As the publishing sensation of the last half-century, Harry Potter dominates early education in politics. Children, tweens, teens, and adults love it; and most students come to college knowing at least some of it. This dark fantasy analyzes politics in strikingly practical and institutional ways. Like ancient Sophists, modern Machiavellians, and postmodern Nietzscheans, the Potter books treat politics as dark arts and our defenses against them. The Potter saga overflows with drama, humor, and insight into ours as dark times of terrible troubles. These reach from racism, sexism, and specism to fascism, terrorism, autocracy, and worse. Harry and his friends respond with detailed, entertaining takes on many ideologies, movements, and styles of current politics.Defenses Against the Dark Arts argues that Potter performances of magic show us how and why to leap into political action. This includes the high politics of governments and elections, and especially the everyday politics of families, schools, businesses, media, and popular cultures. It explores Potter versions of idealism, realism, feminism, and environmentalism. It clarifies Potter accounts of bureaucracy, nationalism, and patronage. And it analyzes Potter resistance through existentialism and anarchism. The emphasis is on learning to face and defend against dark arts in dark times.
John S. Nelson is professor of political theory and communication at the University of Iowa.
Chapter 1: Political Theories for Dark Times
Chapter 2: Dark Arts for Dark Times
Chapter 3: Defenses Against Dark Arts
Chapter 4: Potter Magic as Perfectionist Politics
Chapter 5: Perversions of Perfectionist Politics
Chapter 6: Rules and the Philosopher’s Stone
Chapter 7: Kinds and the Chamber of Secrets
Chapter 8: Friends and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Chapter 9: Peoples and the Goblet of Fire
Chapter 10: Institutions and the Order of the Phoenix
Chapter 11: Patrons and the Half-Blood Prince
Chapter 12: Fools and the Deathly Hallows
This lively discussion of the Harry Potter series brings together many events and characters in the light of politics. The Potter books are shown to offer a “political education” for characters, and for readers through them, in an attentive and very readable account.
Among the strengths of John Nelson’s many writings is his ability to show readers of political theory the simultaneity of literary and political virtues. Defenses Against the Dark Arts is no exception. In this work Nelson shows how the Harry Potter series embeds and develops its political ideas and movements in its diverse characters and magical figures. More than a study of archetypes, Nelson’s analysis shows us how all theories of politics create myths that are central to our political education.
John Nelson treats Harry Potter as a treatise on “dark fantasy” delving into political theory. Focusing on power, performance, and community, Nelson understands the politics of the Potterverse as uniquely applicable to our time. Ideally suited for undergraduate audiences in particular, Nelson uses the Potter series as a window into contemporary ideologies and political practice, uniting thoughtful engagement and close analysis. This should be a valuable book for classrooms covering material in ideology, social movements, and especially political philosophy.
John Nelson’s Defenses Against the Dark Arts is adept at showing us how Harry Potter and his friends negotiate the political challenges we all face in growing to adulthood. Treating the world of Harry Potter as a primer for thinking about politics in governing institutions and everyday relations, Nelson illustrates the prudence necessary to manage competing virtues of action and patience in confronting the darkest of dark times.