The Muggle Problem, by Ross Douhat.
As Western politics has become more extreme and a generation raised on Hogwarts more politically engaged, the Potter novels have been embraced ever more fervently as political allegories and moral manuals for our times. … Hillary Clinton has just given a speech praising the Potter novels for instilling progressive values in the young. …
Lara Prendergast offered a good survey of the proliferation of Potterpolitics, from anti-Trump organizers invoking “Dumbledore’s Army” to J. K. Rowling’s Twitter interventions (“Voldemort was nowhere near as bad,” she wrote of Trump’s proposed Muslim ban) to Hermione Granger’s — sorry, Emma Watson’s — role as a roving ambassador for millennial feminism.
Prendergast also offered a harsh assessment of the trend: “If you have ever wondered why young people are often so childish in their politics, why they want to divide the world between tolerant progressives and wicked reactionaries, it helps to understand” that they think they’re living in a Potter novel.
Admittedly, if you think that the world really is divided between tolerant progressives and wicked reactionaries, you won’t find this assessment all that damning.
But I’m not sure that sort of Manichaean vision is actually the most important political teaching in the Potter novels. Because if you take the Potterverse seriously as an allegory for ours, the most noteworthy divide isn’t between the good multicultural wizards and the bad racist ones. It’s between all the wizards, good and bad, and everybody else — the Muggles.
For the six readers who have never read the Potter books but who have stuck with the column thus far nonetheless: Muggles are non-magical folks, the billions of regular everyday human beings who live and work in blissful ignorance that the wizarding world exists. The only exception comes when one of them marries a wizard or has the genetic luck to give birth to a magic-capable child, in which case they get to watch their offspring ascend to one of the wizarding academies while they experience its raptures and revelations secondhand. …
So even from the perspective of the enlightened, progressive wizarding faction, then, Muggles are basically just a vast surplus population that occasionally produces the new blood that wizarding needs to avoid becoming just a society of snobbish old-money inbred Draco Malfoys. And if that were to change, if any old Muggle could suddenly be trained in magic, the whole thrill of Harry Potter’s acceptance at Hogwarts would lose its narrative frisson, its admission-to-the-inner-circle thrill.
Which makes the thrill of becoming a magical initiate in the Potterverse remarkably similar to the thrill of being chosen by the modern meritocracy, plucked from the ordinary ranks of life and ushered into gothic halls and exclusive classrooms, where you will be sorted — though not by a magic hat, admittedly — according to your talents and your just deserts. …
Thus the Potterverse … is about “the legitimacy of authority that comes from schools” — Ivy League schools, elite schools, U.S. News & World Report top 100 schools. And because “contemporary liberalism is the ideology of imperial academia, funneled through media and nonprofits and governmental agencies but responsible ultimately only to itself,” a story about a wizarding academy is the perfect fantasy story for the liberal meritocracy to tell about itself….
But J.K Rowling’s childish novels don’t really allow for what is happening now:
It was mostly Muggles, not some dark conspiracy by the Slytherin sort of conservatives, who put Donald Trump in power.
It is Muggles who keep turning to parties of the far left and farther right, Muggles who drift into radicalism and set off bombs. Mass migration, rising nationalism, Islamic terrorism, rural despair — many disruptive forces in our era flow from global Muggledom’s refusal to just be a tame and subsidized surplus population, culled for its best and brightest, living only for the hope that occasionally a gifted son or daughter might be lifted up.
This phenomenon of a meritocracy defined by colleges and universities is much, much stronger in the US and even the UK than in Australia. Most of the ruling class in the US went though just a few universities, to which entry is much more fiercely competitive than anything in Australia.