Thursday, May 31, 2012

Severus Snape, Criminologist

The speech comes in the sixth of the seven Harry Potter books, in a chapter that is also the book’s title: “The Half-blood Prince.”

Severus Snape, the sinister professor with ambiguous loyalties and a deep hatred for Harry Potter, has finally achieved one of his heart’s most cherished desires. He has been appointed to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

In his first session with his sixth-year class, Snape frames the subject in a tone that to Harry seems suspiciously like a panegyric.

“The Dark Arts, said Snape, “are many, varied, ever-changing, and eternal.”

What sorts of strategies are most effective in confronting the dark side when it is so indestructible?

Snape is cautious in his counsel. Fighting dark forces, he says, “is like fighting a many-headed monster, which, each time a neck is severed, sprouts a head even fiercer and cleverer than before.”

Substitute the word “crime” for “Dark Arts,” and Snape begins to sound like a conservative criminologist. To take just one example, hasn’t America’s ill-fated “war on drugs” produced precisely the hydra-head phenomenon Snape tried to warn his students against?

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