The greater good – Dumbledores’ plot or Does the end justify the means?

It is a controversial and much debated subject in the world of Harry Potter: Was Dumbledore right in acting as he did? Was he a „good person“? Does the defeat of Voldemort justify that he bred Harry like a pig just to make sure he would do the right thing in the end, to make sure he was ready to do what was necessary: to die in order to destroy the Horcrux in himself, the last piece of Voldemort’s soul, to make him mortal again.

While Harry is very consistent in his morality, Dumbledore was not always. We know Dumbledore as the caring, old, wise man who was a mentor and grandfather figure to Harry. And we gladly tend to forget that as a young adult he had been flirting with the totalitarian ideas of his former lover, the evil wizard Grindelwald. In his letter to him he utters: „Your point about wizard dominance being FOR THE MUGGLES OWN GOOD – this, I think, is the crucial point. Yes, we have been given power and, yes, that power gives us the right to rule, but it also gives us responsibilities over the ruled.“ So, Dumbledore at the age of 17 agreed with Grindelwald that the mightier wizards should rule over the muggles. Very quickly he was able to distance himself from this ideology, but that does not fully cover the fact that he had and still maybe has tendencies to that ideas. Why was that idea of power attractive to young Dumbledore? In what consisted Grindelwalds exact ideas anyway? And has Dumbledore ever really given up the will of power?

How does everyday life look for witches and wizards? Although they have magic and are therefore not dependent on machines and computers in their everyday life, they still live amongst the muggles and surrender to their perception of reality. They integrate their institutes into already existing muggle-places and –buildings and hide them so that no muggle ever notices anything beyond their normality. They create a world within the muggle world. Therefore it is the wizards that surrender in adapting to the standards of the muggle world and not the other way round. Why is that?

In the system we know from the Harry Potter books, the wizard and witches still hide from the muggles so that there exist two parallel worlds next to each other. They share the same world but not the same rooms of context. Surely it is for a great deal due to practical issues: for example, the rules of the wizarding world could never apply to the muggle world and vice versa. Though there could surely be found some kind of compromise if both sides were willing to adapt. But for some reason, the knowledge of the existing of the other kind is onesided: the wizarding world is in constant threat of exposure. There are laws that forbid magical activities in front of muggles. If it happens that the two worlds do interact with each other, as it happens during the regime of Voldermort or generally, when things get out of control, there is a big array of ministry employees, whose task is to obliviate the concerned muggles and to erase every trace that could hint towards their world. Besides, is it not funny that the laws that are set up to hide the wizarding world from muggle-eyes are called “muggle protection laws”, although in fact they don’t really protect them, but the wizards from them? So, why can’t wizards and witches and muggles live peacefully not only next to, but with each other?

The merger of the two worlds would certainly inspire and enrich both of them. The wizarding world could be very interested in quantum physics and generally use a new polish on some of their ways while the muggle world … well, there’s a bunch. So, why does it seem so unrealistic?

In Fantastic Beasts 1 and 2 Grindelwald says that muggles (or no-majs in America) attack when they’re afraid of something. This is the premisse he utters in his speech, and also the bottom of his full argumentation: he presupposes that the primal instinct of non-magic humans is to be aggressive towards something that is not only unknown to them, but, to state it in Grindelwald’s terminology, is far more mightier than them. Mightier, although he denies it in this very speech, equals better, and better equals having the right to rule the ones who are “less”. What and who is less depends on his definition only. So he thinks that the world should be primarily a place furnished for wizards and witches, where they can move freely and where everything is set up for their every day necessities. Though non-magic people outnumber wizards and witches by far, Grindelwald wants to see the power in their hands, or, more accurately, his.

Even though he didn’t think it as radically as Grindelwald, Dumbledore flirted with the thought wizards could rule the muggles. He thought that, as the mightier ones, the wizarding world has responsibility towards the weaker ones. So, following his argument, the muggles would enormly profit from being ruled. But wouldn’t that imply that they are unable to take care of themselves, to rule themselves? To paternalize them? Putting oneself higher than others is the mistake. In declaring oneself a better, wiser and superior human being is denying other people’s human dignity. This dignity consists, amongst other things, of having a choice in one’s own matters. Dumbledore wants to take the choice from them by believing, that only himself can decide what’s good and what’s bad for them.

Hobbes thought a sovereign could only be justified if he incorporates an instance whose uttermost concern is the wellbeing of its people. Therefore he introduced the “Leviathan”. Hobbes assumed, that humans in their so called “natural state”, the state before civilisation, are selfish, not cooperative and at constant war with each other (bellum omnia via omnes). To live peacefully amongst each other, they give up their “political freedom” and voluntarily set up a contract to regulate their safety based on reciprocity (If you don’t harm me, I won’t harm you). Furthermore he thinks a central, strong and absolute sovereign is needed to create and maintain wealth and prosperity. Both the constitutional  state of law and the fascist Führer state refer to Thomas Hobbes, since he didn’t properly shape his theory.

A theory that should be mentioned in this context is the philosphical school of utilitarianism. This theory says that “the best action is the one which […] produces the greatest well-being for the greatest number of people.[…] Utilitarianism is a version of consequentialism, which states that the consequences of any action are the only standard of right or wrong.” In contrast to Kant, not the motivation behind an action counts, but the actual outcome. So no matter how evil the motive force might be, if the consequence for a considerable amount of people is positive, it is considered a good deed. Of course that means that torture and murder are justified as long as the consequences for most people are good. In contrast to this theory stands Kant, for whom only the good will counts.

A dictator always claims to act in the best interest of the ruled, but they always dictate the definition of that good. „The good“ is too abstract a concept as to be defined by one person only. A democracy is the opposite, where the will of the mass reigns.

Dumbledore thinks of some kind of protectorate. How could the mass know what is good for them if the mass isn’t lucid, corrupt and blinded? He says for the wizards, as the ones with power, it lies in their responsibility to take care of the weaker ones. Nothing wrong by that, apparently. But by taking on absolute “responsibility”, he, or the one in charge, would be the only one to define right and wrong, good and evil, black and white. A scale whose only control reference is itself. An instance, that is only controlled by itself.

Eventually, he changes his mind. He notices that the way Grindelwald goes, who wants to subjugate the muggles more than to rule them peacefully is not the way to go. And even ruling them peacefully poses a deeply philosophical problem.

Dumbleodore had to experience evil in order to comprehend why it is evil. He had to go through hell to acknowledge heaven as heaven.

But as we are about to uncover, he never gives up power or the will of power. He only exercises it with much more subtility.

Dumbledore knew that Harry was the seventh or six or whatever Horcrux and that he had to die in order to make Voldemort mortal, after hopefully having destroyed all other Horcruxes. That being said, it is now easier to understand why he was okay with Harry telling Ron and Hermione about the Horcruxes, so that they would keep on searching and destroying them if Harry died sooner, while on the other hand he didn’t trust anybody else with those facts – not even Snape, his most valuable spy, from whom he withheld this essential information and had let him die in the believe that Harry, for whose safety he had done everything else, would die.

So, it was just a matter of time that Harry had to die. And obviously Dumbledore didn’t think it necessary to bring Harry into the loop. Why? Did he think Harry would chicken out? Or did he think Harry had to find out for himself in order to leave him the choice and go voluntarily? How did he know Harry would sacrifice himself at all?

In order to understand that, we have to dig deeper. For making sure Harry would willingly not hesitate to sacrifice himself, Dumbledore had to have deeply knowledge of Harry’s character. How could he have known that Harry would grow into the caring, brave man who has deep friendship bonds and is willing to give his life for their wellbeing? We have to look closely on Harrys moral compass. As well as Ron, he sees moral as something defined by friendship and protecting the ones they love against evil. Harry makes the experience of having to make the choice whether an enemy lives or dies. He never chooses killing: he never lets practical reasons decide about a human life, even if it made more sense – Harry’s moral is, following Immanuel Kant, that no human life is inviolable. Coming tot he conclusion that it was rationally demanded to end a life, would be a reason for him to question rationality itself. One can not calculate with human lives, they are inviolable. This is a strong morality. Harry has to learn that the costs of mercy can be hard – when he spares Peddigrew’s life, he flees and is the reason why Voldemort returns. So indirectly, Harry has caused his own worst enemy’s return. But if he had let Sirius and Lupin kill Peddigrew, he would have helped his father’s two best friends become murderers. Even if the outcome had been worse, Harry wasn’t willing to risk doing a bad thing. Like Kant, he clearly thinks, that one can not create good if it means, doing bad things. Doing bad things can never equal a good outcome. The end can never justify the means.

Maybe Dumbledore didn’t know how Harry would grow up. Firstly, he wanted to have him save, by casting the Fidelius charm, which is stronger with family blood. Then, he wanted him to grow up as a normal child, far away from the world where he was famous. Unintended or not, Harry grew up as a humble person and, despite of his unloving childhood, capable of intense love towards others. So, Dumbledores plot could not have gone that way back. It must have started when Harry got to Hogwarts.

“He’s a funny man, Dumbledore. I think he sort of wanted to give me a chance. I think he knows more or less everything that goes on here, you know. I reckon he had a pretty good idea we were going to try, and instead of stopping us, he just taught us enough to help. I don’t think it was an accident he let me find out how the Mirror [of Erised] worked. It’s almost like he thought I had the right to face Voldemort if I could …”

Dumbledore withholds deliberately important information from people, because this information could make people act unpredictably, and that is what he wants to avoid. That’s manipulation. It is a form of exercising control over others. Dumbledore still wants to be in control of everything.

Throughout the whole series Dumbledore doesn’t lecture Harry, but encourages him. In the end, he reposes all his hope in Harry’s hands, although he still doesn’t tell him everything he know. That’s maybe the epitome of a teacher – not telling students all knowledge, but encouraging them to acquire it themselves. The biggest lessons in life cannot be taught – one has to experience them to seize their meaning. Dumbledore himself had to learn that the hard way.

Nevertheless, one cannot get rid of the feeling that Dumbledore withheld very important, essential information from Harry. He could have told him about the Deathly Hallows, but instead he trusted that Hermione would be clever enough decrypting an old rune he had written in the “tales of Beeble the Bard”. Did he think, if he had told Harry, he would have neglected the primary goal of finding and destroying the Horcruxes? But it would have spared much time and maybe, lives, if he had told him earlier. But that is a typical Dumbledore: he leaves enough hints for him to find it out himself. And by finding it out himself, maybe Harry gained more than if he had known all along. If he had had it easier, Harry maybe wouldn’t be worthy of the Deathly Hallows. But as he collected them not following a concrete plan or purpose for their use, Harry could conquer death itself. Like in the very first book, Harry only got the “Philosopher’s stone” out of the mirror of Erised because it was not his biggest wish to use it. That is a clear parallel. Harry did not want the Deathly Hallows either, but by the workings of fate he got in possession of them.

Dumbledore’s plan would never have worked if some kind of fate hadn’t also done its part – Harry was always a lucky bastard. Just not in the beginning…oh no, let’s skip that.

Dumbledore is a god-like creature in Harry Potter. He sets the variables, he foresees outcomings and tries to determinate them. He pulls the strings. He wants to keep all the determinantes in place to make his plan work: destroying Voldemort and saving the muggle and the wizarding world. Which is a noble goal. But does the end justify the means after all?

Let us see.

Dumbledore never wanted to appear as good, he never wanted to be good, he just wanted the world to be good. And that has to be the biggest sacrifice he made. To accomplish the plan, to always stay the one who knew everything and to pull the strings where they needed to be pulled, he had to renounce to all emotional attachments that could affect the plan, as well as himself. He had to deny himself any claim on being seen as the good guy. He knew that he had to be the manipulator, because nobody else was capable or willing to be that person. As he knew he had the power, he took the responsibility. For the greater good.

„I’m much older, much wiser and much less valuable than you are“, he says to Harry in the cave.

Maybe he was the Leviathan, but a good one.


Quellen: Harry Potter and the philosophers Stone, Harry Potter and the deathly hallows,

entire Harry Potter Book series

fantastic Beats and where to find them

Fantastic beasts – the crimes of Grindelwald

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