Harry Potter and Political Philosophy: Is Dumbledore A Libertarian?

An admittedly extreme amount of nerdiness coupled with way too much time to think about nothing important has led me to evaluate the political leanings of famous characters in literature. I started with a character from one of the most popular and successful book series’ of all time, and a personal favorite of mine: Albus Dumbledore of the Harry Potter series.

I’m not interested in the political views of the three main protagonists of the series (partly because I don’t think they’re really developed, partly because not enough information is available, and partly because they’d be downright boring) so much as I am in the views of the embodiments of “good” and “evil” throughout the series: Dumbledore and Voldemort. To uncover their political and philosophical views is essentially to uncover J.K. Rowling’s own extremely influential views on the definitions of good and evil. For now, I’ll analyze the political philosophy of Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts and a continual agent of justice and voice of reason throughout much of the series.

To start off, Albus Dumbledore is without a doubt a socially liberal character, like almost all the “good” characters of the series are (beyond just the three young protagonists). Among other things, social liberals support equality for same-sex couples, and equal treatment of individuals regardless of race or religion. For starters, Dumbledore is homosexual, as is hinted at numerous times throughout the book and can be observed in his overall demeanor. Rowling has confirmed Dumbledore’s sexual orientation in a “real world” interview. Regardless of whether or not this has had any influence on his other social views, Dumbledore thinks that pure-bloods should have no special treatments over half-bloods or muggles (“mud-bloods” as the racial purists would have you say) and adamantly insists that they should all be given the same fair treatment in just about every aspect of life. It follows that he is profoundly anti-racist.

A major part of libertarianism is social liberalism, the idea that people, at very least, have the right to do as they please with themselves and with their bodies and not be treated unfairly or discriminated against because of it (assuming this same right is not infringed upon against others). So in that regard alone, Dumbledore is certainly on track to being considered libertarian.

However, social liberalism is only half of libertarianism’s unofficial “slogan”: socially liberal, fiscally conservative. Libertarians and liberals, though generally on the same page on social policies, vehemently disagree on fiscal policies, with liberalism advocating a “big government” role in the economy and thus in personal economic lives, and libertarianism advocating a government that only interferes with personal lives when one’s natural rights have been intruded upon, and thus for a generally “small government.”

This is where things get more complicated, because Dumbledore’s fiscal views are less obvious and far less discussed, if they are discussed at all. However, there are several instances in which snippets of his views of government can be gleaned. To reiterate, libertarianism is opposed to the idea of government intruding on people’s natural rights to life and property. Throughout the Harry Potter books, it is mentioned that on numerous occasions, Dumbledore refused the job of Minister of Magic (essentially, the wizarding President or Prime Minister) despite being a favorite of the wizarding community. This is probably because Dumbledore, just as libertarian wizards doubtlessly would, views the Ministry of Magic as generally corrupt and self-serving and actually quite inefficient at sorting things out. He knows that the more power given to the government, the worse it is for everyone else not in the government, and he isn’t shy about his opinion that the government generally stinks at solving problems that would best be left in the hands of those they directly concern.

He displays this “anti-government intrusion” attitude when he is absolutely outraged that Dementors are allowed, on Ministry orders, to situate themselves around and inside Hogwarts in order to enhance the search for Sirius Black, an escaped convict from Azkaban. Dumbledore correctly identifies this Ministry intrusion into his school and thus the personal lives of his students as counter-intuitive and something that will ultimately create far more harm than good. He recognizes that it isn’t the Ministry’s place to make decisions of this nature regarding his school, and that furthermore, the decision will only foster more fear, tension, and discomfort among Hogwarts students instead of helping to find Black or even keeping him out. This is a profoundly libertarian attitude and is one held by most libertarians today, just without magic and dementors and all that stuff us muggles believe doesn’t exist – erroneously of course.

Dumbledore displays this same libertarian attitude when the Ministry appoints a new teacher named Dolores Umbridge to the Hogwarts staff while Dumbledore, yet again, realizes that this appointment will create far more harm than good for Hogwarts and its students. The Ministry’s appointment is motivated by its own corrupt agenda and desire to force the usual government propaganda down students’ throats and prevent various important truths from being taught. It starts out slowly in implementing its crooked plan, because it is smart enough to know that not even young students are naïve and unassuming enough to believe that Umbridge’s appointment is really for their own good; it starts off slowly, first letting Umbridge serve as a normal teacher and soon promoting her to “Hogwarts High Inquisitor,” an unprecedented, outwardly dictatorial position created solely by the Ministry to implement its corrupt, brainwashing agenda. Needless to say, Dumbledore and all the staff (aside from Filch of course – my fellow Harry Potter nerds will understand why) are rightfully pissed off at this pathetic governmental power grab and recognize that the Ministry should stay out of people’s private affairs unless they do something that really necessitates punishment, or someone else’s protection, etc.  (Ah, if only teachers in America today would be so concerned about the federal government deciding what is and what is not acceptable to teach to students.)

To start wrapping up my first political evaluation of influential literary characters, I’ll say again that I think there is good reason to assume that Albus Dumbledore is indeed socially liberal and fiscally conservative, and thus, a libertarian. Now, did J.K. Rowling intend to portray him as such? I don’t know if the word “libertarian” specifically came to mind when creating the character, but I imagine she intended to portray him as a social liberal who values giving equally fair treatment and opportunities to all of his students, regardless of race or any other kind of background.

I’m less sure that Rowling intended to portray him as even the least bit fiscally conservative – first of all, Dumbledore detests certain kinds of unhealthy government intrusion and definitely recognizes that the wizarding government is overall ineffective at solving big problems (even succeeding in creating some themselves), and that would doubtlessly give him some striking parallels to real world libertarians, but if the similarities stop there it’s doubtful that he’s really “fiscally conservative.” Fiscal conservatism also entails the belief that a free-market economy with as few government regulations as possible is ideal and will be more prosperous than one with maximum government control and regulations of all sorts. Sure, Dumbledore hasn’t had the best attitude/relationship with government in the past, but who knows what he thinks about the economy and how it best thrives? Nobody, perhaps aside from J.K. Rowling herself. Using probable implications, we can assume that he thinks government should stay the heck out of it, due to the self-serving motives that the government tends to acquire when allowed excess power, and Dumbledore’s awareness of those motives.

 But perhaps his belief that everybody should be equal trumps his belief that government has a knack for messing things up when it gets heavily involved in them. Equality for all students is something that, as Headmaster of Hogwarts, Dumbledore is always concerned with throughout the books, so maybe he values the “redistribution of wealth” so as to create some kind of equality (regardless of whether or not it’s been rightfully earned – hello, liberalism) more so than he values small government. Implications are just that: implications. But the fact remains that Dumbledore is an adamant social liberal who has also a)  refused to take an active role in the government b) actively fought against almost every instance on which the government has interfered with his personal life, and who has c) been one of the few men wise enough to notice that most of the Ministry’s agenda is corrupt and seriously ineffective at addressing the issues that actually matter.

If Albus Dumbledore is not a libertarian, he certainly has profoundly libertarian streaks in whatever philosophy he does adhere to.

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2 Responses to Harry Potter and Political Philosophy: Is Dumbledore A Libertarian?

  1. Lucien says:

    I think you have really milked the most ungenerous instances where we might learn something of his politics and by the sounds of it perverted everything to your own politics. I agree that he would have been socially liberal however the sense of social conscience I feel in Dumbledore just doesn’t harmonise with the dog-eat-dog bent to economic libertarianism. In my view, Dumbledore would have almost certainly been somewhere between Modern Liberal (as opposed to Classical Liberal) and Social Democracy. This comes from a political apathetic person.

  2. Ghost says:

    This is stupid, almost everyone is an “anti-racist” in mainstream politics, that has nothing to do with conservativism/liberalism, and the fact that some is a homosexual says nothing about their personal social views.

    What person would allow Dementors to come in invading?

    You’re engaging in wishful thinking, Dumbledore is apolitical. Btw, libertarianism is stupid. Social liberalism leads to the collapse of the family unit and thus the collapse of civilization itself.

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