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HP meta discussion: The American magical government - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
HP meta discussion: The American magical government
In my latest installment of Shades, I randomly sent Dumbledore and Tonks to the American Southwest to track down a missing kid, and they interacted a little with the Bureau of Magical Investigation. But I kind of got to thinking, from a comment of dalf's, about the magical government institutions, which would be sufficiently different to warrant discussion. (Not so much about American magical culture, per se, but about how it would work within the bureacracy.)

It's a given that there would not be an American "Ministry" of magic; we don't use the term in any part of our government (unless I'm missing one?). The equivalent here is a "Department" (eg, the Department of Defense or Department of State), and the head is usually a Secretary, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

In general the Secretaries are people with whom the President has some previous experience (see the current cabinet for examples)... so how, given the Statute of Secrecy, would the Secretary of Magic be chosen? (The Department of Magic, undoubtedly, would be staffed by the same people from administration to administration, with a few notable exceptions, but the head of the Department would change with each president.) At what point in a campaign would it be permissable under the Statute for someone to brooch the subject of the magical world and the need to appoint a Secretary for that department? Only after the election? If so, what kind of impact would that have on the political behavior of ambitious wizards trying to get on the coattails so they might be appointed when the time came to spill the beans? It would almost certainly mean that wizards in the government would have to be active in Muggle politics. And how in the hell would they get confirmed by the Senate? (Thought: maybe the position masquerades as an incredibly boring department that the Senate just won't care that much about... though if they're determined to thwart the president's whims for whatever reason, they could still give trouble, so I'd guess that the witch or wizard who wanted the appointment would really have to bone up on whatever the fake department was supposed to do--maybe make it something really picky and technical that the Senators won't want to admit that they don't understand?)

What about local politics and state politics? Given the way American politics work, it's likely that there'd be the equivalent of local, or at least regional, government agencies (quite possibly, even probably, handling educational matters) as well as state agencies. Would there be elected magical governments at the regional or state level, occasionally at odds with the federal guys? Would Muggle mayors need to know the magical politics in their towns?

How about general elections? People tend to be on the ballot for regions--would the wizarding world gerrymander redistrict to make sure that only wizards were electing people to magical posts? Or would they count on voters not paying attention to exactly what they were voting for?

Just something to talk about. :)
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lilacsigil From: lilacsigil Date: September 7th, 2006 05:59 am (UTC) (Link)
I do wonder about this - in Australia, we have an enormous, non-appointed, non-elected public service where an entire wizarding bureaucracy could easily hide, but everything seems so public in America. Electing sheriffs and judges seems very odd to me!

It makes me wonder whether American wizards are better integrated into public life - not in the sense of muggles knowing about them, but the wizards knowing far more about muggles. Alternatively, they could be far worse integrated, and have no federal governmental representation at all, doing everything at a local (or even tribal) level. I mean, it's a very big country, and must have hugely different magical traditions: I can imagine some places being very British, some based on other parts of Europe, many Native American traditions and a huge Spanish and Caribbean influence getting stronger. I think local government might make more sense than a federal bureaucracy in the US - but are there enough wizards to support it?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 7th, 2006 06:09 am (UTC) (Link)
Electing sheriffs and judges seems very odd to me!

There's a story about the Revolution that says when Washington came to New England as the commander of the colonial forces, the colonial army wanted to vote on whether or not to follow his orders. ;p

The concept of having only local governments is a very likely one, though by this point, with nationwide communication, there would be some kind of national structure... but the thing is, it would be coming up from the local, rather than trickling down to it. The saying here is that all politics are local, and that's what it means... almost everything starts at the smallest level and works its way up. That tends to create a vibrant, but somewhat fragmented, identity, and a whole lot of pissing contests between local, state, and federal authorities.
danel4d From: danel4d Date: September 7th, 2006 06:10 am (UTC) (Link)
Hmm... I'm not even sure if the American equivalent would have to be confirmed by the Senate - JKR certainly plays fast and loose with the term "minister", and in many of the most important ways the Minister isn't really correct at all. I mean, real ministers have to be Members of Parliament subsequently appointed by the Prime Minister - they certainly wouldn't climb up through the department as Fudge seems to have done. Moreover, ministers are also called before Parliament regularly to answer questions - and amusing as such a scenario is, I don't believe this is something the minister of magic does.
dalf From: dalf Date: September 7th, 2006 09:24 am (UTC) (Link)
Yea thats what I think too. I think the british magical society just took the term and a genreal shape of thigns (but not too close) and went with it but operate as a totally independant government. They have laws about notifying the prime minister os some specific thigns but he does not govern them. I think the same woudl be true in the US (though what sort of thing the native peoples might have had and if it survived better than the muggle native cultures might be an intresing question).
singingtopsy From: singingtopsy Date: September 7th, 2006 06:13 am (UTC) (Link)
The USDM could be very interesting if more closely integrated with muggle politics. But why couldn't democratic representation for wizards be determined by votes by wizards?
Also, do British wizards pay taxes to the British government? Do they pay taxes to the MoM? Both? On or the other?
How "British" or "American" is a wizard anyway? JRK has not properly explained this.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 7th, 2006 07:42 am (UTC) (Link)
We don't know how Ministers of Magic are appointed. We haven't seen the slighest reference to polls or terms of office. British Wizarding population is too small to have Administrations in Wales, Scotland, England and Ulster.
Plus, the National Quidditch teams suggest that some wizarding countries do not share the same borders than the muggle ones. Flanders and Transylvania are in the muggle world part of bigger countries, and muggle Luxembourg is too small to hold a parallel wizarding country, so I suspect it includes the Belgian Luxembourg. We think the most probable thing is that the quidditch team of America represents the USA, but maybe it includes part of Canada and excludes the southern states that once belonged to Mexico...Only Rowling knows...

But I would always have in mind the wizarding population when considering regional (federal) or local wizarding administrations/governments, because if there are only three or four wizarding families (like in Devon: Weasleys, Fawcetts, Diggories and Lovegoods) maybe it just does not make sense.

From: tree_and_leaf Date: September 7th, 2006 09:57 am (UTC) (Link)
On the other hand, even in the muggle world, sports teams don't always follow political boundaries. The Irish rugby team represents both Eire and Northern Ireland, despite the fact that these countries are entirely seperate. Or the West Indies cricket team draws on players from a large number of sovereign Caribbean nations.

I think you're probably right, but sports teams don't prove it for me.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Expand
dalf From: dalf Date: September 7th, 2006 09:20 am (UTC) (Link)
That is a strange way to view it. When the british government changed (mentioned in HPB chapter 1) is did nto lead to a corrosponding change in Minister of magic. Why would the same happen in the US? My understanding of it from cannon was that the british ministry was essentally a seperate government that saw itself as a branch or attachment to the muggle one but was not subordinated to it. Why woudl this change in the US?

I suspect there would be a secretary of magic (or even a president but if we re keeping the parallels equivlent then a secratary), and that position would come to power via some sort of represenative democratic process. I suspect that the elections woudl be totally unrelated and possibly not on the sam schedule. They might even have a magical electorial collage (which all good wizarding folk would think was out of date but why meddel with somethign that works).
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 7th, 2006 02:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Why woudl this change in the US?

'Cause the question is more fun that way. ;p

Seriously, the appointment of a Minister of Magic might well be done by the Queen, in this case, responding to the clamor of her magical subjects rather than the advice of her Ministers. Since the government would have evolved during a time of a stonger monarchy, I think it likely that the monarch is the initial Muggle trusted, and because of the Statute, they may have put the kibosh on changing their method of appointment when it started shifting in the Muggle world. American wizards, who would have come with their various groups for reasons most likely unrelated to magic, would be developing their traditions as they went, and most likely would be forming their own government position around the same time as the rest of America.
From: tree_and_leaf Date: September 7th, 2006 09:52 am (UTC) (Link)
Interesting thoughts - I don't think we have enough information to be dogmatic about how magical government works *g*. For all we know parts of America might have stayed loyal to the crown and now be in wizarding Canada... just an idea! But it is an idea you sometimes need to think about for fic, and it's fun to play with, anyway.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 7th, 2006 11:32 am (UTC) (Link)
"maybe the position masquerades as an incredibly boring department that the Senate just won't care that much about... "

Well that's going to keep me up at night thinking "What does the Dept of Transportation REALLY do....?"
cheshyre From: cheshyre Date: September 7th, 2006 12:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's a short Potterverse/WestWing crossover fic about appointing a Secretary of Magic for the new administration.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 7th, 2006 02:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oo, I'll have to read that. :D
sreya From: sreya Date: September 7th, 2006 12:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Too early for me to offer any real suggestions, but now you've got my head churning over a Revolutionary War HP fanfic!!!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 7th, 2006 02:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ben Franklin was totally a wizard. Orson Scott Card said so.

I could see a "shadow" Continental Congress deciding to meet, possibly for the first time. Some people wanting to break the Statute of Secrecy (which was less than a hundred years old then) and participate magically in various battles, others not caring about the magical thing and just wanting to go fight by whoever's side. Maybe some wizards were among the Founders and in the armies with their neighbors. I doubt a wizarding family would much more take to forced quartering than a Muggle one, though at least the wizarding family could hide the house. They'd probably have the same range of opinions on the subject as the rest of the country.
From: arclevel Date: September 7th, 2006 01:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've only just glanced at other replies, so sorry for anything I'm repeating.

I think that the American magical gov't would almost definitely use different terms than the British one, and might use the American terms of Dept and Sec. However, just as the British MoM isn't part of the Muggle gov't and Fudge and Scrimgeour aren't in any way subservient to Blair, I don't think the Department of Magic would really be a part of the American government, nor the Secretary of Magic part of the cabinet. Because of this, I could even see the magical head of government being called a president. I don't think anyone other than the president would be authorized to know, though he may well have a Special Advisor on the Magical Population, with whom he interacts fairly regularly, unlike the British PM being kept in the dark except in emergency.

I don't think that the magical government would too closely parallel the muggle one, if only because of the drastically different population sizes. There might be five to ten "magic states" instead of fifty, for instance. I can't imagine that there would be any interaction between governments at a local level, or even a state one. An exception might be if it turns out that some major city (LA, for instance) is actually 35% wizards, or something like that.

Maybe the biggest consideration in how the American government is set up, whether in terms of structure, guiding documents or policies, or procedures, is when and how it formed. We don't know when the British Ministry was formed or how it developed (unless I've missed something), but we can bet it was an Awfully Long Time Ago. The very limited interaction with Muggles and development of easily accessible magical towns has kept it from developing as or even noticing the development of the Muggle government. Their utter lack of civil rights or separation of powers indicates that.

The American magical government wasn't necessarily formed in 1776, 1783, or 1789; it probably could have been formed anywhere from the mid-17th to the mid-19th century. About half that time is post-Enlightenment, and those who noticed what was happening with the Muggle nations probably also noticed the philosophers who guided them, so it's possible that the American magical government is much more like the Muggle one than in Britain. OTOH, the magical governments may have separated reluctantly for convenience once they realized the Muggle nations were split for good, which could make the American magical government a clone of the British one, with ministers, or it could have *originally* been so, then be overcome by a fit of patriotism/independence later and altered to more closely parallel it's Muggle counterpart -- or come up with something else entirely. Or America may have developed its own magical government as soon as population size made it more convenient to do so -- moreover, that government may have included the Canadian colonies and/or neighboring French or Spanish colonies -- in which case it could be darn near anything.

This is a really interesting topic and brings up lots of semi-related questions about the interaction of Muggle and magical political matters at their broadest. Was there ever a Soviet magical government, and is there one in 1996? Is there an Israeli magical government, and if so, are they at war with Lebanon? I think you could do just about anything for the American magical government if you can come up with an explanation of when America became a nation in the eyes of the magical world, when they formed their own government, whether this was a friendly split from magical Britain, and how much interaction they had with the American muggle government, if that even existed at the time.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 7th, 2006 01:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
In general, I'd expect wizards to have come over as immigrants with their ethnic groups, and be more "self-identified" as Americans (possibly hyphenated ones) than as wizards (eg, Italian-American wizards or Irish-American wizards). The reason I think this is that the books make it seem relatively rare for something to effect the entire wizarding world at the same time, so there wouldn't be the impetus to have a "wizarding immigration wave"--just the wizards coming over with their Muggle neighbors during the various waves that we had, which would leave them thinking of themselves as part of the Irish-American community or whatnor, perhaps later joining other magical people to form their organizations. I can imagine wizards coming over with the Puritans, abstaining from magic for their own religious reasons, then gradually coming to reclaim it over the years--but only after they'd come to identify themselves purely as New Englanders.

I guess I assume that in the books, the MoM is at least technically treated like other ministries, and they are subservient to the P.M.--they just really consider this sort of a formality and ignore it. The population there was a small population within Britain and probably had its own traditions, and just adapted its government titles and structures as the country changed. (In my little version, it evolved from Merlin's advising of Arthur, which of course was in a time when the monarch had more-or-less absolute power.) The American version, on the other hand, would have been created along with the American state, since those who were here would have immigrated for one reason or another.
snorkackcatcher From: snorkackcatcher Date: September 7th, 2006 03:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
The Comic Relief books refer to the position of Minister for Magic being the latter-day version of the Chief of the Wizards' Council (and that being the forerunner of the Ministry) -- I'd put (a modest sum of) money on JKR saying if asked that the Ministry had nothing whatsoever to do with the Muggle government except for borrowing the nomenclature. The Minister for Magic clearly doesn't change when the Muggle Prime Minister changes or report to him in any way, tney merely turn up and instroduce themselves and say "you deal with your business, we'll deal with ours, unless anything happens at our end you need to know about".

That being so, I'd assume that other wizarding governments are on the same sort of lines. They might follow contemporary Muggle boundaries for convenience but not necessarily (e.g. both Uganda and Transylvania are mentioned as countries playing in the 1994 Quidditch World Cup -- let's pretend for the sake of argument that JKR wasn't just making this up on the fly). There are references to the 'Ministries' of other countries, though -- inlcuding the Bulgarians -- in a way which suggests that the title is much the same elsewhere. This is odd, so let's say that Fudge & Co think of them that way but they use the local titles -- or indeed totally invented titles.

As for the US, I believe QttA says something about early American wizards being immigrants trying to escape witch-hunts in Europe -- there's little information as to what else happens Stateside, but a 'Department of Magic' run by a 'Secretary of Magic' would seem to get the 'feel' right. (The one time I needed it was for a fic called Conspiracy Theory, in which many paranoid theories of the 1950s and 1960s turned out to be true and involving wizards, including the agents of the Magical Investigation Bureau -- MIBs for short. :D)
izhilzha From: izhilzha Date: September 7th, 2006 09:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
I had never read that fic of yours--thanks for the link. It made me alterately laugh and gasp in horror. Hee.
hughroe From: hughroe Date: September 7th, 2006 04:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Good Questions...

It seems like it would be a much more regional set up, with a weak steering commitee over all, sort of like the way it was back under The Articles of Confederation.

Also, unless there is something about magic that precludes it, I think that the general U.S. wizarding population would be more integrated with the general populace than in the U.K. After all, Brujos and the like are accepted in many parts of the country.

On the educational front, most likely centraly organized along the East Coast, especially in the New England states, while out in the Dakotas and Montana it would be more homeschooled hedge wizardry.
threnody From: threnody Date: September 7th, 2006 04:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
The thing is, a Ministry of Magic works in the context of the British gov't. The US has this phobia about the government having too much presence in the daily life of the people, so... yeah.

It seems to work as a government within a government, and the Ministry/Department is only peripherally attached to the Muggle counterpart. So our whole system, but on a smaller scale. That would mean that while Secretary would be the highest title possible in the organization, the position would be the same as President.

It would depend on the wizarding population, whether there would be enough people to justify two houses of congress- I mean, the Parliamentary system has two, but so far as we know the Wizarding world has only the Wizengamot. So there might be just a single house with the combined powers of the Rep. and the Senate. Instead of going by state, there might be districts drawn (by population) that would work the same way.

It would really depend on what the population could support. The system is absolutely huge, and trying to recreate everything exactly on a smaller scale would definitely just collapse in on itself if there was only, say, 5% of the population.

An idea might be to go back to the beginning- they didn't have all these departments and offices when the US was new. And the population then would probably be closer to the wizarding population now.
maidenjedi From: maidenjedi Date: September 7th, 2006 07:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
I would think it's entirely likely that the Wizarding world doesn't necessarily operate democratically, and therefore the American equivalent of the Ministry of Magic could operate on a completely different system of government.

Of course, that doesn't take into consideration the idea that the Wizards stateside would necessarily think like other Americans, so I'll scratch that idea.

I've always thought of the American Wizarding world as being much looser and more "public" than that in Britain. In the States, we don't have a similar class structure at all; American Wizards would be more likely to intermarry with Muggles, there would be less of the "pure-blood" nonsense there is in Britain/Europe, etc. The population of Muggle-born children is probably a lot higher (not least because of the law of averages).

With that said, I think that whatever government exists for American Wizards is probably very different than that in Britain; more interaction with Muggle government (the BMI could even be a division in the FBI, allowing for a little creative license). I'm not saying that Wizarding officials would show up on a regular ballot, though. Possibly the Wizarding community holds it's own elections, which would be broader and more akin to early territorial and state elections held in the nineteenth century. Wizards in the Colorado area could Apparate to Denver to vote, for instance. I imagine most of the political power would be localized, with a Secretary or "President" presiding over a loose confederation instead of a staunch Union (I think "President" is more likely, too; the American system of government just doesn't follow the British tradition enough to assume absolute equivalence). It would be much easier to control, with so much land to take into consideration.

I think American Wizards would also be much more proficient at Muggle Studies and relations, and would blend in better. It would go a long way toward explaining the people who leave their Christmas lights on year-round!

I think Rowling does her Wizards a great disservice. There seem to be so few of them! But given the class structure she envisions, it's no wonder. There's no guarantee that every Wizard child goes to Hogwarts - it seems to tbe the Eton of the magical world, so why not suppose there are other schools, as well? With that in mind, the Wizarding population in Britain could be substantially larger, and a lot more Wizards are hidden amongst the Muggles than are ever suspected.

snorkackcatcher From: snorkackcatcher Date: September 7th, 2006 09:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think JKR's made it fairly clear in the books and in interviews that Hogwarts is the only significant magical school in Britain, and that all magical children within the catchment area get offered a free place there -- it's not something exclusive like Eton, quite the opposite in fact. This is presumably because of the low population of wizards. There don't even seem to be highly exclusive fee-paying alternatives -- because if there were, you'd imagine the Blacks, Malfoys etc would have gone to them. Some few kids might be home-schooled, I suppose.

I can't see any particular reason why the American wizards would be better integrated with the local Muggle world, and in fact some strong reasons why they wouldn't (cf attitudes to HP in the Deep South?).
(Deleted comment)
From: lianna_blanca Date: September 7th, 2006 11:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think you could take practically any angle on this, considering the lack of data. Personally, I get the feeling that the magical governments of any country don't really care about the muggle system; I doubt that American wizards are any less snobbish about being pure-blood than the British. I've lived in both countries; there really isn't that much difference in the behaviour of muggles - why wizards?

If, for whatever reason, American wizards interacted more with muggles, there would be a reason for snobberly from pure-blood Brits, but that's about it. And I don't think so; I've always felt that the isolation of the wizarding world was a choice made by all wizards, everywhere, without the bother of national boarders.

Also, think about the date that the International Statuete of Secracy came to pass; 1692. The national boarders as we know them were different back then, and if the wizarding world has remained mostly isolated, I don't think they'd bother to change their jurisdictions just because the muggles do. And at the time, I imagine almost all wizards would be prejudiced against muggles; no one particularly likes persecution. I know I'm generalising, but I feel that the friendly attitude towards muggles (not muggleborns, because they're a completely different story) is relatively recent.

The point of all this is that I don't think wizarding government needs to have anything at ALL to do with muggle; that the Brits took on a similar strucutre may mean nothing more than that one or two tolerant wizards took a look at the muggle system and decided it might work (depending on the date that the Ministry of Magic was founded in relation to the current Prime Minister system, and I don't have access to either date just nost).

I also believe that there's no real connection between the magical and muggle governments except what we've seen; a brief visit to the head of state in case of an emergency, and no obligations either way. If so many wizards consider themselves better than muggles, why in hell would they let THEIR head of 'state' be under the command of a muggle? It's just practicality that allows that brief contact at all - note that it's the Prime Minister, not the Queen, who is informed. I don't think there has EVER been a refernece to British Royalty in all of the books. I don't pretend to be an expert on the British government, but if the Minister is the one actually running things, not the queen, it makes sense that wizards wouldn't care about her.

Thus, I completely disagree with most of the above discussion about American wizards using a voting system or be on cabinet or any of the like; I imagine most wizarding governments operate the same way. There is, after all, an international body that seems to have some power.

Also, back to my earlier comment about national boarders; I imagine wizards call themselves Irish or French or Hungarian only on a very generalised basis. It doesn't seem to me that they care as much about a person's place of origin as muggles do. (I don't personally see what all the fuss is about, anyway. I've lived in Britain, America, Australia and New Zealand, and really, they're all mostly the same.)
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