Dirty Hands and Harry Potter

December 5, 2011

Dirty Hands


After reading several blog posts, it seems that the concept of dirty hands has caused some confusion. Martin Hollis, an author who addresses the dirty hands problem, claims that a case of dirty hands can be defined as doing something that is known to be wrong in order to do something right, or beneficial to the people; a case of dirty hands must be in the best interest of the people. If a wrong action is done, not for the good of people, but for personal interests, this action simply dirty hands, or wrong doing. Hollis applies this concept to politics, and claims that politicians must sacrifice their morality to best serve their nation. Hollis refers to politics as “an arena where the best is the enemy of the good.”  Hollis claims that for politicians to be justified in their immoral actions, the ends must justify the means. These concepts can be easily clarified using none other than the University of Michigan’s beloved Harry Potter.

If unfamiliar with Harry Potter, these books tell the story of a young wizard who lives as the “chosen one,” as he is the only one capable of defeating the evil Lord Voldemort. In order to defeat Lord Voldemort and free the wizarding world, Harry must commit some immoral actions. For example, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final installment of the series, Harry is forced to lie about his location and motives in order to continue on his journey of finding and destroying horcruxes, which are pieces of Lord Voldemort’s sole. When Harry learns the whereabouts of a certain horcrux, Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione, with the assistance of a Goblin, break into the wizarding bank Gringotts to steal a horcrux located in a vault there. Harry, during this robbery, had to perform many unforgivable curses to ensure that mission was a success, and that they successfully left with a horcrux. Lastly, during the final battle with Lord Voldemort in the series, Harry allowed several of his comrades and friends to die fighting for his cause, when he simply could have turned himself in to Lord Voldemort and ended the battle.

While these actions seem immoral, Harry Potter himself may bot be considered an immoral person because his actions fall under the category of a case of dirty hands. In this series, Harry’s immoral actions are justified in the accomplishment of defeating the evil Lord Voldemort, thus the ends justify the means. While he did many things that are considered to be wrong, he committed these wrongdoings for the interest of the wizarding world. Harry sacrificed himself, as many politicians do, by committing immoral actions in order gain a right outcome, or the defeat of Lord Voldemort. In other words, Harry did what he had to do for the best interest of the people.

Lord Voldemort, on the other hand, did not commit a case of dirty hands. While Voldemort did partake in many immoral actions, such as murdering countless innocent persons, deceiving his band of followers known as “the Death Eaters”, and performing numerous unforgivable curses, these actions are not justified. Lord Voldemort’s end did not justify his means. Lord Voldemort’s actions are seen differently than Harry’s in that Voldemort was self interested in gaining power and invincibility. He committed these actions not for the benefit of the wizarding world, but for his personal interest of acquiring power. In relation to politics, Lord Voldemort can be compared to Adolf Hitler. Voldemort was also interested in the purity of race, in this case a wizarding race, and committed mass murders of those who were not considered “pure blood.” Voldemort instilled a sense of fear and discrimination to those not of the perfect race, as Hitler previously did. Adolf Hitler is not seen as a moral person justified in his actions, and neither is Voldemort. For these reasons, Lord Voldemort did not commit a case or dirty hands, rather he  just dirtied his hands.

What do we make of, in particular Harry’s, immoral actions? Are Harry’s immoral actions justified, or do they make in an immoral person?  What about the immoral actions committed by the followers of each leader? Is either group, the Order of the Phenix that supports Harry Potter, or the Death Eaters that support Lord Voldemort, justified in the wrong doings that they committed to support their cause? Were the members self interested, or did they carrying the best interest of the wizarding world at heart?

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13 Comments on “Dirty Hands and Harry Potter”

  1. madelinedunn Says:

    I believe that both the immoral actions of Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix are justified. As far as Harry is concerned, his actions do not make him immoral. Throughout the entire film, Harry is seen as being humble and not wanting all of the attention that he is receiving. When it comes to fighting the dark lord, he goes to the extent of putting his life on the line for the rest of the wizarding community. When Harry lies to the rest of the Order about his location, he does this out of their own safety and not for self-empowerment. This does not make him an immoral person whatsoever. Instead, it puts him into the category of dirty hands. In the end, he is doing what is normally considered as wrong to do what is best for the people.

    Throughout the movie, The Order of The Phoenix must hide their whereabouts and act in secret behind the Ministry of Magic’s back. They commit these immoral acts, so that they can do what is best for the pubic and take Lord Voldemort out of power. The Ministry denies the fact that Voldemort is still able to conqueror, so the Ministry believes that they must do this alone in order to save the people. The fact that they are not listening to the “government” of the wizarding world, and instead searching for Voldemort does not make them immoral because they do it, not for themselves, but for the good of everyone.

    On the other hand, Voldemort’s immoral acts do in fact make him immoral. He only wants power and not what is in the best interest of the population. He even goes to the extent of killing his subjects and other random witches and wizards; sometimes when they disobey them, and sometimes just for the fun of it. These immoral acts conjoined with self interest do not make Voldemort’s case one of dirty hands.

  2. cchevat Says:

    The position that Harry is in throughout the series, especially in the last couple of books can be directly related to the idea that was given in a previous post in the pushing people in front of a train dilemma. Up until the 7th book, Harry did all he could to not kill other people. But when it came time for the series to come to the end and harder decisions had to be made, Harry had to do what he had to do. While some of his closest family and friends were dying before his eyes, he knew that what he had to do would benefit a whole nation and sometimes that came at a cost which proves that his actions were justified.
    On the other hand, Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters were not justified in their actions because they would aimlessly harm people even if it was not directly related to their cause. But I probably believe this because I am “pro-potter”. If one truly did believe that Voldemort was correct, then they would think that the actions were justified because they were doing everything they had to prove a point and regain power in the wizarding world (but I strongly do not agree with that).
    In terms of self interest, Voldemort definitely is doing all of his actions in terms of self interest because he was truly seeking revenge for what happened when he could not successfully kill Harry. Harry was selfless in his actions, always thinking about other people in each situation while the majority of the time playing down the fact that he was indeed “the chosen one”.

  3. masonbear Says:

    Addressing the question of whether Harry’s actions are dirty hands or simply immoral and for his own benefit greatly relies on the characterization of him throughout the series. From the first book Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone he is displayed as a self-sacrificing and humble individual though, due to the nature of being “the chosen one” always ends up in the limelight. In the final book, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Harry sacrifices some of his friends in return for the greater good of the wizarding community. Had he been displayed as a selfish, self-centered character throughout the series Harry’s actions would be viewed as simply immoral; however, because the reader (or movie watcher) knows he would rather give his own life these actions qualify as dirty hands.
    In contrast the members of the Death Eaters group commit wrongdoings for their own agenda. In order for a matter to be dirty hands an immoral act must be carried out for the greater good of an entire population. The Death Eaters commit injustices for their specific, and immoral, beliefs. This can be likened to a serial killer murdering a specific group of people (a race, religion, or those with a similar physical characteristic) simply because they believe it is in the common interest. While they may believe it is for the greater good, in reality it is not. Harry Potter sheds light (Lumos) on the concept of dirty hands and different individuals/groups conception of it.

  4. benjishanus Says:

    I really appreciate this post, and believe it clarifies a great area of uncertainty, in that as you indicate, the meaning of dirty hands is that the person is committing an immoral action for the good of society as a whole in the long run, not strictly for his or her own self interest. I think you did a really nice job of relating this post to Harry Potter, and pointed out several good examples of how Harry dirtied his hands.

    Personally, I was never a real Harry Potter guru, but did happen to catch the final movie. The bank example is a very good one, as Harry “broke the law” (do wizards have laws?) countless times, however, with a justified purpose. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single immoral action committed by Harry that was not justified. It is clear that his motivations are selfless and his intentions are as pure as anyones.

  5. jordanwylie Says:

    I believe that none of Harry’s actions were immoral. Like many of the other comments say, Harry did all of the actions in order to protect the rest of the wizarding world. He did not want anyone to get hurt or killed. In fact, when he first told his friends, Ron and Hermione, that he was searching for horcruxes, he did not ask them to come in order to protect them. While he did break many laws, he broke them all with the benefit of his friends and family at heart, and it is the same with the Order of the Phoenix and the other students. They wanted to destroy Lord Voldemort and his followers in order to protect the people and future generations. They did not kill or complete immoral actions in order to further themselves somehow. However, Lord Voldemort and his followers had immoral actions that were only to benefit themselves. Even though the Death Eaters were following orders, they were following these orders because they believed if they followed directions Voldemort would reward them somehow. They did not believe that the actions they were carrying out would benefit society; they thought it would benefit themselves.

    Another interesting idea would be do Professor Snape’s actions follow Dirty Hands? Yes he is protecting Harry and carrying out Dumbledore’s orders, but does he carry these out because he truly believes that Harry will save the wizarding world, or does he do it because of his own personal love for Lily?

  6. isobelkraft Says:

    I appreciate this connection of modern (and enjoyable) literature to this somewhat confusing idea of dirty hands. To link this post with today’s lecture, I believe that Harry was a martyr for his cause. Does this make him, therefore, moral? No. I think that both sides of this wizarding war, the “good” Order of the Phoenix and the “evil” Voldemort and his Death Eaters, committed immoral actions. The different between the sides was the intent behind these actions. Harry and the Order we’re fighting against Voldemort’s initial actions to save the majority of the wizarding world, while Voldemort committed evil for his own (and select followers) gain.

    So, are Harry’s actions justified? Yes, most definitely. But does that mean he is not an immoral person? Not necessarily. It is in my opinion that one can be both justified and immoral for committing the same actions. It is about the intent behind the actions; which is, in essence, dirty hands.

    The question of who is self-interested is a bit harder to answer. In both sides, the individuals fighting for their causes would have benefited by winning. In the case of the Order, getting rid of Voldemort and his Death Eaters would have made their lives much easier to live. In the same way, the Death Eaters would have benefited from getting rid of the “mudbloods” and becoming the wizarding elite under Lord Voldemort’s rule. However, one could argue that since the Order’s actions are better for the greatest number, they are acting more for others than themselves. While the Death Eaters and their families are the only ones who would truly benefit from winning the war.

  7. mpogoda3 Says:

    As an avid Harry Potter fan, I completely agree with your comparison of him and dirty hands. Described as the “chosen one” Harry had duties that he needed to fulfill to save the world from Lord Voldemort. He needed to kill others and steal to support this larger cause. While his acts individually could be looked at as immoral, his intentions were always for the greater good.

    Voldemort, on the other hand, was evil and all of his actions were unjustifiable and immoral. Being compared to Adolf Hitler, in my opinion, was completely right and correctly describes exactly how bad Voldemort was. I also believe that it is completely off base to compare the Death Eaters to the Order of the Phoenix. It is plausible for one to wrong if his or her ultimate goal is good, but does not work the other way around. This is also why I do not fully understand the relationship to the politicians which you wrote about in your opening paragraph. Why would the best politician have to sacrifice so much? Can’t he achieve success in our society by solely doing good?

  8. abswang Says:

    Out of all the blog posts I’ve read, this one is probably my favorite. Harry Potter is one of my favorite series and this relation to Dirty Hands is perfect. Harry Potter breaks several rules, in school and in the real world, but because he’s the hero, I never think of him as being a bad person. I find all of his actions justified and I find the Order of the Phoenix to be justified with their actions as well. The epitome of his moral actions is when Harry uses the Elder Wand to fix his own wand and gives up the “undefeatable wand” in order to make sure that nobody could continue abusing its power in the future.

  9. srubins Says:

    As one of an innumerable amount of Harry Potter fans, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. What I really found intriguing was how the author juxtaposed both Harry and Voldemort’s wrongdoings and thereby, how even though they both dirtied their hands, only one was a “case” of dirty hands due to the fact that Voldemort’s actions were for selfish reasons whereas Harry’s were for the safety of wizardry as we know it.

    That being said, I believe the end result of Harry’s actions with the death of Voldemort undoubtedly justified the means of a few illicit actions and the loss of his colleagues lives along the way. He is a moral person that in order to protect a valid cause, had to cut corners and dirty his hands. Yet, Voldemort and his cohort’s actions were not justified being that they were for his selfish desire to purify the world to his liking. In turn, he was not promoting the good of a population but rather his own desire at the expense of everyone else.

    The Order of The Phoenix are definitely justified in there actions wheres as the Death Eaters are not being that they are supporting Voldemort’s invalid cause. Let us say Voldemort did wind up accomplishing his mission–he and his cohorts would still be in the wrong being that their ends did not justify the means that would be taken; who would benefit from his victory aside from he and his few followers? The answer is nobody. Yet, it is clear in Harry’s defensive stand that he carried out the best interest of the greater wizard world and not that of the selfish, dark wizards.

  10. mturner1013 Says:

    I think this is a very interesting case of the dirty hands, but some points in your article I believe that you are a bit biased. I completely agree with the fact that Harry took part in the problem of dirty hands. He made sacrifices and used spells and dark magic that he should not have used, but he did it for the good of man kind. He was forced to do some bad things just to ensure that he had a better chance to defeat Voldemort. The point you bring up though about letting people die for him, I do not see as being 100% true. Throughout the movie, Harry repeatedly told everybody that he did not want anybody fighting for him, and he wanted to do everything on his own, in order to protect others. He even contemplated turning his self in here and there throughout the series. His followers however fought for him under there own choice, and it motivated him to beat Voldemort, because he did not want his followers to die or be injured for nothing. So I do not think he was letting them die for the sake of the dirty hands argument, he was fighting to justify there efforts.

    Another point that you bring up, is comparing Voldemort to Hitler. I do not support Hitler or sympathize with him in anyway, but I must say is that you say that you looked at his case a very biased or one sided, saying he did not commit dirty hands, just looking for personal gain. I think this to be very untrue, because he believed in a certain thing, and he made decisions, that were very bad, in order to achieve it. Just because what he wanted wasn’t morally right, he believed he had to make those decisions in order to do what he thought best for the people. He did not do what he did for personal gains, it is quite obvious, because he had a VERY large following. I mean look how big the armies were that he controlled, he obviously had people that were backing him. So he too committed dirty hands, he was not just doing terrible things for personal benefit, his twisted beliefs led him to do these things because he thought it was better for his people.

    • jeanrichmann Says:

      I think you may be a bit confused on the concept of dirty hands. There is a difference between something being “a case of dirty hands” and just dirty hands in general. While discussing Harry’s character in the post, I commented that Harry committed a case of dirty hands in that his ends justified his means. Because his actions were selfless and justified, he remains a moral person. This is noted in paragraph 3. On a side note, the portion where I discussed Harry allowing his friends to die for him, I referenced from the Deathly Hallows. In this installment, Harry allows his friends to fight for him while he searches for the horcrux hidden in Hogwarts. When Lord Voldemort announced that the battle would end if they handed over Harry, he did not attempt to leave. This act can also be classified under “a case of dirty hands” because the ends, of finding the horcrux and destroying Lord Voldemort, justified his means. This allows Harry to still be considered a moral person. I respect your comment on Hitler. His motives can be argued as to whether he was acting out of self interest, or doing what he thought was best for his expanding country.

  11. jrmeller Says:

    I really don’t think you could consider Harry’s action as dirty hands. They are really more acts of desperation. The topic of dirty hands is just so vague if you argue that, then you can say that voldemort did awful things, it was in the best interest of himself and his loyal followers. Harry was an outlaw by government standards in a desperate situations. He really had no choice but to do what he did to break laws in order to help his friends and the rest of wizard society.
    If you consider that dirty hands then I can say a poor man stealing bread is dirty hands because its for the greater good of his family. But is it really dirty hands? The subject topic is so broad there really needs to be some sort of ceiling that separates certain actions from dirty hands. Anything can be justified by a certain side to be within its best interests. Harry and a poor man stealing are forced to do what they had to to survive. It wasn’t a decision that they could or couldn’t have made. THey did what they had to do to survive, which I do not consider dirty hands.

  12. Michael Zanger Says:

    This is a great post! At times of war, do we directly blame our presidents for dirty hands or do we praise them for doing what they were obligated to do. This may seem different to us now with differing opinions on the wars oversea, but what about Americans who experienced the bombings of Pearl Harbor? Do you believe they would have opposed the bombings on Hiroshima? Because it was wartime in the wizarding world, Harry Potter’s actions were justified. There was an equal chance of attack from voldemort and the death eaters at anytime, therefor Harry had no choice but to perform necessary duties to protect himself and the rest of the world from evil.

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