Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter/Magic/Ministry of Magic

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Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter - Magic
Ministry of Magic
Type Legal structure
Features Parallel government for the Wizarding world
First Appearance Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Overview[edit]

The Ministry of Magic, in obvious parallel to the UK's multiple Ministries in charge of aspects of governance, is the governing body in England which oversees the Wizarding population. The Ministry is both a physical location (offices), and an organization. This article will discuss its organization.

Extended Description[edit]

Beginner warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

We, and Harry, first hear of the Ministry when Hagrid, reading the Daily Prophet, comments, "Ministry o' Magic messin' things up as usual." Hagrid goes on to explain that the main function of the Ministry is to keep Muggles unaware of the existence of Wizards, so that they won't keep looking for magical solutions to their problems. We hear very little else about the Ministry, except that Ron's father is a Ministry employee, until the end of that book, when the students are given a note that says they are not allowed to practice magic outside the school. We are not told about this at the time, but the reason for this note is the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery, which is enforced by the Ministry.

The Decree is first mentioned by name in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when Dobby does magic to attempt to keep Harry away from Hogwarts. A letter of reprimand, signed by one Mafalda Hopkirk, is sent by Owl Post from the Ministry. We do have other contact with the Ministry in this book, primarily through the person of Cornelius Fudge, the Minister for Magic. We see him when he comes to put Hagrid in Azkaban, as he is suspected of being the one who is opening the Chamber.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, we see the Ministry's repeated efforts to recapture Sirius Black. An astute reader here may begin to discern that the Ministry seems more interested in retaining its reputation, than in acting correctly. Fudge's refusal to even listen to Harry and Hermione's side of the story, while accepting Professor Snape's version of events unquestioned, leaves us feeling that Fudge, at least, is a very politic creature, doing what he feels will give him the greatest amount of popularity.

We see this to an even larger extent in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when the publicity exercise of the Triwizard Tournament tragically ends with the death of Cedric Diggory, and the return of Lord Voldemort. The Ministry's immediate actions are to spin the former and deny the latter, out of fear of being pilloried by public opinion. Percy, given a promotion to assist Fudge directly as part of the apparent cover-up of the Ministry's failing to protect its own employee, Bartemius Crouch, accepts the Ministry story at face value, while Mr. Weasley, while remaining a Ministry employee, finds Dumbledore more believable. This difference of opinion estranges Percy from the rest of his family.

This trend of attempting to minimize the immediate damage continues throughout Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, with the Ministry attempting to get Harry drummed out of the Wizarding community, forcing teachers and oversight on Hogwarts, removing privileges from Professor Dumbledore and anyone who accepts his statement that Voldemort has returned, and encouraging the Daily Prophet to publish stories denigrating Dumbledore and Harry. Ministry activities end up having to include concealing the reason for the mass breakout from Azkaban, as the Ministry cannot explain, or even admit to, the defection of the Dementors. This position of denial becomes untenable once Fudge and several other witnesses actually see Voldemort in the Atrium of the Ministry.

As Fudge had expected, news of Voldemort's return results in his ouster; early in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we learn that Fudge has been voted out, and has been replaced by the previous head of the Aurors department, Rufus Scrimgeour. It is at this point also that we learn of the means of communication between the Ministry of Magic and the Muggle Prime Minister. Again reacting to public opinion, Scrimgeour starts a harsh crackdown against suspected Death Eaters, at one point placing the completely harmless Stan Shunpike in Azkaban for claiming "inside knowledge" of Death Eater activities. Contact with the Ministry in this story is largely limited to two sessions with Scrimgeour, in which Harry's co-operation with the Ministry is solicited for his propaganda value; Harry turns Scrimgeour down flat both times.

Finally, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Scrimgeour is apparently murdered, and the Ministry is put in charge of Pius Thicknesse, who is himself entirely under Voldemort's control. The Ministry at this point becomes a propaganda organ and means of eliminating Muggles and Muggle-born wizards, condemning them in mock trials.

Analysis[edit]

While the Ministry is mentioned very often in the series, and almost always in a manner that refers to the organization rather than the place, we really learn very little about the organization of the Ministry. We are told that the Minister is elected, as Fudge says, at the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, that if he was to try and carry out any of the instructions that Dumbledore suggests, he would be voted out immediately. And while Fudge is, as we learn in the sixth book, replaced by Scrimgeour following the revelation that Voldemort had returned, we do not see the mechanism used for that vote. The reader does rather get the feeling that the magical government runs completely independently of the Muggle government, but apart from that we learn little about its operation. We do learn that the Ministry is very quick to follow the lead of the currently elected Minister, almost to the extent of being his own personal fiefdom; the Ministry as a whole seems to shift almost overnight from Fudge's policy of denial to Scrimgeour's policy of active defence, and again to Thicknesse's anti-Muggle stance.

We can also quite plainly see that the Ministry is, like almost all political organizations, driven by popularity. Like any politician, Fudge's sole intent is to get re-elected; and while Scrimgeour is brought in, clearly, in reaction to Fudge's ineffectiveness, in the hopes that he might do something about Voldemort, he can equally be seen to be pandering to public opinion. In discussion with Arthur Weasley and with Scrimgeour himself, Harry quickly determines that while the Ministry under Scrimgeour is more dynamic, more active, its efforts against the Death Eaters are barely more effective than Fudge's studied denial, and are resulting in the imprisonment of obvious innocents simply so that the Ministry appears to be doing something. Perhaps interestingly, the Ministry is most effective under Thicknesse, presumably because no matter how unpopular the measures taken, there is no worry about getting re-elected; Thicknesse will stay head of the Ministry as long as Voldemort is present to pull his strings.

We do learn that the Ministry, like all human groups, has organized itself into sub-groups, and we become aware of the bureaucracy inherent in the situation. In various asides that Arthur Weasley makes concerning the maintenance workers, and our own observation of Arthur's own work space, we learn that the Ministry is rife with office politics even in times of peace: the maintenance workers' demands for more pay were supported by a solid month of dreary rainfall outside the Ministry's magical windows, and Arthur's unpopular department is required to squeeze two workers and all their files into a converted broom closet.

In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Hagrid mentions that if Muggles knew that wizards existed, they would always be looking for magical answers to their problems. This point, interestingly, is revisited in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, where the Muggle Prime Minister asks "But for heaven's sake – you're wizards! You can do magic! Surely you can sort out – well – anything!" It falls to Fudge to remind him, gently, "The trouble is, the other side can do magic too, Prime Minister." This is a secondary effect of the issue Hagrid was mentioning, about the Muggle desire for magical solutions to all problems. While Hagrid's emphasis seemed to be on the bother, on the disturbances in wizards' lives caused by Muggles wanting quick and supposedly effortless answers, here we see that problems can be created by magic, as easily as solutions. And who is to say that the magical solution to one person's problems does not pose a problem for another person? Because of this, one can see that the apparent mission of the Ministry, to keep Muggles unaware of the existence of wizards, is a very important one. And this does not even touch on the problem of Muggles resenting those who can do magic, resentment which we see all too clearly in the behaviour of Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia.

Personnel[edit]

Questions[edit]

Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

Greater Picture[edit]

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

While Harry is the hero of the story, a hero cannot work in a vacuum. Harry must, in the end, stand alone against Voldemort, but as Voldemort has his Death Eaters, so must there be an approximately equally strong organization opposing them. It would be something of an immature belief that this organization would be the government. An adult knows that the government's prime directive is to preserve itself, a tendency that has been shown to us multiple times by Cornelius Fudge and the Ministry under his control. It would be equally immature to believe that under Fudge's successor, Rufus Scrimgeour, it would be less likely to attempt self-preservation, or more effective at supporting the Wizarding world. We see, in fact, that the Ministry is looking for some sign of approval from Harry that it can publicize to make their onerous and ineffective actions more palatable. It is of interest to the more serious reader that the Ministry is portrayed as inept from almost the beginning of the series, and that the nature of their ineptness is revealed appropriately to the reader as the complexity of the books increases. Commentary on the Ministry in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is limited to Hagrid's comment, "Ministry of Magic messin' up as usual." In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, we start to see the Ministry spinning facts to retain power, a process that continues throughout the next book. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we see the Ministry trying to show how it is battling the threat represented by the resurgent Voldemort, and failing. And in the final book, the Ministry falls completely under Voldemort's power, all its security theatre, in the end, futile. To the student, the progressive revelations of the specific failings of the Ministry to support the Wizarding population, in the name of retaining power for itself, merit attention, especially as the quality of the revelations seems age appropriate for the target audience of each successive volume.

The government clearly can't aid Harry against Voldemort in any effective way; that assistance is much more ably rendered by the Order of the Phoenix. All the same, there must be a government; we can't expect the Wizarding world to run itself, any more than we can expect the Muggle world to run itself. Equally clearly, that government must be by and of Wizards; a Muggle, with his limited understanding of magic, would not be able to take any effective part in governing wizards. And so we have the Ministry, a branch of the British government largely independent of the much larger Muggle government, but sharing many organizational characteristics. One wonders whether the author has a personal reason to show the government, through the Ministry, as ineffective; it is certainly true that a younger reader will receive a very unflattering, though probably reasonably accurate, portrait of the activities of government from these books. A more mature reader, meanwhile, will be both appalled and amused by the gyrations of the Ministry.