I saw this in my alumni newsletter. Seemed interesting:
July 9, 2007
*Law Professor: Harry Potter Has Hidden Message*
KNOXVILLE -- "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the seventh and
final book in the series, will be published on July 21, and University
of Tennessee law professor Benjamin Barton will be standing in line to
A big fan of Harry Potter, Barton has become a true student of the
series, and he says he's found some politically charged lessons written
between the lines.
"I really love the books. I've read them all," said Barton, who teaches
advocacy clinic and torts. "They're just wonderful, rich books, and J.K.
Rowling is a master storyteller."
Barton has written and lectured about how Rowling depicts the government
and law in the Harry Potter books.
"When I read the fifth and sixth books, I noticed a real Libertarian
bent. I thought, 'Well, that's interesting for children's literature,'"
Barton said he went back and read the first four books again, "and I saw
the same messages were woven all the way through the series."
Barton wrote a paper entitled "Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed
Bureaucracy" that was published in the Michigan Law Review in May 2006.
The paper is being reprinted as a chapter in the book, "Harry Potter and
the Law" (Carolina Press), due out this summer. He also has lectured on
the topic at a "Power of Stories" seminar in Gloucester, England, in
In "Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy," Barton details the
political messages he's discovered in the Potter books:
"What would you think of a government that engaged in this list of
tyrannical activities: tortured children for lying; designed its prison
specifically to suck all life and hope out of the inmates; placed
citizens in that prison without a hearing; ordered the death penalty
without a trial; allowed the powerful, rich or famous to control policy;
selectively prosecuted crimes (the powerful go unpunished and the
unpopular face trumped-up charges); conducted criminal trials without
defense counsel; used truth serum to force confessions; maintained
constant surveillance over all citizens; offered no elections and no
democratic lawmaking process; and controlled the press?
"You might assume that the above list is the work of some despotic
central African nation, but it is actually the product of the Ministry
of Magic, the magician's government in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series."
Barton said he thinks the anti-government thread that runs through the
Potter novels is significant because the books have great potential to
sway public opinion.
"It would be difficult to overstate the influence and market penetration
of the Harry Potter series," Barton contends. "Somewhere over the last
few years the Harry Potter novels passed from a children's literature
sensation to a bona fide international happening."
Barton also speculates why Rowling writes about the government, and the
press, with such disdain.
"Anyone familiar with Rowling's personal story will know that when she
started the Harry Potter series, she spent a period of time unemployed
and on public assistance in Edinburgh, divorced with a young child.
"Rowling's personal story provides two insights into her feelings toward
government," Barton wrote.
"First, in both England and the U.S. there is no quicker route to hating
the government than dealing with the various bureaucracies that handle
"Second, Rowling's story smacks of success through self-reliance and
sheer force of will. The Harry Potter novels likewise show a strong
strain of self-reliance and stubborn independence, and Rowling came upon
these themes the hard way. Anyone who has pulled herself out of poverty
as Rowling has is likely to believe that self-reliance and hard work are
the keys to success, and to be conversely wary of government intervention."
As for how the anti-government theme might play out in the final book,
Barton speculates it could go two ways: "The government could either
come back to useful life or the characters will have to rely on rugged
individualism to overcome the obstacles posed by the dysfunctional