The View from England
Why Harry Potter Is a Tory

American liberals’ love for J.K. Rowling misses the profound British conservatism of her books.

Published on: January 5, 2018
Ben Judah is author of Fragile Empire and This Is London.
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  • hecate9

    This suffers from the same disadvantages that all attempts to interpret fairy tales, children stories, and escapist/fantasy epics according to some Right/Left, Liberal/Conservative Rorshok test suffer from- a laughable reductionism. Like Mitch Rapp novels? You must be a real right winger with a militia membership card. Read Dr. Seuss to you kids or grandkids? Clearly you’re a left coast- fellow traveller tree-hugging libtard- that Lorax guy wanted to shut Exxon down, didn’t he? Like watching The Wizard of Oz with your daughter? L.Frank Baum was a flaming populist whose cowardly lion is a thinly disguised caricature of William Jennings Bryan, the Tin Man was a Wobbly. the Scarecrow a disadvantaged farmer, and the flying monkeys were Native Americans (who in 1900 Baum proposed be “annihilated” -his word). On to Harry Potter, where evidently Muggles are Trump/Brexit supporters, Voldemort is Trump (?!) and Hogwarts’ Quidditch match is the Eton Wall Game (or maybe a Berkeley frisbee tournament since Public School attending Tories have now magically morphed into elitist lefties in America).

    Is there a reason why epics/stories/songs (from the Bhagavad Gita to Grimm) might frequently strike a culturally conservative or “Tory” note? Of course- but it has less to do with politics than with the need to relate to young people with cultural themes that are by definition older and more established. As Joseph Campbell might have said, this is just the Gemeinschaft that writers- from Tolkien to Terry Goodkind need to use as their warp, their cultural foundation- onto which they weave their weft- the real events- that can be quite startling and radical- or quite sentimental and cliche. Great fantasists from Homer to George R. R. Martin often did both. Rowling usually did not, but her objectives and audience were different.

    • baumann

      No; he’s got it right. He doesn’t even mention that it is, by the end, an overtly Christian story. And since Rowling seems to be a serious Christian, she does not share Judah’s utopian beliefs that it is only the class system that produces Voldemorts, i.e. evil, and that he and Jeremy Corbyn can create a heaven on earth. That is why in these novels, the best you can do is promote decency, kindness and courtesy. Invidious, i.e irrational, discrimination is therefore out, hence the anti-racism of the novels. But that there are natural differences among humans and that those differences include, in part at least, how they react to their fallen state, is something the novels tell us and that Ben Judah just can’t stand. So yes, Hogwarts represents an idealized and remarkably traditional society which has vertical elements, as all societies do, including and especially the most overtly egalitarian ones. But it is one in which there are moral standards for muggles and wizards alike (Judah is right–no moral relativism here), and inculcating and adhering to them is the best we can do. In the end I think Rowling’s world is rather more sober and realistic than Judah’s utopian fantasy. It is also in reality less bloody than Judah’s overly sanguine hopes prove in practice.

    • Jim__L

      Edgar Allan Poe did a pretty good sendup of this (even in the turgid writing style of his critics) in his little-known classic, “Never Bet the Devil Your Head (A Tale with a Moral)”.

      “Just so, too, Jacobus Hugo has satisfied himself that, by Euenis, Homer
      meant to insinuate John Calvin; by Antinous, Martin Luther; by the
      Lotophagi, Protestants in general; and, by the Harpies, the Dutch. Our
      more modern Scholiasts are equally acute. These fellows demonstrate
      a hidden meaning in “The Antediluvians,” a parable in Powhatan,” new
      views in “Cock Robin,” and transcendentalism
      in “Hop O’ My Thumb.” In short, it has been shown that no man can sit
      down to write without a very profound design. Thus to authors in general
      much trouble is spared. A novelist, for example, need have no care of
      his moral. It is there — that is to say, it is somewhere — and the
      moral and the critics can take care of themselves. When the proper time
      arrives, all that the gentleman intended, and all that he did not
      intend, will be brought to light, in the “Dial,” or the “Down-Easter,”
      together with all that he ought to have intended, and the rest that he
      clearly meant to intend: — so that it will all come very straight in
      the end. ”

      If you can get past the thickness of the prose, it’s a lot of fun.

  • gda

    Ironic that Rowling has mistakenly associated Trump with Voldemort rather than the Clobamaton phenomenon.

    Surely the gradual exposure to the light of the scheming Clobamaton minions (ultimately) failed attempt to divert the entire apparatus of the Federal Government (aka the Ministry of Magic) – the very Rule of Law – to serve their masters greed and unquenchable thirst for political power is proof enough of that.

    For decades the narrative held up – its futile to resist she-who-cannot-be-named. Thanks to Harry (Trump) and friends (Mike Rogers et al), the witch is dead and Voldemort (yup – you guessed it) wanders the world, toothlessly awaiting his own date with destiny.

    Lucky for him (and unlike him) Harry respects the office and traditions of Chief Wizard, and may allow him to slink away into the fog of obscurity, only to be revived briefly and fleetingly in later years when Trivial Pursuit type games ask obscure questions such as “Who was the worst Wizard of All Time?”

  • jeremycouts

    Writer is daft! Bouncing around contradicting themselves.

  • Dev “Dev”

    If you checked Pottermore and checked the backstory on ilvermory (North America’s Hogwarts or Something like that) you would see that the wand would not work and harm muggles if the held it.

  • Libs are Excrement

    The only good shitlib is a dead shitlib.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Actually, not all liberals are big fans of Rowling’s Harry Potter. Some of us would have preferred young people reading almost anything else.

  • Che Guevara

    Ben Judah’s essay about Harry Potter as a Tory is very entertaining and insightful indeed. I didn’t appreciate before how much the Harry Potter books are a metaphor for Britain’s class system. TAI needs more great articles like that!

    • EmilyEnso

      JK Rowling is as left as you can get.
      An absolute Neo lib with knobs on.
      But worth billions…

      • Frederica

        A female Tony Blair!

        • EmilyEnso

          Exactly or maybe a clone of Sturgeon.
          Rowling put a huge sum into the Scot Nat’s referendum .
          She is a Scottish nationalist – while apparently opposing the wickedness of ‘nationalism’ elsewhere.

          • Frederica

            That’s the trouble with ideological zealots. They run on double standards!

          • EmilyEnso

            Hypocrites in her case.
            Lives in a huge Scottish castle and thinks the British working class ( and the rest now) should be over run and welcome a mosque on every corner..
            Private health care
            Private schools….
            What a bare faced cheek she has

          • Frederica

            I think she imbibed most of Voldermorts nastier traits as she was writing her books! She made him in her image. A Roman a Clef!

          • EmilyEnso

            I like that!
            How true.

          • Simric

            Er… as the article says, Rowling actually opposed Scottish nationalism very vocally and in fact helped fund the No campaign in the independence referendum

  • td whittle

    I guess you don’t remember crucial bits about the books. Spoiler alert! Dumbledore was trying to kill Harry Potter, and it was Snape who was trying to save him. It’s important to get your facts right if you are going to argue political foundations of JKR’s or others’ books. Also, reading JKR’s own comments about her own work, she was operating on a bigger scale than you are: the universal theme of good versus evil. She used the system she knew and had grown up with to do this, but her ideas are much grander than yours. She was going for something akin to Tolkien’s world, not highlighting petty political bickering in the UK. You have misunderstood her, utterly.

  • Loader2000

    There is a lot of stuff you can read into any novel with a complex, colorful universe. However, I think what counts are the first and overarching impressions. This kids and teenagers reading the books aren’t going to pick up on much else, unless they are actively looking for it. As far as moral/social lessons, my takeaways from a first and only reading of the novels were this: 1) Harry Potter chose to be good even though he came from a crappy back ground and a bad family life; 2) Be loyal to your friends; 3) bad things can still happen even if you are fighting for a good cause (this came more from the last 2 books which were darker and more adult -and not as much fun to read- than the rest), and victory requires sacrifice. That is was hit me when reading the books, while not even looking for deeper meaning or symbolism. Then JK announced Dumbledore was gay, which is fine, especially since it makes his backstory with Grimwalde more interesting. However, then she got really into politics and tweeting. I have a lot of respect for Jonny Reznik (of the Goo Goo Dolls) who, when asked about his political take, said (paraphrasing) that yeah, sure he has an opinion, but why should anyone listen to him, he was just a musician, why was his opinion better than anyone else’s.

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