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Harry Potter and the Order of the Burkean Politics

December 7, 2010
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Many Harry Potter fanatics, like myself, have been raging about the first part of the final book, “The Deathly Hallows” by JK Rowling, finally becoming a movie just a few weeks ago. Because of the new release, a Harry Potter marathon was, of course, necessary for a refresher course of the many adventures Harry has had throughout his years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

When I reached the film of 5th book of the series, “The Order of the Pheonix,” I realized how Edmond Burke’s views of political theory were nearly directly represented through the character of Professor Umbridge. Those unfamiliar with the movies should know that she was sent from the Ministry of Magic (government of the wizarding world) to be sure Hogwarts was following the guidelines set by the Ministry for ways of teaching and learning.

Burke’s anti-democratic ideologies focus on order. He believes order is absolutely necessary, and that a monarchy is the best way to do so efficiently . Umbridge uses those ideas to take over the ways of Hogwarts as if a dictator (not quite a monarchy), but as a totalitarian system.

In this clip Umbridge is explaining to the students that she must now be in control, instead of the headmaster, Dumbledore, to keep the school following rules set by the wizarding world’s government from years ago. These actions reflect Burke’s ideas of tradition. He believes that tradition is the most reliable source of political knowledge because of what we can learn from it; it is far too important to disregard just for the sake of progress.

“Your constitution, it is true, whilst you were out of possession, suffered waste and dilapidation; but you possessed in some parts the walls and in all the foundation of a noble and venerable castle. You might have repaired those walls; you might have built on those old foundations. Your constitution was suspended before it was perfected, but you had the elements of a constitution very nearly as good as could be wished.” Burke(503)

Throughout the film Umbridge adds to the school rules and regulations she thinks would improve the school’s ways of teaching by implementing the thoughts of the Ministry and their traditional ways, saying it is for the best interest of the school and society as a whole. The Ministry does not agree with the school’s ways of allowing children to perform magic and does not appreciate the school’s rebellion against the ministries ideas. This goes right along with Burke in that, the Ministry already set a good, safe way of learning; there’s no point in starting new practices because it won’t result in the best witches and wizards as in the past.

For example, Umbridge changes the curriculum in the Defense Against the Dark Arts course to stop the use of defensive spells. The ministry believes that it would be best for witches and wizards to not know how to defend themselves, but to solely understand the history of the spells. This another way for the Ministry to possess control and order of the community, even in times of panic.

Umbridge along with the Ministry both portray a Burkean view on ways to run the school and focus on the same ideas and opinions. In this case, Umbridge gets overturned by a rebellion of Centaurs as well as the British crown, held to be so strong throughout history, was also resisted and defeated in the American Revolution. Where should our loyalties lie? With tradition or innovation?

7 Comments
  1. tanoodle permalink
    December 7, 2010 5:11 PM

    I love this post not only because it is about about Harry Potter, but also because Burke relates so well to it! I completely agree that the character of Dolores Umbridge can be seen as the leader Burke envisions to uphold the rules of tradition and ensure that all in right at Hogwarts. When you ask where our loyalties should lie, of course I say with rebellion! With Harry and Dumbledore! Now, I’m not only on the side because they are the protagonists of the story, I’m siding with them because they are right! (Let’s not forget that the Ministry is denying that You-Know-Who is back, even though Harry saw him with his own eyes.)

    I believe there is some benefits we can get by staying with tradition, but I cannot agree with Burke that this is where we must ALWAYS stay. There is always room, as well as necessity, for change. Tradition will only take us so far. We must keep up with the world and change tradition accordingly. If we don’t, we could all lose to Voldemort (so to speak).

    Can’t wait til next summer!

  2. reedmarcus permalink
    December 7, 2010 7:41 PM

    This was a very interesting post because it connects one of the most relevant pop culture phenomenons with Harry Potter and perfectly connecting it with the ideas of Burke. I think that Doloris Umbridge is the perfect match for what Burke would have considered as a great leader because of her obsession with the rules and making everyone follow them directly without any excuse. I agree with the previous post that you must side with Harry and Dumbledore because they are the people that make up this country, those who do what it takes to spread their ideals and make what they believe get done. However, there are times in which Burke’s philosophies must be questioned, in times in which change and revolt is needed and without change, the world would not continue or progress.

  3. December 7, 2010 8:47 PM

    Very nice post. It’s great to see all of the different ways we can apply the philosophies of the political thinkers we’ve read to certain modern things. I definitely agree with you that Umbridge would represent something totally characteristic of Burke. I think it is also important that everyone at Hogwarts who opposed Umbridge may represent Mill’s views – sure, the opinion of regarding the past is okay, but it doesn’t mean anything about tradition is right. There needs to be a legitimate justification for it. So in a way Harry, Ron, and Hermione and everyone else at Hogwarts fits that in relation to opposing Umbridge. Again, very nice and entertaining post.

  4. Shauna Sitarek permalink
    December 7, 2010 10:54 PM

    I think this is a great post, I’m actually a little upset at myself for not thinking of it first.
    I think you did a great job connecting Umbridge to a description of a ‘Burkeian’ person. It is clear throughout the movie (and in part 1 of the Deathly Hallows) that she is loyal the ministry, whom (in her eyes) is showing the correct plan of action.
    I think the person who posted above me, (who brings up Mill) has a good point, however, I think Harry, Ron, and Hermione advocated for the freedom of expression in regards to the return of Lord Voldemort, not so much in a revolt against Umbridge. They tried to prepare themselves (and the rest of Dumbledors Army) to fight against Death Eaters, Voldemort, or anyone practicing dark magic, not necessarily to overthrow Umbridge herself (at least that’s how I remembered it).

  5. arimark91 permalink
    December 7, 2010 11:50 PM

    This post is definitely right about how Umbridge’s view on tradition is similar to Burke’s view, however, in many ways Hogwarts does not see tradition as a bad thing, even though in this one case it does. Hogwarts celebrates tradition by continuing to organize students into different houses year after year. The school clearly believes in order because it wants to organize its students into different categories, or houses. I think that many students would welcome Burke’s belief about tradition, just not this particular spin on it. Still, this post is very creative and entertaining. I really enjoyed it, and do agree that Burke and Umbridge are similar in many ways.

  6. dmalks permalink
    December 8, 2010 10:54 PM

    This is one of my favorite posts that I have read all year. I really enjoyed reading this because of my love for Harry Potter. I feel the best posts are ones that compare every day interests and occurrences to the material we are learning in class. They way this post compared Umbridge’s view to Burke’s was very interesting, but I also agree with the comment above in that tradition is an important part of Hogwarts. But still, great post.

  7. December 10, 2010 7:36 PM

    I agree with your relationship of Umbridge’s and Burke’s reliance on tradition for the source of knowledge, and how that progress, for the sake of progress should be discouraged. However I do not see Umbridge as being the “Harry Potter” version of Burke, simply for the fact that, in terms of Hogwarts, Umbridge does not uphold tradition, but rather puts the school through her own revolution. Something, Burke would not endorse.

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