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04 August 2007 @ 01:24 pm
Real-world politics and the Hogwarts Houses  
Undoubtedly someone has already addressed this subject in an essay. I however was unable to find it and so am writing my own. This is my first HP essay but hopefully not my last (unless it is truly dreadful and then it would must certainly be hoped to be the only one).

With the different values and characteristics prevalent within each of the hogwarts houses, it is not difficult to see certain parallels between them and certain political ideologies that flourish throughout the world today.

First let us look at the most popular of all houses, Gryffindor. It seems to me that Gryffindor best represents the social democrat ideology such as that characterised by the British Labour Party. Gryffindors, like social democrats, are seemingly obsessed with making sure everything is fair. Social Democrats concern themselves with the fairness of workplace relations and trade schemes, while Gryffindors become furious when teachers are unfair to them (ahem, Snape) or even life itself is unfair to them (as noted by Snape about Sirius and Harry). Gryffindor has a somewhat anti-authoritarian streak, perfectly embodied by Fred and George. This could be seen to be at loggerheads with social democracy, which strives for such strong authority. However, social democratic parties frequently employ means such as strikes and protest marches, in effect disruptive strategies. This is of course very similar to Fred and George who are never downright anarchic (except to Umbridge but who wouldn't be then!) And of course social democratic parties are progressive, with some factions being immensely supportive of multiculturalism and gay rights. This progressive nature is best characterised by Hermione's work with S.P.E.W. The lack of support she receives from her fellow Gryffindors is indicative of the fractured nature of many social democratic movements. Gryffindors would welcome such government initiatives as the welfare state with its altruistic and utilitarian compulsions. Helping people who may not want to be helped is what Gryffindor is all about.

Secondly let us look at Slytherin. Frequently I have heard the comparison between Slytherin and fascism. While the Death Eaters and fascism are most certainly analogous, I don’t feel that it truly extends to Slytherin itself. Instead Slytherin seems to me to epitomize Classical Liberalism. While Gryffindor worried about fairness, Slytherin is concerned with freedom. They want as much of it as they can get. Slytherins want to be free to do whatever they want, study any type of magic they wish without having the government interfering into their lives. However, they understand the necessity for the existence of government and laws, as without them there is no means to protect their interests and their freedom. Slytherin, like Classical Liberalism, is about the individual. Its focus is always inherently on what the individual is able to do and to what lengths they are able to do it. But within that, it is an idea of benefiting the individual so as to benefit the community. By the individual’s ability to exercise his freedom, he is able to achieve great things, which will invariably aid others. Classical liberalism has always maintained that it is through the individual’s struggle to be the best that the community is made increasingly larger and more prosperous. Both Classical liberalism and Slytherin see ambition as a virtue for this very reason.

The intense rivalry between Gryffindor and Slytherin becomes so clear when they are viewed as social democratic and classical liberal. Both these ideologies are inherently opposed. Social democrats believe that institutions should be owned by the public, through the government, for them to be able to fairly cater for all. This instantly puts them against the Classical liberals who believe that the only way an institution will be run effectively and offer the best possible service is for it to be privately run and aiming to make money. Therefore Slytherins see Gryffindors as wishy-washy nanny staters while Gryffindors see Slytherins as money-hungry individualists.

It could seem truly bizarre that one could go from being a classical liberal Slytherin so easily to a fascist Death Eater as so many did. Fascism itself is almost impossible a term to define, and there is much contention about how it should be defined. However, fascism tends to define itself by what it opposes. This is of course extremely similar to the Death Eaters who define themselves by their opposition to Muggles and “Mud-bloods”. Fascism also promotes itself as a ‘higher-cause’ rather than simply a political movement which is why it managed to gain widespread support in several countries. It was not tied to a particular ideology other than ensuring the glory of their kind. With Slytherin being the main recruiting ground for the Death Eaters it is thus not surprising that this was the place the support was created. After all, Slytherins embrace freedom and thus feel they should be free to follow whatever movement they so wish.

Thirdly let us examine the House of Ravenclaw. As we all know, wit and intelligence are the points of supreme importance to Ravenclaw students. This is the first indication that Ravenclaw promotes a meritocracy like that which exists in Singapore. Wealth, family connections, class privilege, cronyism and popularity (as in democracy) are all irrelevant to Ravenclaws. All that matters is merit, talent and competence. Holding intelligence at the pinnacle means that those who strive for knowledge are those that come out on top, just like in a meritocratic state.

Hufflepuff is of course communist through and through. How could a house that values hard work, loyalty and teamwork the most be anything else? I do not refer to communism as the government in place in China, Cuba or what was formerly in the Soviet Union. I mean communism as that outlined by Marx. The system where everyone actually is equal, and all must work together for the good of each other. A utopian wonderland for the working class. That is what Hufflepuff is inherently all about.

This brings me to the end of my essay. I realised I have not spent as much time outlining the points on Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff as I did the other two, but this was primarily because Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff’s political ideologies seemed much more blatantly obvious and thus didn’t require it. I hope you enjoyed reading my essay and would appreciate hearing your thoughts on the matter.
Current Mood: sleepysleepy
sari_malfoysari_malfoy on August 4th, 2007 11:26 am (UTC)
I just have to state again how disappointed I was, that Deathly Hallows didn't come to any expected/promised conclusion about the houses, and how ambigious the overall message came by the end (Snape being the bravest man Harry knew, but before that the allusion to Snape perhaps not being a real Slytherin at all, which I disagree with).

I wish someone would write a critical essay about the Slytherin house, pre-Dh and post-DH.

Your essay was good, I'm sure others will agree.
strawberry pavlovnaalldoubtaboutit on August 4th, 2007 12:08 pm (UTC)
Seconded about the Slytherin house! I also do think that the idea of Snape not being quite so Slytherin after all is nonsense. For one, mere categories do not define people, and the idea that Slytherins can't be brave without being Slytherin at the same time riles something within me. In Deathly Hallows we have had two obvious cases of 'brave' Slytherins, Regulus and Snape, and their bravery has gone almost completely unnoticed. I'm starting to think that in some way, Slytherins may be nobler in Gryffindor when it comes to acts of bravery, because if Gryffindor's defining factor is bravery, Gryffindors would aspire to bravery and do the brave thing, the one that will gain them recognition and have them hailed as heroes, which in a way, can be a very self-serving thing to do. The idea of being hailed as traditional heroes in the Gryffindor way is probably a bit repulsive to Slytherins, and so, if they were to accomplish acts of bravery public recognition would be last on the list of motivating factors.

My opinion, of course, and I hope I'm anywhere near coherence on that. Thinking about the houses always leaves me with a mega-headache. It is probably true that everyone has a trait from each house in some measure, but how true is it that we have certain traits in larger measure? That is what's been bugging me since forever.
sari_malfoy: pic#63738123sari_malfoy on August 4th, 2007 12:26 pm (UTC)
I agree, and consider one more thing about Gryffindor bravery against Slytherin bravery. What if Harry had been in the situation Snape was (let's forget the argument that he never would) after Lily's death. Could a Gryffindor really stand for one and a half decade of thankless serving of two masters, the hate and disgust of "regular people" etc. Would a Gryffindor stand people who knew nothing (or at least, not enough) about him/her, judging him by what they see?

This proposes a real problem with the housing. And I'm still wondering, would the bloody Sorting hat sort people differently as adults or not. "We sort too soon." - does that mean that a true Slytherin can't be brave, and that a true Gryff can't be a coward/betrayer (Pettigrew); would the Sorting Hat sort them differently now? And if not, what IS the point in houses, since EVERYONE seems to share some traits, anyway, and the house really proves nothing? Thenagain, if yes, what would be the point of sorting something that life and circumstances would change?

Argh!!! It kills me that this isn't discussed more profoundly after DH.
strawberry pavlovnaalldoubtaboutit on August 4th, 2007 01:14 pm (UTC)
Reading DH filled me with so much indignation on Slytherin's behalf. Having considered myself mostly Slytherin (though I don't know why, and from manawydn's essay I'd be anything but a Slytherin), I felt that it was terribly unfair.

Harry would never be able to stand being in Snape's position. I never thought much about that boy because everything about him was thrust upon him, whether by the author or his Dumledore or friends etc.

The idea of sorting people into houses has always been a problem. The idea of houses is a bit like horoscopes, in my opinion. It's only true insofar as people believe it. And agreed about the Sorting Hat sorting people differently as adults. The sorting theory I found most agreeable was the one in which people are sorted into houses with the traits they needed to pick up the most, but that doesn't hold the way JKR puts it across. The more people discuss it the more ridiculous the idea of sorting seems. It serves zero purpose at all, except to cause divisions.

I am of the opinion that people develop personalities according to the circumstances they face, so perhaps all the sorting hat is is an instrument in dictating people's fates by being in tune with the grand scheme of things as they play out in the author's mind, and argh, my brain is on the verge of exploding. Damn the sorting hat, wasn't it supposed to be destroyed by fire or something.
quirkie: piratequirkie on August 4th, 2007 06:04 pm (UTC)
Damn the sorting hat, wasn't it supposed to be destroyed by fire or something.

You would think, as JKR murdered the rest of the people that would have caused problems in her disgustingly happily-ever-after epilogue (like Snape, for example--now, Harry can just accept that he was a hero, and not actually have to come to terms with his unpleasantness).
zanesfriendzanesfriend on August 5th, 2007 01:01 am (UTC)
The Hat doesn't put people into Houses. People put themselves. The Hat urged Harry to go into Slytherin, but when Harry said 'no', it put him in Gryffindor. It urged Hermione to go into Ravenclaw, but when she said 'no', she likewise went into Griffendor. We don't know what the Hat said to Draco, but given what he said on the train, he was probably thinking, "Please, please, please let it be Slytherin!"
manawydn on August 5th, 2007 06:28 am (UTC)
Indeed, I think the questions you raise here are strong ones. The different attributes each house is meant to possess become hard to reconcile with the complexity of the human personality.
trin never thinks twice.calculette on August 4th, 2007 04:39 pm (UTC)
I think what differentiates Slytherin bravery from Gryffindor bravery is that Slytherin bravery is often self-initiated - meaning that their bravery is the result of individual personal circumstances, attitudes and beliefs, which fits in with your idea of Slytherin being a model for Classical Liberalism (which is individual-centred). Snape's bravery is rooted in his individual love for Lily - issues of whether things are "right" or "wrong" are irrelevant, not in the sense that Snape doesn't know the difference between them, but in the sense that for Snape, these issues don't matter - I think pragmatism is a very big part of Classical Liberalism as well, right? Similarly, Regulus' bravery was borne out of personal circumstances where he experienced directly Voldemort's regime. Slytherins wouldn't be so morally idealistic as to fight for values they saw as personally irrelevant - their bravery is highly personal and individualised.

I hope that made sense; in any case, excellent essay and very very interesting, especially since I'm a Politics student!
manawydn on August 5th, 2007 06:25 am (UTC)
Yes, I think what you have said is here is exactly right. I really like your point about the pragmatism and individualised sense of bravery, I wish I had thought of it myself!
zanesfriendzanesfriend on August 4th, 2007 10:49 pm (UTC)
Rmember Phineas' portrait?
He points out that Slytherin's can be brave, but they are not foolish or reckless as Griffindors too often are.
sari_malfoy: pic#63841991sari_malfoy on August 5th, 2007 06:14 am (UTC)
Re: Rmember Phineas' portrait?
That was my point, exactly. Gryffindors are reckless and at their worst, hypocritical. Harry could never have suffered like Snape did. He would have exploded, messed everything up, and then felt sorry for himself and guilty for the rest of his life (not that I don't like/feel for Harry). In a sense, Slytherin bravery is harder than Gryffindor bravery, I think. It definitely takes more self-control.

(Anonymous) on August 4th, 2007 01:15 pm (UTC)
suggest Hufflepuff = classical agrarian conservatism
How could a house that values hard work, loyalty, and teamwork... be anything else?

Oh, very easily. Karl Marx would hate the Fat Friar! Hufflepuff has a strong affinity for a kind of conservatism that doesn't have a catchy name right now and doesn't get much press -- the small-is-beautiful communitarian conservatism that cherishes traditional folkways and rural life; that prefers the small and local to the big and national (or super-national); that is suspicious of excessive industrialization and big business; thinks government should be as small and personal as possible, protect families, and mind its own business. Think of the novels of Jane Austen or Patrick O'Brian, or Distributism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributism) of the early 20th. Think "The Wind in the Willows," where Mr. Badger opens his cozy burrow to lost wanderers and recalls the prodigal Mr. Toad to his duty. Think the Shire :)

There's a place for everyone in this society, including the poor (whose rights are protected by traditional laws and folkways). Loyalty and duty and hard work are primary values. And with its ties to farm life, it is a society deeply in tune with nature.

I think that Hufflepuff, with its quintessentially English badger, is a better match to this kind of traditional society and the conservatism that prizes it.
manawydn on August 5th, 2007 06:24 am (UTC)
Re: suggest Hufflepuff = classical agrarian conservatism
what you describe here is not so different from communism however. Once communism is achieved after all there is no government at all, the proverbial 'people' run everything. Everyone works to aid each other and their community. So I don't think there are many inherent differences between communism and communitarian conservatism except perhaps the means by which they are achieved.
(Anonymous) on August 5th, 2007 06:01 pm (UTC)
Re: suggest Hufflepuff = classical agrarian conservatism
what you describe here is not so different from communism however... I don't think there are many inherent differences between communism and communitarian conservatism except perhaps the means by which they are achieved.

Some very significant inherent differences would be the existence of government, ownership of private property, respect for religion and tradition, a belief in a basic human nature (in Marxism, there is no essential "you" and nothing essential you share with other human beings -- you are the product of your society), toleration of social hierarchy/ rejection of "class struggle", and "the means by which they are achieved" -- pragmatic social evolution vs. revolution.

I think you're right that Hufflepuff suggests a familial, "everybody works together" model, but that model can best be observed in small societies: families and religious intentional communities (monasteries, the Shakers, etc.)

I'm not trying to quibble; just wanting to discuss with you that there is a bit more to Marx than "everybody works together, nobody owns anything." Marx was all about individual achievement being an illusion; about impersonal historic forces being behind everything; about history being something that could be studied and predicted, like those air-hockey pucks in physics classes; about family life and ALL religion being in inherently oppressive. And he was about violent revolution if it was found to be necessary. (Marx would probably detest Hogwarts -- all those social elites keeping their technology away from the Muggles; Quidditch as the opiate of the Wizarding World)

I know you stipulated "Marxism as Marx envisioned it" as opposed to "real-world Marxism." But you should know that many people don't buy into that idea; Lenin was a contemporary of Engels, Marx's partner, and was a member of the party founded by Engels himself. Like it or not, real people -- often, well-meaning people -- implementing Marxism are the people who brought us the Soviet Union and Communist China.

The hat's not going to put you into Hufflepuff if you don't want to go there. In Marxism, the forces of history are going to put you where they're going to put you. In real-world Communism, you're going to do what the Party tells you or you're going to the gulag. When the Ukrainians resisted collectivization, Stalin planned a famine. Seven million people died. Half a million dead in the Cultural Revolution. When I read your essay, I was just coming from reading an online article about Chernobyl and the Soviet attempt to cover up the disaster. They didn't evacuate the ordinary people living around the plant until the radioactive cloud hit Sweden.

In Hufflepuff, everybody contributes because everybody is important. In Marxism, property belongs to everybody because individuals aren't that important. The wheel of history is turning and you can either grab on or get crushed.

So do you see why some would find Marx being in the same sentence as "sweet Hufflepuff" to be a little jarring?

manawydn on August 5th, 2007 11:52 pm (UTC)
Re: suggest Hufflepuff = classical agrarian conservatism
I am fully aware of the dilemma between Marx and Lenin. But saying Lenin was a contemporary of Engles and a member of the same party hardly validate his ideas. After all both Stalin and Trotsky were contemporaries and party peers of Lenin and all three of them had rather different ideas about communism and how it should be achieved.

And with the differences you state, I'm not sure that within true communism they would matter. As in religion, tradition and private property just don’t exist. So it isn’t like that within communism there isn’t an inherent intolerance, these concepts just don’t appear. And I know it could be argued that this is a major difference, but in practise I don’t think it is. After all once communism is achieved, people live in small communities centring on a communal warehouse full of the goods they daily work to achieve. The individual’s work DOES make a difference, as the individual exists as a part of this community. They work to feed, clothe, house (etc) each other. Despite my stated feeling of similarity between the two, I still lean more towards communism, as within the conservative community you outlined there would still exist a major hierarchy that would be established by inherent right (priest as the representative of God and the like), which goes against the whole importance of equality I see in Hufflepuff. I should state hear that the communist community model I am working with here is that outlined by Bukharin and Preobrazhensky in the ABC of Communism. Simply because there isn’t really any other grounds to work on, particularly since Marx was somewhat vague on the issue.

And I am not suggesting that Hufflepuffs are all violent revolutionaries. I really needed to make that more clear. I am simply saying that Hufflepuffs are communist in the sense that they want communism. Forget socialism and revolution and all that. They just want the workers utopia. I realise that Marx says you can’ have one without the other, but what does he know. It was only his theory after all…but that doesn’t make a difference. Anarchists, Mensheviks, Democratic Socialists and various communists groups across the world have argued that it is possibly to achieve communism without violent revolution. Even If it isn’t, Hufflepuffs are not necessarily opposed to achieving their means by force. JK proved time and again that they aren’t just simple bumbling country folk.

I understand about the whole forces of history thing. But that only matters in a Marxist system, which I am not in the slightest suggesting Hogwarts is at all. The sorting hat puts them into Hufflepuff if they support the ideas rather than because the ideas exist in practise.
manawydn on August 6th, 2007 03:42 am (UTC)
Re: suggest Hufflepuff = classical agrarian conservatism
Having given the matter further consideration, I have changed my mind. I completely agree with your argument. Hufflepuff does exemplify a conservative agrarian society.
zanesfriendzanesfriend on August 6th, 2007 03:46 pm (UTC)
Re: suggest Hufflepuff = classical agrarian conservatism
What? This sort of society is not what one sees in Viet Nam, North Korea, Cuba, or the late, unlamented Soviet Union.
manawydn on August 6th, 2007 11:46 pm (UTC)
Re: suggest Hufflepuff = classical agrarian conservatism
Yes but none of the countries you have just mentioned were ever actually communist other than in name only.
zanesfriendzanesfriend on August 7th, 2007 02:21 am (UTC)
Re: suggest Hufflepuff = classical agrarian conservatism
Ah, yes, the "No true Scotsman" gambit. I'm sorry, back when I was on the debate team my coach would have pinned back my ears for using that, and I won't let that pass here.
manawydn on August 7th, 2007 02:49 am (UTC)
Re: suggest Hufflepuff = classical agrarian conservatism
Well your coach would have been wrong then because the fact of the matter is those countries aren't and have never been communist. Communist Parties came to power in them but that doesn't make them communist. Communism can only be achieved once the state has been destablished by the dictatorship of the proletariat and the class system destroyed. Therefore it is impossible to be a Communist State as these countries have been so named as that label is a oxymoron. They are at best 'degenerate workers states' as coined by Trotsky. Since Marx gave an outline for communism and these countries don't fit it or even his outline for socialism I would say it is a pretty major difference. It is like trying to call a house cat a lion.
zanesfriendzanesfriend on August 7th, 2007 03:54 pm (UTC)
Re: suggest Hufflepuff = classical agrarian conservatism
You misunderstand.

Here is an explanation of the "no true Scotsman" fallacy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman
manawydn on August 7th, 2007 05:50 pm (UTC)
Re: suggest Hufflepuff = classical agrarian conservatism
I don't misunderstand at all. It is only a fallacy if it doesn't follow the actual meaning of the word. As to be communist is not actually what those countries are, then my argument is not an informal fallacy.
zanesfriendzanesfriend on August 7th, 2007 07:47 pm (UTC)
Re: suggest Hufflepuff = classical agrarian conservatism
In all of these countries the ruling party is/was the Communist Pary. You say that they weren't/aren't REAL Communists. Hence, 'no true Scotsman.' You aren't Humpty-Dumpty to insist that when you use a word it means what you want it to mean.

Can you give me an example of one country in the real world, as opposed to some Utopian fantasy dream, which is Communist by your definition? I thought not.
manawydn on August 8th, 2007 05:59 am (UTC)
Re: suggest Hufflepuff = classical agrarian conservatism
No that isn't the case. Having a communist party in power DOES NOT make a country communist. I'm not saying the party members aren't communist I'm saying the country isn't communist. And after all a political parties name is inherently meaningless. Look at Australia. In power currently is the Liberal Party which isn't actually a liberal party at all. I am not insisting the word is what I want it to mean, I am insisting that you recognise the CORRECT meaning of the word.

I cannot give an example of one country in the world which is actually communist. As I explained previously it is not possible for one country to be communist, it requires worldwide revolution. But that fact doesn't make the idea a fiction, people can still support the ideology without it being put into practise.
zanesfriendzanesfriend on August 8th, 2007 05:18 pm (UTC)
Re: suggest Hufflepuff = classical agrarian conservatism
Communism sounds great in theory, but every time it has been attempted to be put into practice it has resulted in tyranny. Hence, it is a flawed ideology because it has been emperically demonstrated that IT DOES NOT WORK.

manawydn on August 8th, 2007 11:38 pm (UTC)
Re: suggest Hufflepuff = classical agrarian conservatism
No where have I ever been suggesting that communism would work when put into practise. I have only been explaining to you what communism actually is. That hardly makes me a supporter of it.
(Anonymous) on August 5th, 2007 05:15 pm (UTC)
I don't see it like this at all....
I'm sorry, but I have to vehemently disagree with your characterizations of the houses into political factions. I doubt you could place any specific political leaning of our era into a specific house, though you can see various beliefs of political factions matching some of the characteristics of the the people in that house.

For a fantastic desconstruction of the attributes of the houses, I refer you to red hen's essay: "On Hufflepuff (and Ravenclaw) or ruminations on a Hat"


Based on red hen's interpretations, I cannot *believe* that you would say that slytherins are "classical liberal" - I thought that it was incredibly clear that Ravenclaws were the most individualist of the houses. Most classical liberals I know have a fantastic desire to be proven *right*. Hufflepuffs are the ones that value fair play (i.e. social democrats). Gryffs just want to be admired, whether or not they *win* - they are the idealists, and idealists, if you'll note, rarely if ever achieve any sort of political power. Slyths are the meritocrats and/or plutocrats - witness Slughorn, Malfoy, etc.

Slughorn is the consumate Slytherin
manawydn on August 6th, 2007 03:40 am (UTC)
Re: I don't see it like this at all....
I think you are rather mistaken. I really don't see why Ravenclaw is the most individualist of all the houses. Slytherin is completely contrary not only to all the other houses but also within itself! Some Slytherins hate Death Eaters, some Slytherins love Death Eaters, some Slytherins ARE Death Eaters. Where however is the individualism shown in Ravenclaw? They seem more than content to follow the lead of the other houses in many situations. The Lovegoods are clear individuals but they seem a minority within Ravenclaw. Claiming Classical liberals have a fantastic desire to be proven right is a major over-simplyfisation and generalisation, not withstanding the fact that EVERYONE likes to be right. How many people do you know wake up with the desire to be wrong all the time?

I'd also like to point out it is impossible to be both meritocrat and plutocrat. Slytherin is most certaintly not a plutocracy. In a plutocracy the roles are inherently set through birthright and money, there is no room for growth and change. Therefore in a plutocracy there is no room for the sort of ambition prevalent in Slytherin. The only political system that would allow for it is a liberal one. Slughorn is the perfet example of this.

While Hufflepuffs value fair-play, it is from a universal fairness perspective. Yes fairness is a social democrat idea but social democracy is derived from communist theory and when combined with the other attributes of the house show it to be communist rather than social democrat. Gryffindors on the other hand show there social democrat leanings as I have already outlined above.