In any event, love the essay, it is spot on.

Fri, Jul. 2nd, 2004 03:50 am (UTC)
(Anonymous): Re: Muggle Prime Minister

>>"some magical catastrophes or accidents are too glaringly obvious to be explained away by Muggles without the help of an outside authority. The Office of Misinformation will in such a case liase directly with the Muggle Prime Minister to seek a plausible non-magical explanation for the event." <<

And of course Fudge came up through the Magical Catastrophes Department. To him that would always look like the obvious last step in any crisis.

Wed, Jul. 21st, 2004 05:39 pm (UTC)

The way I always looked at it was that certain high-level government officials—like the PM in England and probably the President over here in the USA—have to be privy to the existance of magic just so they don't inadvertently make some catastrophic policy mistake due to not having all those facts. Certainly the matter-of-fact delivery of Fudge's remark about informing the Muggle Prime Minister takes for granted the idea that the M.P.M. would have good reason to listen to what Fudge was saying and not dismiss him as some kind of a crackpot.

The very name "the Ministry of Magic" is interesting to me. It suggests kind of a limited scope and having to answer to a higher power that's in charge of "everything including magic" which almost suggests it should be answerable to the Prime Minister, or a Prime Minister equivalent—someone who oversees all the ministries. But the closest wizarding equivalent is the "Minister of Magic"—which in practice should probably more properly be called the "Minister In Charge of the Wizarding World."

Wed, Jul. 21st, 2004 05:48 pm (UTC)

And in response to what you said about the wizarding authorities having so little knowledge about what it's like to live in the muggle world...well, it's more than just implied in the books, isn't it? See Chamber of Secrets where Mr. Weasley—whose job probably requires him to know the most about muggles of any of the Ministry staff—quizzes Harry about the post office and electricity—and Goblet of Fire wherein a letter from them arrives covered in postage stamps. Also, there's even a "Muggle Studies" class at Hogwart's, suggesting that wizards are so far removed from day-to-day muggle life that they have to take classes to learn about our day-to-day affairs (which is downright odd when you consider how many wizards come, like Hermione, from a muggle-influenced background).