The Wizarding World in The Order of the Phoenix

In my last post about a Harry Potter book, I wrote that:
[o]ne of the most enjoyable aspects of The Goblet of Fire... is the discovery of the wider wizarding world, to which Harry has been (despite his importance as the Boy Who Lived) a peripheral figure, and which has a life and energy of its own apart from Harry and Hogwarts.
The unfolding of the broader wizarding world, especially the Ministry for Magic, is likewise a source of enjoyment of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Whereas in my post on The Goblet of Fire changed focus to look at Barty Crouch, Sr., as a tragic or semi-tragic figure, in this post my focus will be on the use of virtue in the wizarding world. As we shall see, virtue is not in every case good, or agreed-upon. Much of the conflict between Dumbledore and his Order and Fudge and the Ministry has to do with what virtues are most important, what constitutes virtuous behaviour, and to whom one owes the duty of being virtuous.

First, I need to set the stage briefly by looking back at the events of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

In many respects The Goblet of Fire is about the 'boasted pomp and show' which governments, rulers, and states put on to give themselves legitimacy with people. The Quidditch World Cup; the Triwizard Tournament: both are meant to be examples of the hard work, effort, and dedication of the Ministry for Magic to upholding the virtues of the wizarding world.

It is significant, then, that Rowling undermines both events immediately at what ought to be their triumphant conclusions. The celebrations of the World Cup are ruined by Death Eaters; the Triwizard Tournament stage-managed by a small, resourceful band of wizards in order to entrap Harry.
Finally, and most importantly, we come to the reaction of Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge to the news that Voldemort has returned. He refuses to believe it is true. Fudge's reaction crystallises the lack of concern and inability to face facts which has characterised the culture of the Ministry throughout the book: about the missing Bertha Jorkins; about Barty Crouch, Sr's absence; about the possibility that anyone might be able to sabotage the Ministry's efforts.

More could be said about Rowling's treatment of the wizarding world in The Goblet of Fire, but from this brief summary it is clear that her depiction of the wider wizarding society to which Harry belongs is a depreciative one (even, it may be said, pessimistic). What is more, things are only going to get worse, as Fudge's reaction demonstrates.

I don't need to make much of a case for the depiction of wizarding society as being predominantly negative in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. That Dolores Umbridge, easily one of the most loathsome characters in the Potter books, is a high-ranking Ministry official whom Fudge trusts, becomes his right hand at Hogwarts is, I dare say, evidence enough.

But as I said above, the conflict between the Ministry and the Order very largely depends on their differing priorities with regard to virtue. With that in mind, let us regard how virtue is used socially in The Order of the Phoenix.

Being honest, telling the truth, is generally considered virtuous. But our own experience tells us that this is more difficult than it seems, and we all know that honesty sometimes really isn't the best policy. Our struggles with what we might call the virtue of honesty are crystallised in The Order of the Phoenix. We might say that one question Rowling raises in this book is, to whom do we owe being honest?

On a related note, an article on the CBC website about the recent federal election campaign (it was written on the thirtieth of April, two days before Canada went to the polls) refers to St. Augustine establishing
eight different categories of lies. All but one of them are told not for the sake of deception itself but to achieve a larger purpose. What the person really wants is not to tell the lie, but to accomplish an objective. They are therefore not real lies, in Augustine's view, and the person telling them is not really a liar.
It is too bad that Ira Basen does not state in which work of Augustine he found these categories, because I would like to consult them with regard to this discussion. For, of course, Harry Potter and every other single one of the 'good guys' in The Order of the Phoenix all tell lies in order to accomplish an objective.

So it is not clear-cut that every single act of dishonesty is unvirtuous. With that in mind, let us explore the question I posed.
'But Percy must [italics original] know Voldemort's back,' said Harry slowly. 'He's not stupid, he must know your mum and dad wouldn't risk everything without proof.'
     'Yeah, well, your name got dragged into the row,' said Ron, shooting Harry a furtive look. 'Percy said the only evidence was your word and ... I dunno ... he didn't think it was good enough.'
     'Percy takes the Daily Prophet seriously,' said Hermione tartly, and the others all nodded.
     'What are you talking about?' Harry asked, looking around at them all. They were all regarding him warily.
     'Haven't - haven't you been getting the Daily Prophet?' Hermione asked nervously.
     'Yeah, I have!' said Harry.
     'Have you - er - been reading it thoroughly?' Hermione asked, still more anxiously.
     'Not cover to cover,' said Harry defensively. 'If they were going to report anything about Voldemort it would be headline news, wouldn't it?'
     The others flinched at the sound of the name. Hermione hurried on. 'Well, you'd need to read it cover to cover to pick it up, but they - um - they mention you a couple of times a week.'
     'But I'd have seen -'
    'Not if you've only been reading the front page, you wouldn't,' said Hermione, shaking her head. 'I'm not talking about big articles. They just slip you in, like you're a standing joke.'
     'What d'you -?'
     'It's quite nasty, actually,' said Hermione in a voice of forced calm. 'They're just building on Rita's stuff.' ...
     'Well, they're writing about you as though you're this deluded, attention-seeking person who thinks he's a great tragic hero or something,' said Hermione, very fast, as though it would be less unpleasant for Harry to hear these facts quickly. 'They keep slipping in snide comments about you. If some far-fetched story appears, they say something like, "A tale worthy of Harry Potter", and if anyone has a funny accident or anything it's "Let's hope he hasn't got a scar on his forehead or we'll be asked to worship him next" -'
     'I don't want anyone to worship -' Harry began hotly.
     'I know you don't,' said Hermione, looking frightened. 'I know [ditto], Harry. But you see what they're doing? They want to turn you into someone nobody will believe. Fudge is behind it, I'll bet anything. They want wizards on the street to think you're just some stupid boy who's a bit of a joke, who tells ridiculous tall stories because he loves being famous and wants to keep it going.' [pp. 70-1]
So the first thing we can see is that the Ministry, via its puppet newspaper, the Daily Prophet, is lying about Harry; put, perhaps more accurately, the interpretation the Prophet is making of what Harry has said, following, as Hermione points out, Rita Skeeter's work, does not fit the facts.

This raises the question of authoritative interpretation: whose interpretation of the facts ought we to accept? In other words, who is being honest? Fudge pointed out in The Goblet of Fire (GOF, 611-12) that he had no reason to accept that what Harry said about Voldemort's return was true, and this is true, so far as it goes; but from his actions in the previous books, such as sending Hagrid to Azkaban without warrant, and the fact that he (perhaps not altogether undeliberately) eliminated the source of corroboration (i.e., Barty Crouch, Jr.) that Harry was telling the truth, we know that his interpretation of what has been going on cannot be authoritative; in other words, it is not true.

The most infamous example of the treatment of the virtue of honesty in The Order of the Phoenix is, of course, that of Dolores Umbridge. In Harry's first lesson in Defense Against the Dark Arts, after Harry finally says Voldemort is back (something she appears to have been expecting), Umbridge says:
'As I was saying, you have been informed that a certain Dark wizard is at large once again. This is a lie.'
'It is NOT a lie!' said Harry. 'I saw him! I fought him!'
'Detention, Mr Potter!' Tomorrow evening. Five o'clock. My office. I repeat, this is a lie. The Ministry of Magic guarantees that you are not in danger from any Dark wizard. If you are still worried, by all means come and see me outside class hours. If someone is alarming you with fibs about reborn Dark wizards, I would like to hear about it. I am here to help. I am your friend. ...' (OP, 221)
While others in the wizarding world are well-meaning, more or less, when they question Harry and Dumbledore's sincerity (such as Seamus, Lavender and even Percy), Umbridge knows better (as Harry himself says). She all but calls Harry a liar (she is careful not to use the word or address Harry directly except to inform him he has detention) and tells the students, in what has to take the cake as the best example of Ministry doublespeak in the book, 'I am your friend.' She does not merely disagree with Harry; she punishes him for telling the truth. But the worst is yet to come. Before we move on to it, notice (as Ron does on p. 227) that Umbridge encourages the students to tattle on those who, like Harry, publicly claim Voldemort is back. Umbridge expects honesty from the students - her demands for it increase upon her promotion to Headmistress - but she in turn will not speak the truth.

Harry goes to detention that week:
'There,' said Umbridge sweetly, 'we're getting better at controlling our temper already, aren't we? Now, you are going to be doing some lines for me, Mr Potter. No, not with your quill,' she added, as Harry bent down to open his bag. 'You're going to be using a rather special one of mine. Here you are.' [As an aside, this dialogue of Umbridge's represents how well Rowling writes for her; Umbridge uses that tone of voice and first person plural which domineering adults use to children when they want to put them down; and notice how she uses no verbs indicating direct action until she gives him her quill.]
She handed him a long, thin black quill with an unusually sharp point.
'I want you to write, I must not tell lies,' she told him softly.
'How many times?' Harry asked, with a creditable imitation of politeness.
'Oh, as long as it takes for the message to sink in,' said Umbridge sweetly. 'Off you go.' ...
'You haven't given me any ink,' he said.
'Oh, you won't need ink,' said Professor Umbridge, with the merest suggestion of a laugh in her voice.
Harry placed the point of the quill on the paper and wrote: I must not tell lies.
He let out a gasp of pain. The words had appeared on the parchment in what appeared to be shining red ink. At the same time, the words had appeared on the back of Harry's right hand, cut into his skin as though traced there by a scalpel - yet even as he stared at the shining cut, the skin healed over again, leaving the place where it had been slightly redder than before but quite smooth. ...
He looked back at the parchment, placed the quill on it once more, wrote I must not tell lies, and felt the searing pain on the back of his hand for a second time; once again, the words had been cut into his skin; once again, they healed over seconds later.
And on it went. Again and again Harry wrote the words on the parchment in what he soon came to realise was not ink, but his own blood. And, again and again, the words were cut into the back of his hand, healed, and reappeared the next time he set quill to parchment. (OP, 240-1)
On it goes; Harry eventually has a permanent scar on his hand from using Umbridge's quill, which he shows to Rufus Scrimgeour at one point in The Half-Blood Prince.

All these things: the smear job the Daily Prophet runs daily on Harry and Dumbledore; the party line that Voldemort is not back; Umbridge's doublespeak and her highly ironic and tortuous detention (making the truth-teller write I must not tell lies with his own blood); the attempt to discredit Harry by forcing him to perform magic in Little Whinging; all of them set the stage for Rowling to justify the dishonesty the Order (and Hogwarts students in Dumbledore's Army) displays to the Ministry.
We may suppose, then, that those who deserve honest deeds and words from others must themselves be honest. Yet there are limits. Members of the Order working at the Ministry (such as Arthur Weasley, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Tonks) may pretend to toe the party line, but you might say that they are dishonest out of necessity, rather than out of habit. Were things equal, they and others would not have to lie about their allegiance; but things are not equal. In contrast with the dishonesty perpetrated of necessity by the Order, Fudge embraces what he knows to be a lie, while Umbridge sets out to use that lie to gain power over others.

There are times, then, when it is more virtuous to be dishonest than honest; but habitual dishonesty or the deliberate perpetration of falsehood to strengthen one's own position or discredit enemies is shown to be wrongful.

By virtue of being a Hogwarts teacher, Umbridge can expect a certain amount of obedience, although even in the best of times, the right of teachers at Hogwarts to the obedience of their students is generally noticeable more in the breach than in the observance. But we have already seen that her claims for obedience extend beyond what she can rightfully expect. Not only does she expect students to accept her interpretation that Voldemort's return is a fabrication, she is prepared to punish those who contradict her. Now, punishing disobedient students is hardly unusual, and Umbridge could have always said she was giving Harry detention because he was being disruptive. Yet as the face of the Ministry (and Fudge's right hand), she exemplifies how the Ministry emphasises the virtue of obedience.

The multiplication of Educational Decrees, moreover, signifies that the Ministry's demands for obedience to itself (and to Fudge in particular) is illegitimate. The implication is that the Ministry is incapable of earning obedience by right, and must resort to the abuse of its power to coerce others to obey it (in the end failing to do so, of course). In the Educational Decree establishing Umbridge as Hogwarts High Inquisitor (the latter term being obviously suggestive), Fudge, at a remove through Percy Weasley, pretends that it is all about looking after the interests of students:
'In a surprise move last night the Ministry of Magic passed new legislation giving itself an unprecedented level of control at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. ...
'This is not the first time in recent weeks that the Minister, Cornelius Fudge, has used new laws to effect improvements at the wizarding school. As recently as 30th August, Educational Decree Number Twenty-two was passed, to ensure that, in the event of the current Headmaster being unable to provide a candidate for a teaching post, the Ministry should select an appropriate person.
'"That's how Dolores Umbridge came to be appointed to the teaching staff at Hogwarts," said Weasley last night. "Dumbledore couldn't find anyone so the Minister put in Umbridge, and of course, she's been... an immediate success, totally revolutionising the teaching of Defence Against the Dark Arts and providing the Minister with on-the-ground feedback about what's really happening at Hogwarts."
'It is this last function that the Ministry has now formalised with the passing of Educational Decree Number Twenty-three, which creates the new position of Hogwarts High Inquisitor. ...
'Wizengamot elders Griselda Marchbanks and Tiberius Ogden have resigned in protest at the introduction of the post of Inquisitor to Hogwarts.
'"Hogwarts is a school, not an outpost of Cornelius Fudge's office," said Madam Marchbanks. "This is a further attempt to discredit Albus Dumbledore." (OP, 274-6)
The earliest Educational Decree referred to in the above article from the Daily Prophet announcing the creation of the post of Hogwarts High Inquisitor was passed, more or less, as a direct result of Fudge's will being thwarted on August the twelfth when Dumbledore's intervention saved Harry at the hearing:
'But, as the Ministry has no authority to punish Hogwarts students for misdemeanours at school, Harry's behaviour there is not relevant to this hearing,' said Dumbledore, as politely as ever, but now with a suggestion of coolness behind his words. 
'Oho!' said Fudge. 'Not our business what he does at school, eh? You think so?'
'The Ministry does not have the power to expel Hogwarts students, Cornelius, as I reminded you on the night of the second of August,' said Dumbledore. ...
'Laws can be changed,' said Fudge savagely. (OP, 136-7)
We don't know how frequently the previous Educational Decrees had been promulgated, but they appear in quick succession in The Order of the Phoenix: Educational Decree Number Twenty-four permits Umbridge to force students to be obedient, lest their extra-curricular activities be banned (OP, 313); the same decree is obviously an attempt to prevent the DA from forming, and we learn that Umbridge tried to use it to ban the Gryffindor Quidditch team from playing (all, of course, in the attempt to silence Harry); after Dumbledore thwarts Umbridge's attempt to ban the Gryffindor Quidditch team, Educational Decree Number Twenty-five is passed in short order, whereupon she bars Harry, Fred, and George, from playing Quidditch ('Not another one!' exclaimed Professor McGonagall violently. [OP, 368]); after the break-out from Azkaban of Voldemort's loyal Death Eaters shortly after Christmas, Educational Decree Number Twenty-six is promulgated, barring teachers from talking about it (or any other topic not directly related to their subject, which would include opining as to whether Dumbledore and Harry are telling the truth - not that any of the teachers other than Umbridge believe otherwise) (OP, 486); after Harry gives an interview with Rita Skeeter, the magazine in which it is published, The Quibbler, is banned from Hogwarts due to Educational Decree Number Twenty-seven (OP, 512); finally, Educational Decree Number Twenty-eight names Umbridge as Headmistress of Hogwarts (OP, 550); Argus Filch, meanwhile, refers to a planned Decree Number Twenty-nine, which would allow him (so it would seem) unlimited power of punishment, but it is not explicitly mentioned as having been made law afterward (OP, 554).

All that is to say is that within a period of about eight or nine months, the Ministry of Magic passes no less than seven Educational Decrees, at least half of which relate to very specific and (given what one would imagine is usual for such an important piece of legislation) trivial matters. All of them, it is clear, are meant to extend the Ministry's authority at the school - in a word, to make it so that the students of Hogwarts are obedient to the Ministry. Madam Marchbanks is not at all wrong to describe what Fudge is doing as turning Hogwarts into an 'outpost' of his office.

Of course, as Princess Leia tells Governor Tarkin in Star Wars, 'the more you tighten your grip, the more [they] slip through your fingers.' It would take too long to recount the extent to which the majority of the students (and, for that matter, of the staff) at Hogwarts become more and more disobedient the more it is expected of them by the Ministry via Umbridge.

It is worth noting that, by contrast, the relatively high degree of obedience shown Dumbledore by the student population has very little to do with his official authority; in the Order of the Phoenix nearly everyone is perfectly obedient to Dumbledore, and he has no official power over them whatsoever. Members of the Order obey Dumbledore, and those of the DA Harry, because of ties of loyalty and shared conviction - for the most part. It must be said that the Order, the DA, and the Death Eaters have the most in common when it comes to the reasons for their obedience to the leader of their respective groups (the Death Eaters differ from the other two by having fear as one tool by which Voldemort maintains obedience; in this they have something in common with Umbridge's reign at Hogwarts) - in fact, the Ministry is not so different, despite being the only authority in wizarding Britain with legislative, juridicial and executive power; wizards and witches obey Fudge and the Ministry generally for many of the same reasons that the members of the extra-judicial groups obey their leaders, and those who lack those motivational ties to Fudge or the Ministry (even when they work within it) are disobedient.

Whereas the Order and the Ministry shared much in common when it came to their understanding and practice of the previous two virtues, a real difference can be seen when it comes to the virtue of courage. (Incidentally, here, ironically, the Order has more in common with the Death Eaters than it does with the Ministry; both are small, very much illegal organisations dedicated to resisting and even sabotaging the efforts of the Ministry, from within and without, and resourcefulness, determination, and bravery are demanded by both groups as necessary for the success of their goals.)

Individually, of course, there is no reason to suppose that witches and wizards loyal to the Ministry cannot be courageous. Dumbledore describes Dawlish, for example, as an 'excellent Auror' (OP, 547), and we may take this to mean that he possesses a certain amount of bravery. (It must be said that eventually Dumbledore's statement about Dawlish comes to resemble Obi-Wan Kenobi's about stormtroopers; the praise given is not justified in the event.) But the culture of the Order and that of the Ministry value courage much differently - to be expected, given their natures, goals, and intended purposes.

Members of the Order risk their lives regularly. Hagrid accepts the dangerous mission to travel to where the last of the giants live in an attempt to convince them to join Dumbledore's side (OP, 372-84). The dangers of guarding the door to the Department of Mysteries are illustrated when Sturgis Podmore is placed under the Imperius Curse by Lucius Malfoy and then later arrested for trespassing, while Arthur Weasley is attacked by Nagini (OP, 408-9). Unsurprisingly, all members of the Order available to fight show up to rescue Harry and the other members of the DA from the Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries (OP, 706). All these require risking one's life, which takes courage, obviously. Courage it also takes for Sirius Black to accept Dumbledore's order not to leave Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, and put up with the juvenile jabs of Fred Weasley (OP, 421) and the far more nasty ones of Snape (OP, 459-60). Sirius's words to the Weasleys after Arthur is attacked illustrate the kind of courage that is needed: there are things worth dying for, and Arthur was prepared to die for them.

By contrast, the Ministry infamously refuses to acknowledge the truth of Voldemort's return, an act of supreme cowardice (and one which we have already looked at). While it probably takes a certain courage, not to say recklessness, to try to arrest Dumbledore (OP, 546-7), the Ministry rarely displays such bravery, as when Ministry wizards go in the middle of the night to arrest Hagrid in order to avoid causing a scene, during the course of which they Stun Professor McGonagall (OP, 634-7). Such bravery as Umbridge possesses is given her only by her official position; she does not have the capacity to act unless, it seems, an Educational Decree is passed to let her do something, and even then it is nothing brave: expelling students for reading a paper? denying adults permission to speak freely? And of course her least courageous action is to convince herself that it is necessary to perform the Cruciatus Curse on Harry Potter after she catches him in her fireplace (OP, 657-8), although in her mind she is screwing up her courage to act: but the act is to use an Unforgivable Curse on a helpless student.

The exploration of these virtues shows that they are practiced well when they are practiced out of such motivation as personal loyalty, love, and genuine concern for whatever cause is spurring people to action. The Ministry's officials have mixed and generally bad motives for doing what they do, claiming that their actions are for one purpose when in fact they are for other, more insidious ones. By contrast, although the Order engages in deception, its members are clear about why they are doing what they do. Moreover, Dumbledore is, as a leader, a much more potent rallying figure than Fudge, and is all the more effective because he does not have the executive, legislative, or judicial power that Fudge has.

Thus we see how Rowling deploys the virtues of honesty, obedience, and courage in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

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