Harry Potter And Individual Liberty

The second Harry Potter movie is on short rotation on HBO, and I estimate that in the past week we’ve seen it about eight or so times; in fact, I had the major ephiphany in the paper I worked on over the holiday while sprawled on the floor during about the sixth viewing of it. The only other thing that is played more frequently in this house is Pride and Prejudice.

I think it’s a better movie than the first one, and the book/movie also has some themes that resonate with me. The second one has much more of an individual responsibility and thinking for yourself theme to it, which appeals to me greatly. In fact, in each of the many times that the movie has played this past week, the one thing that always strikes me is at the end, when Dumbledore is consulting with Harry about Harry’s existential queries about whether he is good or evil. In the book it goes thus (and is edited slightly in the movie):

“It [the sorting hat] only put me in Gryffindor,” said Harry in a defeated voice, “because I asked not to go in Slytherin …”

“Exactly,” said Dumbledore, beaming once more. “Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Apparently I’m not alone in noticing such themes; in fact, there’s even an article on libertarian themes in Harry Potter on the Libertarian Party website. The author, Eryk Boston, notes with regard to book five, The Order of the Phoenix:

I won’t include any spoilers, but I can say that kids who read the book will get a fine lesson in civil disobedience, passive resistance, occasional active resistance, and the price of seeking power by state fiat. Faced with classes designed to rob them of an education, the students organize to educate themselves in clear violation of the new decrees. State interference with the press is bypassed by utilizing an alternative method. The official effort to silence a news story results in the entire school reading it in one day.

With thanks to fellow Chicagoan Milt Rosenberg (on whose show I appeared once, to discuss Enron) for the pointer.

UPDATE: Steve at The Modulator posted his post from July on this topic, which captures a lot of the relevant links from when the book came out, in the comments below. Now that I see it, I recall the Julian Sanchez and A.S. Byatt pieces particularly, alhtough I didn’t pay much attention this summer as I am only through book 2.

3 thoughts on “Harry Potter And Individual Liberty

  1. This (on Harry Potter) is so reassuring to see. I have a standard rant on how, if Libertarians want to see any real change, they need to inhabit the popular culture and infuse it with Libertarian takes on the importance of individual responsibility and free choice. Putting Libertarians in office probably won’t help all that much. Putting Libertarian thought in novels, movies, and on television probably will.

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