In the most recent edition of the Spectator, Lara Prendergast penned a column describing how the millennial generation’s political views have been moulded by the world of Harry Potter. Having seen how my generation has evolved politically, how they vote, how they approach political life in the way it intersects (sorry) with culture, the depiction of the millennials as the Potter Politicals is apt.
One only has to see how the millennials view the world to see how much they’ve been influenced by the world of Harry Potter and his fellow wizarding denizens. They view it with a similar Manichaean lens, with the world divided into comforting black and white, good and evil, nasty and nice. Ergo, Labour under Corbyn is nice and the Tories under May are nasty.
This worldview helps explain why millennials are so committed to rooting out social injustice and inequality wherever they find it, believing that they are like Dumbledore’s Army, bravely resisting and fighting back against the oppression and victimisation practised by those who don’t conform to their way of thinking, in Britain and in America.
The irony is that in their own way, the millennials have become as intolerant of dissident voices and opinions as those they view as bigoted; Theresa May is now viewed as Dolores Umbrage by many. But then again, if we are to use the Potterverse as a metaphor for real life, Umbrage would better describe the campus censors, who go around college campuses castigating and policing those who hold different opinions to themselves and thereby creating an environment that is no longer conducive to free thought and enquiry, and which actively seeks to kill it off if it deviates from the accepted Left-wing narrative due to words now being elevated to the same level as actions; words are now violence, hence unsafe, hence the need for ideological safe spaces.
I suspect that J.K. Rowling wouldn’t be happy to hear of her creation being co-opted by someone who doesn’t exactly share her worldview or the worldview she portrayed in her books. Another example of this is given by anti-Islamist extremist campaigner Maajid Nawaz. He calls the unwillingness to name the ideology of Islamist extremism due to fear of giving offence the “Voldemort Effect” because Islamism becomes the ideology that must not be named due to the fact that it admits that Jihadi terrorism has something to do with Islam. Not naming the ideology only increases the levels of hysteria around it, as it did in the books regarding Voldemort.
Apparently, when Nawaz told Rowling of his use of one of her literary devices in passing she wasn’t overly pleased. One suspects that’s because she’s in the “nothing to do with Islam” crowd, and is uncomfortable with her creation that displays an extremely fixed view of what good and evil is being used in this way, which suggests she falls into the trap, as Nick Cohen puts its, of being unable to comprehend that even brown-skinned people can behave in fascistic ways rather than always being the victims.
Given her own political views, it is hard not to see the bad guys in Harry Potter as magical right-wing and conservative caricatures, with all the emphasis on blood (racial) purity, purging the Muggles (unclean, not of the race), excessive order and hierarchy (tools of oppression designed). It’s a neat trick and serves only to reinforce the “us and them” narrative between those on the political Left and Right.
The real problem with how Harry Potter has influenced the political worldview of my generation is that it displays a lack of realism in how they view reality. Everything is black and white, good and evil, and can be solved by make-believe, wishful thinking and magical actions. The faith (and it is almost a sort of religious faith) placed in Jeremy Corbyn (and Bernie Sanders), now seen as some sort of Dumbledore, to deliver on his promises to bring about fairness and equality rests on the naive belief that socialism, a morally and economically bankrupt ideology, works or is even a good idea. The fact that socialism is tied with Nazism for the most murderous ideology in the history of mankind seems to have passed many millennials by.
This faith in magical thinking, displayed by the application of the Potterverse to real world politics, and the belief in the power of bankrupt ideologies to act as a sort of redemptive moral force together with a government that acts like a replacement parent, arguably displays the real political immaturity of these political Peter Pans. Their reliance on fairy tale political beliefs shows that they haven’t come to terms with the fact that life, both socially and politically, involves trade-offs between bad and less bad options. There is never a solution that will make all the problems vanish in a puff of smoke, and some people will always be disappointed.
The goal of politics should be instead to provide a basis that allows the full flowering of the individual as a sacrosanct being of inherent value, and whose prerogative in life it is to pursue life, liberty and happiness to the best of their ability. And yet this worldview does not mean that we should view society as made up of atomised economic widgets. Community, a sense of belonging and deep-seated love and affection, of oikophilia as Roger Scruton puts it, for those around you, whether it be your family, neighbours, village, town, city or nation, is also vital.
However, there is a difference between communitarianism and collectivism. Communitarianism revolves around a degree of freedom of association and choice, whereas collectivism, as instantiated in the most recent wave of Left-wing group identity politics, removes this freedom to choose. In collectivist identity politics, everyone is divided up by their basic biological, racial or sexual characteristics, and must associate and behave accordingly with a pre-defined group. Being part of a community means that while you are part of a bigger whole, there is room for manoeuvre in how you conduct your life; in a collectivist identity group, there is no room and everyone must behave in accordance with their in-group.
The Potterverse has, I would argue, helped feed into the mentality that has given rise to the “us and them” phenomenon present in Left-wing identitarianism that is rampant on campuses today, and which punishes those who stray from the narrative. It has further helped divide people by playing into the resistance narrative currently on display in America, and to a lesser extent in Britain. It has also fostered and played into an unrealistic view of the world, where problems can be solved by magical thinking and sweeping programmes designed to end inequality and bring fairness. The fact that the policies millennials favour will bring neither and will only serve to grow inequality and unfairness doesn’t seem to be on their radar.
The political Peter Pans of the millennial generation need to leave behind their fantasies about life and politics and the warm embrace of the comforting world of childish dreams. They need to abandon their longing for magical solutions to their problems, and they need to start thinking about ways in which they can find solutions to their own issues. If they cannot sort their own lives out, maybe they should have the humility that comes with maturity to realise that they’re not prepared to sort the rest of the world out, either.