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The Most Feared Dark Lord in a Century



  • War and conflict in the wizarding world

  • The history of Dark Lords and violent uprisings

  • Why Voldemort was so successful in terrorizing the population

  • Why the Ministry is so powerless against Dark Lords.

History on Loop

I have explained how the population structure of wizarding Britain is not the same as muggle Britain but closely resembles the demographics of a pre-industrialised country such as Britain in the 17th century: a high death, a high birth rate and a small, stable population (Demographics of the Wizarding World).

Disease is an important factor in maintaining both a high death rate in such pre-industrial countries but violent conflict is just as important and the wizarding world has no shortage of violent conflict.

I find it interesting that Lord Voldemort, despite all the terrible things he has done to himself and others, is only the most feared Dark Lord in the last 100 years. This means just two generations before and potentially within living memory there was someone even worse than Voldemort. More importantly, Lord Voldemort isn’t the only Dark Lord in a century; he is merely the most feared.

We must note that no one, not even Albus Dumbledore, had any interest in why Voldemort decided to set up his reign of terror. Never is there any in depth discussion about his motives beyond the most superficial comments regarding power and pureblood supremacy. However we know that Voldemort never wanted any political power nor was he truly interested in pureblood political ideology. Even when he did eventually take over the Ministry he was not interested in running the wizarding world. The anti-muggleborn laws were instigated by his followers who had agendas of their own. The superficial statements about Voldemort’s lust for power are clearly attempts by people to fit Voldemort into a mould that they know, instead of seeing him for what he actually is.

This distinct lack of curiosity and the attempt to frame Voldemort as engaging in a violent struggle coup d’etat, suggests to me that Dark Lords are a regular occurrence in the wizarding world.

Previous Dark Lords must actually have engaged in violent struggles for political power, which set the precedent for people to believe that Voldemort wanted the same thing. Considering the last Dark Lord operated within living memory, and most wizards/witches have a better grasp of their own history than Harry Potter, when Voldemort appeared the wizarding world probably thought they had seen it all before.

However previous Dark Lords most likely wanted to rule the wizarding world and violence was the quickest and most effective means to achieve that end. Like Voldemort they would have recruited from discontented distinguished wizarding families who had been excluded from what they thought was their rightful hold on power. Unlike Voldemort, they were not prepared to maim murder and torture members of the “old nobility” who did not emphatically join them because they did not want to alienate the natural leaders of establishment they intended to rule. Many families, like the Blacks, would have considered themselves untouchable because of the purity of their blood and the influence their family name had within wizarding society.

Unfortunately, Voldemort isn't anything like his predecessors: fear, chaos and death were an ends in themselves for him. He had no qualms about targeting the “untouchable” pureblood “nobility” who didn’t join him, which is why Sirius’ father put so much effort into fortifying 12 Grimmauld Place. The wizarding world did not understand Voldemort's motives, and the seemingly indiscriminate acts of terror are what made Voldemort the most feared Dark Lord in a century.

The wizarding world is emphatically not the peaceful anarchic world of the Shire where despite the lack of well organised, powerful central government everyone manages to live and let live. The wizarding world is a society plagued by both disease and war.

What makes the wizarding world so prone to violent uprisings?

The Veneer of Order

In modern developed societies: non-accidental death in civilians is the lowest it has ever been in human history because modern developed societies are inherently much more stable than the wizarding world and have stronger, better organized central governments.

The Ministry of Magic on the other hand has shown that is incapable of protecting its own citizens from these Dark Lords. Voldemort with just a small number of followers was able to effectively terrorise and then take over wizarding Britain. Although the Deathly Hallows film shows that Voldemort had an “army”, in the books we are never given any indication that his Death Eaters ever numbered above 30, if that. Voldemort didn’t so much have an army as a street-gang.  However because all of his followers are just as well armed (if not better armed) than the Ministry employees and willing to go a whole lot further, Voldemort could instigate a reign of terror where no one was safe.

The most important thing about terrorism is not necessarily how much physical damage is inflicted but the scale and impact of the psychological damage. We can see from recounts by various adult characters that lived through Voldemort’s first rise, the Dark Lord clearly ran a very successful psychological campaign.

The general public clearly had no faith that the Ministry could control the situation during the first Voldemort war and people who had the resources (e.g. the Black Family) put everything into fortifying and protecting themselves. This reaction may stem purely from Voldemort’s campaign but considering how frequently the wizarding world is plagued by Dark Lords, some families will know from personal experience that the Ministry itself is defenceless.

Unfortunately, the Ministry was never designed to quell violent rebellions. They have an Auror department: special agents who can hunt down and contain individuals. This is enough to quell most sporadic outbursts of violence against the Ministry but better organised, large scale revolts like the one initiated by Lord Voldemort have a momentum of their own which cannot be contained by just picking off individuals, particularly as no one is sure which individuals to target. Voldemort, like all terrorist leaders probably operated a cell system in his first rise to power whereby only he knows all the identities of his Death Eaters.

Given the small size of the wizarding world, the major political and financial leaders are not so far removed from the rest of the population. This means that they are more accessible to Death Eaters, especially as the Death Eaters are most likely to come from old, distinguished families with excellent connections. Thus, Voldemort (and by extension any Dark Lord) with the right recruits can easily infiltrate and possibly control the Ministry from the inside should they want to or simply dispense with the pleasantries and rule it outright. Had Voldemort been a Dark Lord who actually wanted to control the ministry in the first place, he could have easily done so with weeks during his first rise instead of years.

Clearly the wizarding world knows exactly how weak and fragile the Ministry is in the face of Dark Lords, which is why most citizens either bunkered down to wait out the fight, or actively took up arms independently of the Ministry e.g. the Order of the Phoenix. This escalation of unregulated violence would only have pushed the death toll up on both sides.

This cycle of attack and counter-attack, probably has been a repeating pattern for centuries, with some Dark Lord bringing terrible strife and others merely creating an inconvenient amount of havoc.

Thus a constant cycle of violence in conjunction with disease can explain the comparatively high death rate and the small, but relatively stable population of wizarding Britain. Dark Lords and their uprisings may exert a sharp increase in the death rates of age groups that are usually spared by disease: namely young and middle aged adults. If they do indeed arise once every generation or every two generations – they may be the biggest contributing factor to the high death rate amongst adults. A comparatively high adult death rate means that children make up proportionately more of the wizarding society’s population, hence why Jk Rowling’s quoted figures of Hogwarts students are not ludicrously high.

Continued in Hogwarts, a Fortress


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 14th, 2014 07:28 pm (UTC)
I am loving this series of posts yours. And this one especially :)

I think your thoughts on the Dark Lords in the Wizarding World, as well as the Ministry's powerlessness extremely fascinating. I have never thought about it like this before.

I have never seen Lord Voldemort or his rise to power from ths angle before. I could have read a book written by you on this subject :)
Sep. 29th, 2014 12:02 pm (UTC)
I just stumbled across your Harry Potter analyses and I am really enjoying them. Thanks for sharing your thoughts... this is great :D
Feb. 14th, 2015 06:34 pm (UTC)
very interesting. waiting for more parts :)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )