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Harry Potter and the Ignorance of Ignorance

Many will know Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy, a fun essay by Benjamin Barton on episodes in the books that insinuate scepticism about government (and about mainstream media, though this is less the essay’s theme). In the Potter books (and even in ‘A Casual Vacancy’, which is a bad book written by a good writer), J.K.Rowling (sometimes wittingly, sometimes quite unwittingly, I think) teaches lessons that are indirectly unhelpful to those who love statism. Telling an 18-year-old, “You realise Corbyn’s Bureaucracy will be every bit as efficient, as fair and as restrained as the Ministry of Magic”, can be a more useful start to a conversation than mentioning Stalin or Venezuela. (Not that you’ll get any agreement from Rowling herself on that – but my post “Harry Potter and the Silly Tweets” must wait till another day. 🙂 )

When “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” came out in 2003, at the height of the protests against attacking Iraq and the war on terror, the PC brigade went off her for a while.  The book’s picture of a hidden evil leader inspiring hideous acts of terrorism, while politicians and the media corruptly downplayed the danger, didn’t quite suit them. Of course, she had planned that plot in the mid-90s as a natural part of the series’ architecture – its appearance in 2003 was coincidental – but the essay has a point.

However right in the middle of his argument, Benjamin shows that he is an American – that the everyday experience of growing up as a child in Britain, with UK politics as a “noises off” background one gradually starts to notice, is one he has not had – and does not suspect that he needed. To him, it seems obvious that the politics of the Magical world are not democratic:

Defenders of bureaucracy argue that democracy justifies bureaucracy as a result of deliberation and public buy-in. Rowling strips the Ministry of Magic of even this most basic justification, as Fudge is replaced by Scrimgeour as the Minister of Magic with no mention of an election. To the contrary, Rowling uses the passive voice of the verb “to sack” repeatedly to describe Fudge’s fate. … It is unclear who appoints the Minister of Magic, but perhaps the elites.

Benjamin is arguing logically from his US experience: presidents are elected and are never just ‘sacked’. But the British reader instantly recognises that Benjamin is arguing from an ignorance of UK experience. Theresa May replaced David Cameron as prime minister without an election. An election has now been held and Theresa May is still prime minister, but had she not accepted her inevitable future by promising her party to “serve as long as you wish me to”, she might already have been sacked. She will cease being prime minister before the next election – probably long before. British children and teenagers, the book’s protagonists, grow up knowing that there are elections from time to time, and that the head of government changes from time to time, and that the two are related, but often only indirectly. They also see that Fudge talks like a politician in Britain – like a man with an electorate to worry about, a man who has to care about whether it ‘looks like’ he’s doing the right thing for the magical community.

So, transatlantic commenters, what things about the US do I not know that I do not know? And have I any company in my ignorant ignorance? Have you met an ignorance more ignorant, and more ignorant of it, than mine?

I appreciate it’s a hard question:

Bernard: “What is it that the prime minister does not know?”

Sir Humphrey: “How can I tell you what the prime minister doesn’t know? It could be almost anything!”

(From ‘Yes, Prime Minister’, episode 6, quoted from memory)

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55 comments to Harry Potter and the Ignorance of Ignorance

  • CharlieL

    I also do not know the things you do not know, with the added burden of not even knowing what I do not know.

  • bobby b

    “So, transatlantic commenters, what things about the US do I not know that I do not know?”

    The easiest answer would be that you don’t quite get the American aversion to considering elected representatives to be “leaders.”

    You see Barton’s take on what happened to Fudge as being borne of his lack of familiarity with the parliamentary form of government. You seem to assume that we don’t see the democratic impulses that guide such a system – that Barton’s assumption (that Fudge’s sacking was more a Deep State plot than the workings of a democratic system) is incorrect and gives less credit to that system than is warranted.

    What I think you miss is that we DO understand that system and we consider it to be only partially democratic, and far too empowering of a Deep State mentality. Y’all elect some minor leaders who then get together to select a bigger leader, who then selects from among friends a group of other big leaders, and it’s those people who debate and decide the issues. (Let’s not even think about royalty here.)

    He wasn’t critiquing the Wizarding system because of a lack of understanding that it was much like the British system. He knew that it was much like the British system, which is why (partially) he was critiquing it.

    The original American form of government is the Town Meeting, in which every citizen is crammed into a huge room where each and every issue, question, and expenditure is thrashed out and voted on directly by those citizens, sometimes over days or weeks. Local government is the best government, and direct voting is the most local government possible.

    Granted it’s unworkable as we scale up, but our system has been developed to keep as much of that directness as possible while making it workable. We directly elect local government, and we directly elect state government, and we (nearly) directly elect federal government. The decisions made by all of those bodies remain as close to direct voting as is possible. We don’t elect a local government and then let it elect a state government, and then let that body elect federal government. We want to decide issues as thinking citizens, not just be a constituency awaiting our betters’ decisions.

    Y’all want leaders. We want representatives. Leaders give you more Scrimgeour.

    (The obvious retort would be that representatives give us more Trump. But consider that, if we were to hold another Clinton/Trump election tomorrow, Trump would likely win again. Trump, for all of his bombast and ego, was exactly what we wanted. It wasn’t the uninformed and emotional bad result that people decry from direct democracy. It was the outrageous choice of a people who decided it was time to be outrageous.)

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    An aside. Speaking of things unknown, can any Samizdiety enlighten us as to the case of Charlie Gard, a sick baby whom Europe won’t allow his parents to move to America for experimental procedures? Thanks! I am going by American reports of the case, which might not be entirely accurate.

  • Laird

    I don’t know what you don’t know, of course, but I suspect that you actually know far more about the American system of government than the average American knows about Britain’s. So what you don’t know probably has more to do with the mindset of the American public than with the nominal structure of our governments (federal, state and local) which are, in reality, relatively simple and straightforward.

    To your essay, I think you are a bit unfair to Barton with your comment that he doesn’t truly understand what every British schoolchild knows: that you have elections, and changes in governments, but the two are only loosely correlated. We do get that (although we are, in the main, rather confused about just how your parliamentary system works; much of what I know has been gleaned from discussions here and watching Yes, Minister). But more importantly, we know all about bureaucracies, which are never elected, and that do take on a life of their own which is largely independent of, indeed insulated from, the elected political power structure. And that is what Barton is discussing.

    From the books we know very little about the Wizarding world’s political system (there seems to be a prime minister, although we don’t know how he is elected), but the Ministry of Magic appears to be what we Yanks would call an “independent regulatory agency” (such as the SEC) which is under only nominal, indeed tenuous, control of the political system (either the executive or legislative branches). And then we have intelligence agencies, such as the NSA, which are utterly out of control: they can lie to Congress with impunity; they essentially make their own rules which they enforce seemingly without oversight; they have recourse to a secret court which gives every indication of having been thoroughly captured by the agencies it supposedly controls; and their very budgets are classified so there is no means for the general public to have more than a very vague idea of just what they’re up to.

    To me, this seems to be very much analogous to the Ministry of Magic, and thus makes the Harry Potter series just as much a cautionary tale (and just as likely in the long run to increase distrust of government) over here as in Britain. Which is Barton’s central thesis.

  • Thailover

    Rowling bores me. No seriously…uninteresting.

    She’s a socialist in no uncertain terms, yet a billionaire. That’s a billion pounds mind you, not American green-backs. I can easily justify her wealth as a win-win with no losers involved, but I would be flabbergasted if she could begin to justify it, even remotely.

    Her villains and heroes are cliche’, shallow and ridiculous…but then so were the characters of Dickens and look how people still fawn over him. In fact, her works read much like Dickens. The bad (often rich and powerful) are irrationally bad and evil, (not just sadistically evil, but they snarl while they’re at it), and her “good” characters are too good, goody-goody good, by her standard of good of course. Self-sacrificially “good”.

    But it doesn’t matter what I think since countless people have each voted with their wallets to make her a billionaire, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. She is a success by most standards, though at the same time (in my opinion), daft as a fence post.

    But socialism just hasn’t been done the right way yet…no wait, that’s cliche’ too.

  • Laird

    Thailover, I get the sense that you haven’t actually read her books, or at most more than the first one. Am I right?

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Thailover, some people think that Rowling is Dickens, reborn!
    As for being goody-goody, Harry has erotic fantasies about the Chinese girl before he even goes on a ‘date’ with her. Did you miss that in the book?
    As for win-win, you are such a specieist! Trees are murdered to provide all that paper for the books, or hadn’t you thought about that?

  • Patrick Crozier

    Laird:

    …but the Ministry of Magic appears to be what we Yanks would call an “independent regulatory agency” (such as the SEC) which is under only nominal, indeed tenuous, control of the political system (either the executive or legislative branches). And then we have intelligence agencies, such as the NSA, which are utterly out of control: they can lie to Congress with impunity; they essentially make their own rules which they enforce seemingly without oversight; they have recourse to a secret court which gives every indication of having been thoroughly captured by the agencies it supposedly controls; and their very budgets are classified so there is no means for the general public to have more than a very vague idea of just what they’re up to.

    I did not know that.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    @bobbyb
    “Y’all elect some minor leaders who then get together to select a bigger leader, who then selects from among friends a group of other big leaders, and it’s those people who debate and decide the issues”
    Sounds just like the electoral college and the presidential appointment of the executive to me!

  • Clovis Sangrail

    Off topic: finally, one BBC reporter seems to be gaining the first inkling about Trump’s style (and substance?):
    Trump, the pro-wrestling president, makes politics a performance art.

  • Alisa

    I did not know that

    But did you know that you did not know that?

  • Ferox

    I haven’t read Rowling’s books myself, but after watching the first movie (wherein the Slitherin house gets cheated out of winning the end-of-year prize by an arbitrary and irregular score fix, and publicly slow-rolled to boot) I couldn’t see Harry and pals as the good guys in that story anymore.

  • Paul Marks

    The basic Common Sense (the capital letters are deliberate – I will buy a cup of tea for the first person who works out why) of people, including some Labour voters, is the one hope in a dark world.

    To some extent many people just know that the state does not work – their natural reason tells them so, and tells them that “new more intelligent leaders” (the Plato fallacy – the idea that statism would work if intellectual “Guardians” were in charge) will not make the state work. Education and the “mainstream” media try and overcome Common Sense – try to convince people that the state can solve every problem with government spending and more regulations, but humans are not blank slates. There is something in humans that is like a nagging doubt about what they are taught – this doubt (natural reason, the soul – and that may not mean a religious concept) is the one hope. If people can be shown that their doubt (their natural reason) is not “silly”, that reality is NOT what the schools and universities and media say it, then there is actually hope – even if it is a slim hope.

    Meanwhile as I am writing this – the BBC is broadcasting lies about “Austerity” (pretending that government spending has been cut – when it has not), and calling the suggestion of yet more regulations (this time in the energy market) a “free market”. Various “Conservative” ministers are shown going along (spreading) such statist disinformation and agitprop.

    Can the Common Sense of humans survive the constant attack by lies, which they are subjected to all their lives? It will certainly need a lot of help to change from a nagging doubt, to an actual fundamental challenge to the ever growing state.

  • Ferox (July 3, 2017 at 7:15 am), my ‘quite unwittingly‘ comment in the post points to a discussion of Rowling’s poor mathematical skills. Some of the house-point scoring system absurdities come from that. You have a point that Dumbledore’s end-of-book-one award seems capricious – it contrasts with the outrage when Umbrage and her squad award points capriciously in book 5 – giving just a hint of “what’s fine if Griffyndor win is a crime if Slytherin win” (bit like the subject of my recent post). BUT the large point awards Dumbledore gives to Harry, Ron and Hermione equal precisely the points Harry, Ron and Hermione lost (with a bit of interested help from Draco) earlier in the book, so you can defend Dumbledore’s choice of numbers, while the 10 extra for Neville that let Gryffindor win are not at all unusual. So you can defend her here.

    There is also a flat contradiction in the awards system. In book 2, prefect Percy Weasley docks points off Ron (who complains his brother has an unworthy motive) but in book 5 this has been forgotten: Ron tells Draco that prefects can’t dock points. “Prefects can’t”, Draco agrees, “but members of the inquisitorial squad can.” In the book, cheating Umbrage has creating a new rule to serve her ugly prejudices – but in fact it is J.K.Rowling who has cheated (or, more probably, forgotten), dropping the book 2 rule into the memory hole so that Umbrage’s new rule can look invented and so unfair.

    I agree with Laird (July 3, 2017 at 2:39 am) dissenting from Thailover: if you read the books you see that while Rowling sides with Hermione at bottom, Ron is given some good lines. Occasional stuff in the margins – like the points above – is less generously handled.

  • Paul Marks

    Does natural reason (the “I”) exist?

    Look around you. We are NOT at full socialism – most Western countries are actually half free (as well as half collectivist). Yet the collectivists have had iron control of the schools, the universities, the radio and television stations, even most entertainment, for many decades. Why have they not yet succeeded in creating Hell on Earth? If humans are just a blank slate (who just repeat whatever they are brainwashed to repeat), then all Western countries should be totalitarian (total statism) places by now.

    The fact that we are not yet fully socialist proves that the human person (the “I”) exists – there is that nagging doubt about endless statism, in spite of the constant brainwashing. The “soul” (whether or not it is a religious concept) exists and is the voice of moral conscience and practical reason. Yes it can be defeated (and too often is) – but it does exist, and is the only hope. If it can be helped – if people can be shown that their nagging doubt is not “irrational”, but is actually the Voice of Reason.

  • Mr Ed

    Optimism from the Sage of Kettering, and it is not 30th February! 🙂

  • Derek Buxton

    True Mr. Marks we do not yet have true socialism but they are working on it. Now we have supposedly “conservative politicians” calling for the wages cap on the Public Sector to be scrapped. What is the National Debt, £1.5 trillion? We normally expect to a conservative administration to reverse the spending and sort out the mess. All we have now is more and more spending of money we do not have. So socialism may not be as far away as we might hope.

  • terence patrick hewett

    The really clever part of HP is that her public grew up with the books thus keeping the shekels rolling in: she is strong on characters and there are some good laughs. The mistake is to associate the real Rowling with the efficacy of her books: I like John le Carre but personally I think he is a complete a*se.

  • So, transatlantic commenters, what things about the US do I not know that I do not know?

    Oreos aren’t as great as we make them out to be.
    Not exactly what you were looking for, probably, but it had to be said.

  • Laird

    Sacrilege, CayleyGraph! I’m surprised that got past the Smitebot!

  • Julie near Chicago

    Hmph. It may be sacrilege, but it’s also absolutely true.

  • Alisa

    It is 🙁

  • Sigivald

    Ref above – The easiest answer would be that you don’t quite get the American aversion to considering elected representatives to be “leaders.”

    Note that that is – sadly – not remotely universal.

    Some on the Right and apparently (personal experience with meme-shares and comments from Progressives I Know Personally) most on the Left very much equate “elected politician” and “leader”.

    Not sure how you innoculate against it, sadly.

  • CaptDMO

    Hmmm…you should know that “American History”,(formerly known as Social Studies) is being phased out of it’s traditional place beginning in fourth grade “free” public school.
    “Students” in subsidized higher education believe DEMANDING stupidity, and throwing a tantrum if they don’t get it, is “hip”.
    And the terms Dunning-Kruger, and Gell-Mann have become more frequently needed.
    Investigation of what politicians actually DO,actually SAY and how they ultimately actually vote, are essential, despite how amusing “popular”
    news/ comedic “interpretation” outlets may seem to be.
    A logical fallacy checklist drinking game during second tier politician’s “Tweets”, clips, and prepared “surprise” appearances in papers/tabloid Tee Vee would be cause for alarm with
    our desperately vicarious “National Health” industrial complex useful-idiots circling the treasury.

  • bobby b

    ““Students” in subsidized higher education believe DEMANDING stupidity, and throwing a tantrum if they don’t get it, is “hip”.”

    The students couldn’t care less. It’s the teachers.

    An entire class of people who figured out they were never going to be uber-useful to society – they couldn’t be doctors or engineers or chemists or lawyers or farmers – but who yearned to be important anyway, they took over teaching and transformed it into political indoctrination, thus giving the teachers the self-satisfaction of claiming to be opinion molders and thought leaders.

    If you can’t do anything useful, redefine useful.

  • Laird

    Where is the Golgafrinchan Ark Fleet Ship B when we need it?

  • Mal Reynolds

    @bobby b: the inclusion of lawyers as something useful to society is interesting… mostly lawyers’ work seems to involve creating more work for lawyers.

    I know someone who has gone into teaching with the explicit reason (and he was quite clear and proud to say) being to indoctrinate kids into his far-left ideology. I said he should teach just sociology or politics where some political discussion seems reasonable enough. Instead he is teaching physics “to reach as many kids as possible and more subtlety turn them into left-wing radicals”. Think how many others potentially think like him and how many people who go into teaching will join the same unions and be influenced by them.

    I was very lucky at school (and I only left 8 years ago) to have an Economics (and for 1 or 2 years History) teacher who was a big free-market proponent. She refused to join the teachers unions and never went on strike when the rest of the teachers threw a tantrum over being held slightly accountable for the success/failure of their students. Best teacher I had. Without her influence I could easily have turned out like everyone else my age and voted for Corbyn to get free shit.

  • Mr Ed

    Many years ago, I saw a car sticker (decal?) with the slogan ‘If you can read this, thank a teacher‘.

    My first reaction was something like ‘I could read before I went to school, you smug prig.’ and then I thought of bringing out ‘If you can’t read this, kick a teacher’. having shared a primary school class with illiterates aged 11.

  • bobby b

    ” . . . the inclusion of lawyers as something useful to society is interesting.”

    They’ve polled this question repeatedly: everyone hates other peoples’ lawyers, but they love their own lawyers.

    If you’re going to have a society run by the rule of law – run by clear statutory language and established precedent, run predictably and fairly and consistently – you need people trained in that law. If law is to have a comprehensive reach, it’s going to be far too complex for the vast majority of people to become proficient in it without specialized training.

    A legal system that breeds lots of lawyers is the worst system possible, except for all of the other systems.

  • Mr Ed

    By all means have lawyers, but no legal privileges, be it audience rights, confidence and professional privilege, pre-qualification for judicial office etc.

    Someone soon will come up with software that will replace most of what lawyers do, such as writing abusive, fantastical, whiny letters for their deadbeat, thieving and dissembling clients.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    @Mr Ed
    ” such as writing abusive, fantastical, whiny letters for their deadbeat, thieving and dissembling clients.”
    Ouch! It sounds as though you have been at the shyster sharp end.

    bobbyb certainly has a point but I do not believe the law should be so complex that an ordinary person cannot understand it; at least not without seriously softening the principle that “ignorance of the law is no excuse”.

  • bobby b

    ” . . . I do not believe the law should be so complex that an ordinary person cannot understand it; at least not without seriously softening the principle that “ignorance of the law is no excuse”.”

    I’m sitting here looking at a small 186-page pamphlet dealing with the implications of “additional insured” provisions contained within Public Entity Liability contracts of insurance.

    I think we’ve blown right past that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” theme.

  • bobby b

    “Someone soon will come up with software that will replace most of what lawyers do, such as writing abusive, fantastical, whiny letters for their deadbeat, thieving and dissembling clients.”

    Sounds great. Will that software also help the wife of the deadbeat, thieving and dissembling guy who needs to get divorced from him? Will it help his beaten kids get protection? How about the small business owner who has been robbed by the contract violations of that deadbeat, thieving and dissembling guy? Will it help anyone receiving those abusive, fantastical, whiny letters? How about anyone accused of a crime by that deadbeat, thieving and dissembling guy?

    The best legal software available so far does – badly – the job of a paralegal or a first-year lawyer. It’s forms generation and OCR scanning-and-searching.

    I can run up a parade of horribles in any profession and occupation you can think of – docs with no regard for their patients, bakers who use cheap and bad ingredients, cops who murder, lazy lifeguards . . . The percentage of people in society who are utter jerks pretty closely matches that percentage in lawyerdom.

  • Richard

    Mal Reynolds’ friend, July 4, 2017 at 9:44 am, demonstrates the stupidity of the left. If I wished to reach the most students possible, physics is the next to last thing I would choose to teach. The last, of course, is Latin.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    @bobbyb
    “I think we’ve blown right past that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” theme.”
    I think my remark should be largely restricted to the criminal law. In that area, I think saying we’ve “blown right past it” would completely undermine your original point.
    The principle that ignorance is no excuse stems (I believe) from the idea that (criminal) law codifies extremes of morality (as in “beyond here is obviously wrong”) and so you “should” as matter of basic morality know that these crimes are bad things to do. The criminal law in the UK and the US has clearly moved way beyond this.

    In tort and civil law it’s a different matter…

  • bobby b

    “I think my remark should be largely restricted to the criminal law.”

    I think we’ve blown right past it in criminal law, too.

    Look at securities law. I know plenty of brokers and sophisticated investors who get into trouble regularly because the law in that area is so complex and counterintuitive that it’s hard not to get crossways to it.

    Everyone ought to know where they are in regard to malum in se law. It fairly closely tracks current morality. But more and more criminal law is simply malum prohibitum, which means you risk violating it even when you think you’re doing a moral thing.

    I don’t think this undermines my original point because it’s not due to the presence in the system of lawyers qua lawyers. It’s simple over-regulation, which can be accomplished by anyone.

  • NickM

    Laird,
    It docked at final destination many years ago. It docked in orbit around the third planet of a certain G2 yellow dwarf you might be familiar with.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    @bobby b
    “It’s simple over-regulation, which can be accomplished by anyone.”
    I totally agree (again). But the lawyers certainly are a special-interest group in this regard, with little motivation to campaign for less laws.
    And (as the CP would say) it can be no coincidence that so many legislators are lawyers.

    The rule of law is, largely a very good thing, but the laws should, like government, be [very] limited.

  • Julie near Chicago

    “Show me the man, and I will show you the crime.”

    [Don’t know if that’s the exact wording. Also forget the Famous Judge (I think it was) who said it.]

    Generally agree with bobby (although I’m a layman). And above all, this:

    “It’s simple over-regulation, which can be accomplished by anyone.”

    .

    A well-written law should not cast too broad a net nor be stretchable past its intended purpose (but good luck with that one; and in fact almost certainly some laws are written in order that they be broken — not cynicism, by the way); nor should it be so narrow as to miss all but the inarguably guilty. (It is against the law for Obama’s mama to have conceived him.)

    .

    Part of the problem: “Words [may] have exact meanings,” but they also “do not have crisp edges.” No matter what anyone thinks. (Actually, I think there’s considerable legitimate debate as to how “exact” the “meanings” are.) If you can find it, Bill Whittle did a stellar video on exploiting this to create practically infinite stretchability in any statement of criteria.

    Also highly pertinent is a video in which Richard Epstein discusses how Roman law developed so as to include the difference but also the underlying similarity between murder by chopping off someone’s head and murder by poisoning his wine — is the latter really murder? After all he drank the wine himself, and (in the example) he did it of his own free will. The murderer merely furnished the cause of death. And he loves the example of his grandson Noah, who at the age of four was told, “Noah, we do not hit.” Whereupon Noah, with a saintly smile on his face, let go with a good kick to his target.

    Saith Richard: “The man understands!”

  • Julie near Chicago

    Along the same lines, do we all remember the book Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, by Jean Kerr? In this memoir of her life as the mother of four boys, she explains the title by telling us that her table décor for a dinner party included daisies, which in the event came up short. It seems she had instructed the young gents on what not to do, but neglected to mention that they should not eat the daisies.

    That’s the way I remember it, anyhow. But this short episode I’m quite sure about:

    At one point she told one of them to put all his (muddy?) clothes in the Bendix (washing machine). Sayeth the Young Master,

    All of them?”

    –Yes. All of them.

    “Well, okay, but then I will have to put my shoes in too, and they will certainly break the Bendix.”

    LOL!

  • Julie near Chicago

    By the way, Mr. Kilmartin: Should by mischance you lose your copy of the poem, let me know and I will send you my copy.

    Cheers. :>)

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Here’s something you should know about Australia- very few of us eat Vegemite. We try to export it to new countries as a unique taste sensation. We only use it now for dares, and quantity endurance contests. I can only last a few toasts with Vegemite, no matter the reward.

  • Paul Marks

    Vegemite is all right – and in the time it takes to make some sandwiches the washing on the line will be dry in Oz. At least so I have been told (and fondly imagined) – Mr Gray is confusing me with facts, that is not fair!

  • Vinegar Joe

    @Julie……..”Show me the man and I will show you the crime.” – Lavrentiy Beria

    Hardly a judge. 😉

  • Julie near Chicago

    VG, Beria? Oh. Come to think of it ….

    “How embarrassing. How embarrassing!”

    Don’t I just hate when that happens! :>(

    Thanks for sweeping out one of the dust bunnies. :>)

  • Clovis Sangrail

    @Julie
    Beria. It’s alright, he was a judge.
    You know the phrase: judge, jury and …

    The point is still valid. A feature [the main feature] of totalitarianism is that the legal system is designed to make everyone a criminal so everyone has a guilty conscience.
    Do I hear someone say “just like the US and the UK”?

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Paul, sorry about the facts! I try to have a totally-fact-free article, but it isn’t easy!
    Mr. Ed- if the person can’t read the sticker, how will they know who to blame?

  • Rich Rostrom

    Here is something about the U.S. that a lot of foreigners don’t get.

    Legislators and executive officers are elected separately. Very often candidates of opposing parties will be elected at the same time. In fact upper and lower house legislatures are elected separately and a district may choose differently in each house. Also, legislators are not answerable to the state or national party. A legislator may break ranks with the party on an issue, even a major vote, but as long as his constituents approve, he’s safe.

    Another thing a lot of foreigners don’t know: most state and county governments have multiple elected executive officials, creating very long ballots. Adding to this is direct election of judges, who are very numerous. It’s why we can’t have hand-counted paper ballots.

  • Alisa

    A legislator may break ranks with the party on an issue, even a major vote, but as long as his constituents approve, he’s safe.

    Unless he or she want to advance beyond local politics, which they usually do?

  • Mr Ed

    A legislator may break ranks with the party on an issue, even a major vote, but as long as his constituents approve, he’s safe.

    Not with the list system in PR, where the legislator may simply be shoved down the list, and has no constituency to support him. And he may simply be de-selected, a favourite tactic of the Communist factions in the Labour Party. The Conservative Party had its own list of approved candidates, and ways to get those who know how to talk smoothly up the list and in front of the selection panels.

  • The points of Rich Rostrom (July 7, 2017 at 2:22 am) and Alisa (July 7, 2017 at 7:41 am) have both their UK analogies – and differentiate us both from many a European country. There is no list system such as a proportional vote can give. In Britain, an MP who defies his party will stay a back-bench MP, but if his constituents like him – OR if his local constituency party likes him and he’s in a safe seat for that party – then it is hard for that party’s central office to get rid of him. Both some Tory anti-EU MPs and Jeremy Corbyn survived the long, lean 90s and noughties by one or other of these means.

    Labour has repeatedly proved vulnerable to entryist tactics to take over local constituency party committees. Corbyn was already committed to having these committees deselect disloyal MPs; thanks to his relative success in the election, this may now go faster and more effectively. These events are nothing like primaries and very manipulable. Those Labour MPs who have little personal fame, just “safe Labour seats” seem not well-placed to resist.

  • Laird

    Mr Ed, it doesn’t work quite that way in the US, but Alisa is nonetheless correct that “breaking ranks” with the party leadership isn’t a good way to advance your political career. It tends to get you relegated to the back bench and assigned to the least-important committees (and forget about any committee chairmanships). It is certainly acceptable to vote against the party line in certain circumstances: when the outcome is already determined so the loss of a single vote won’t affect anything, it’s an important issue to the constituents back home, and you have permission from the leadership, but that’s about it. Otherwise, you can break ranks while keeping your job, but your actual effectiveness as a legislator will be close to nil. And you’ll probably attract an opponent in the next primary election who is more acceptable to (and probably financed by) the leadership. It’s truly a difficult position to be in.

  • […] think they’re leaders of the people rather than mere representatives (a distinction which the Samizdata commenters weighed in on recently). I don’t recall anyone specifically asking the British or French […]

  • While I take Laird’s point (July 3, 2017 at 2:26 am), there are several quotes in the essay that are hard to understand as meaning anything other than the author does not think there are any elections at all in the magical governance of Harry Potter, not merely that the appointment of the Minister of Magic is indirected from them in a British-style rather than US-Style way. In its very first paragraph, the phrase

    offered no elections and no democratic lawmaking process

    seems impossible to understand any other way, especially the reference to ‘lawmaking process’. Similarly

    Rowling’s vision of government consists almost solely of bureaucracy, without elections to offer the sheen of democracy

    seems too emphatic for a mere US/UK difference. And Burton seems to rule out the magic world having any British-style democracy when he writes

    The description of the muggle Prime Minister features a discussion of elections and political opponents, two elements of governmental life that are notably absent from the Ministry of Magic.

    since the muggle Prime Minister is precisely the British prime minister.