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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...

Sun, Jan. 25th, 2004 12:33 am (UTC)

You raise a lot of interesting points, especially about the patronage system. I also found your comparison to ancient Rome and the Middle Ages interesting. (Certainly, Rowling did that on purpose: Just like robes, castles and parchment, lawlessness ‘seems’ old, and therefore, fitting.)

However, I find one point of you (and by extension, of Rowling) questionable: What will happen if the Muggles find out? Will they really prove a danger to the world of wizards and witches, or will they not just be blown away by magic if they try to get the magical world under Muggle control?
This leads directly to the question: How much can magic do? Of course, it seems that given their numbers, and possession of nuclear weapons etc., Muggles would have many advantages in an open war against wizards and witches, but probably at a very high cost. This also makes me wonder, magic has any power whatsoever beyond Bannishing cushions and other rather childish actions, why wizards and witches let it get that far, why they let Muggles become so powerful instead of preventing it.
If it is possible to rule and / or ‘fix’ the world by magic, I do wonder why wizards and witches don’t do that. (The eternal question of the series, I suppose.) If it is not, why should magic be such a big deal that it is taught in a separate school, and why keep it top secret if its powers are so limited? How, for example, can wizards and witches do without ‘decent jobs’? How did many wizard families come by their wealth? To me, it seems logical that, among other things, they must have exploited Muggles in a Feudalism-based fashion. How, then, could the Muggles become more powerful than witches and wizards?
To me it seems that if you approach these questions logically and read the children’s books with an ‘adult mind’, you have a problem.

Sun, Jan. 25th, 2004 01:17 am (UTC)

I think that Muggle technology is helpless before magic (it won't even work where there's a lot of magic around). Both have developed considerably in the last few centuries, especially in terms of communication, but wizards have always had the edge.

The chief weakness of wizards (in the event of a hypothetical conflict with Muggles) is their comparative lack of numbers; to even maintain their own numbers (and hence maintain their hegemony over goblins and other magical peoples) they need new blood from the Muggle world. Ron is almost certainly right in saying that if it weren't for the Muggle-born, "we'd have died out."

For every wizard there are probably several thousand Muggles. That means it would be almost impossible for a wizarding caste to rule Muggles directly, even if it were the full time job of nearly all wizards - but Muggles can still be manipulated (and hence more easily controlled) by subterfuge, secrecy, and (above all) misinformation. Magic has a far greater potential to control Muggle society, as long as Muggles don't know it exists. You can't fight any opponent, if you don't know he exists.

I suspect that (if Muggles knew about wizards - let us say, if memory charms no longer worked) a conflict would be a very messy business. Some Muggles would (in time) work out how magic worked, and they would probably have at least some wizards on their side. Both worlds have their internal divisions, and wizarding unity in the face of Muggles is actually a consequence of Secrecy. So it wouldn't simply be a matter of wizards on one side, and Muggles on the other. In the short term, Dark curses like Imperius could be used to set Muggle powers against one another. Ultimately, I think that for a wizarding victory to be secure the wizards would have to cull Muggle numbers drastically (probably by setting Muggle nations against each other) and this would horrify most wizards (at least under present conditions). Quite apart from the inhumanity, the risk of fallout of various kinds would be horrendous.

Anyway, the idea of working out how to end separation isn't even discussed in the wizarding world. I think this must mean that thoughtful wizards are genuinely terrified of what might happen if Wizarding Secrecy came to an end.

Sun, Jan. 25th, 2004 06:03 am (UTC)

True, but regarding the importance of total numbers, I disagree. Think how very few people rule this RL world through money and weapons. Experts on the importance of economic giants say fewer people rule the world today than it was the case in the times of Absolute monarchies. Do you think magic would have so much less power than money?

Sun, Jan. 25th, 2004 09:51 am (UTC)

What you are suggesting is (in effect) a return to the age of wizard-kings.

Well, you do have a point. Technology has certainly made possible a centralisation of power that no ancien regime could dream of matching, frustrated as they were by local vested interests and poor communications.

The real problem is that any financial oligarchy (if a small enough minority) needs a much larger number of willing servants to make its will felt. A wizarding oligarchy would be the same. To fully control the Muggles, they would have to recruit large numbers of Muggle collaborators, and give them access to magical technology (ready-made charms, magical artefacts) - some of which would surely leak out, along with knowledge of the true powers, capabilities and weaknesses of the wizarding world. This could be extremely dangerous, if wizards ever got divided, as they surely would. It's the need to keep hidden from Muggles (and the consequent siege mentality) which keeps the wizarding world so united in the first place.

Actually, powerful economic interests can best get their way by borrowing the tactics of the wizarding world, by keeping a low profile and hiding themselves behind elected semi-puppets. It is actually easiest for wizards to control Muggles (should they wish to) by adjusting their present course, than by attempting to interfere openly.

My point is that if the wizarding world were known to Muggles, they could (in theory) plan against it. True power always lies in secrecy. If no one even knows you exist, they simply can't react against you, and certainly can't overthrow you.

Having said that, a centralisation of power in the Muggle world in some ways could serve wizarding interests. The fewer people share real power, the easier it must be to keep an eye on them.

Mon, Jan. 26th, 2004 06:23 am (UTC)

Why would a wizard oligarchy have to dish out its power to collaborating Muggles? The financial oligarchy seems to work just fine without magic.

My point is: Either, magic is powerful enough to rule & save the world. In this case, why don't the witches and wizards do so? (True, they would fight among themselves about who exactly got to rule, and maybe some might want to save rather than rule the world, but a little war & dead civilians has never hurt any real power very much.) Or, magic is just not powerful enough, and witches and wizards are in danger. What's the big point about magic then, anyway? Bannishing cushions?

Sun, Jan. 25th, 2004 12:49 pm (UTC)

I think that Muggle technology is helpless before magic (it won't even work where there's a lot of magic around). Both have developed considerably in the last few centuries, especially in terms of communication, but wizards have always had the edge.

Hmmm... well, I imagine you're right about direct opposition, but on the other hand, some Muggle technology eliminates the need to rely exclusively on human reflexes. (Also, what counts as Muggle technology? Magic can alter the laws of physics or how they apply, but they usually seem to operate fairly predictably when nothing is actively changing them. I got the impression it's primarily electronics that fail to work due to ambient magical interference....)

Hm. The threshold for the interference would be interesting, too. Electronics don't work at Hogwarts -- but that's a thousand-year-old institution expressly FOR doing and learning to do magic, much of it presumably a bit on the inefficient side, and is heavily enchanted besides. How intense does the ambient magic have to be to cause interference? How complex do the electronics have to be -- or is it just any electrical current going haywire? Would a battery-operated radio, say, fail to work in the Black house? Fail to pick up? Short out? Explode? Would magnetic cassette tapes be wiped clean? How about the Weasley house? (Lock picks, which are not electronic, seem to be perfectly fine, but Fred and George refer to it as doing things the Muggle way. Are locks and keys as opposed to charms also the Muggle way, or would going to that point lead before long to the question of whether walls instead of enchantments are considered Muggle?)

Okay, I'm just meandering verbally now. Still, I did originally have a point, which was that building up enough ambient magic for Muggle technology to stop working might not be terribly easy or effective in most situations. *g*

Mon, Jan. 26th, 2004 09:53 am (UTC)

How complex do the electronics have to be -- or is it just any electrical current going haywire?

So far as I know, it's only the electronics that go haywire -- Hermione pointing out that electronic bugs won't work at Hogwarts.

But the chemical reactions needed to make wood burn are the same that make gunpowder burn -- and wood *definitely* burns at Hogwarts. All Muggles need to do to capture Hogwarts is scale back to 19th century military technology.

Napoleon took most of Europe with early 19th century tech, and he was fighting similiarly equipped foes. Wizards against Muggles would be a slaughter, even given that as individuals Wizards can kill easily and frequently -- they're outnumbered thousands to one, limited to line-of-sight (as far as we know), and really really *bad* at working together. Muggles have numerical superiority, organization, and artillery on their side.

Mon, Jan. 26th, 2004 10:12 am (UTC)


I suppose one difficulty from the Muggles' side of things would be finding it. Carelessly as some wizards seem to rely at times on Muggles' simply not believing what they see and thus dismissing it (not the first place I've seen that ploy, either), concealment does seem to be pretty well developed.

But then I guess that goes back to the point of how the easiest thing for the wizards to do is maintain secrecy.

Sun, Jan. 25th, 2004 07:09 pm (UTC)

It might actually be very easy to wipe out the Muggles, as wizarding magic has shown to be highly lethal.

Not just the killing curse, which seems to be like a simple gun, but the curse that Wormtail used to blown a hole in 13 muggles at once. If he could manage to do that in a high-stress situation, with a wand behind his back, then imagine the kind of damamge Voldemort could do if he wanted to wipe out large areas of Muggles, if every wizard was wiping out Muggles.

That and they could imperious someone like Bush or Gates and order a shut down on the whole thing.

Mon, Jan. 26th, 2004 02:40 am (UTC)

I come to the limitations of wizarding military technology later on in the essay, but in brief, a curse that can kill thirteen Muggles at once is only a drop in the ocean, when you think how many Muggles there are - and how many wizards can do even that? Wormtail is far cleverer and more powerful (and probably braver) than anyone gives him credit for (partly because he deliberately downplays his ability, to become less of a target); and in any case, magic is always "more" powerful in moments of extreme stress. Indeed, that's when wandless magic tends to occur.

As you suggested, the only practical way by which wizards could reduce Muggle numbers significantly, is by using Dark magic (like the Imperius curse) to control Muggle leaders and setting them against one another. It's only in recent decades that Muggle technology has reached the point of making this sort of war possible, but such a war would also be a disaster for wizards. I think that few wizards would be unaffected by the fallout of any war that was big enough (it would have to be nuclear) however resistant they might be to normal Muggle weapons and injuries.

Also I don't think that wizards in each nation could even conceivably orchestrate such a war to control it, even if they were ruthless enough to start it: they would surely much rather that most of the damage happened to someone else's country, for one thing, even if they weren't horrified by the whole idea, as (at present) nearly all of them would be. An attempt to foment a Muggle war of this nature would tear the wizarding world to bits.

On the other hand, it all depends on just how desperate the wizards become. They are (fairly) secure at the moment, but people always approve things in war that in peacetime would completely horrify them. If exposure to Muggles "did" happen, and went very badly wrong indeed, I can think of circumstances in which fomenting Muggle wars might become politically acceptable again. (I'm sure it happened in the past.) It would certainly radicalise the wizarding population, and concentrate them in magically defensible places.

Mind you, this might suit Voldemort. Perhaps that explains his increasing indifference (when he was at the height of his power) to whether the wizarding world was exposed to Muggles or not. Sirius Black spoke of a time when the Ministry were still "trying to keep everything from the Muggles," but were in disarray.

No, by far the easiest way for wizards to control their relations with Muggles is to keep things going as they are. But of course, even this has its price, as I explained above.

Mon, Jan. 26th, 2004 05:09 am (UTC)

You realise I fangirl you like mad, don't you?

Thank you. *friends*

I wasn't talking about the nuclear side of controlling the leaders though. I was more talking about them taking the leaders and either talking to them, (like they did in PoA) and explaining that both sides should just step aside and blame drugs in the waters, or they could control the leaders and make them play political games so that the wizards themselves would be in positions of high power, and be able to neutralise any groups which seemed to be getting anywhere near wizards.

Of course, if I were a wizard and I was conducting a war against paniced Muggles, I would withdraw all wizards to an appointed area, herd as many fanatical Muggles together (they're sure to form into groups, such as WMD - Wizards Must Die *grins*) and then tell the imperioused leaders to drop a (non nuclear) bomb on the stupid Muggles.

Then I would laugh at all the other wizards because now everyone would suspect them and the hate would grow, and go live in a cottage.

But that's just a very tired and rather sleepy me.

I suppose if wizards ever got revealed, they'd just have to hide their houses damned well, withdraw from muggle society, and wait until the lynching of suspected witches/wizards had subsided, and a new age came, where everyone thought this 21st century very medievil, and stupid for believing in such things as wizards.

Sun, Feb. 1st, 2004 02:01 pm (UTC)
pharnabazus: Re:

That's too gentle and passive a way (in practice) to conduct a war, if there was one. In such circumstances, Muggles might start to employ or ally with renegade wizards to break open the hidden enclaves...

Hiding from Muggles, and diverting their suspicions away from wizardkind is an active thing, not a passive one, though at the moment there does seem to be a sort of balance between Muggle ignorance and the wizarding lack of numbers.

Tue, Mar. 29th, 2005 05:30 pm (UTC)
(Anonymous): Wiz's VS Nuggles

If the wizarding world went to war with the muggle, they would have the edge early on, until the US SUBMARINES under water would no longer be getting their usual radio traffic.

With a lack of the usual radio traffic their DEFCON level would rise. After a number of hours, less than 24, they would come near the surface and launch all 28 multiwarhead missles (192 total) and eastern europe all the way to china would go up in dust and smoke.

In today environment I would guess that the mideast east of the eastern borders of israel would also go up in smoke and dust as well.


Mon, Jan. 26th, 2004 06:12 am (UTC)

So why are they supposed to be afraid of Muggles?

Mon, Jan. 26th, 2004 09:29 pm (UTC)

I'm afraid of spiders, but I can crush them.

Really, I have nooo idea. T00by wizards.