According to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, power is defined as the “possession of control, authority, or influence [a person(s) has] over others” (“Power,” 2003).  Possession of power has been sought after for centuries by individuals, groups, and nations all over the world.  Once possessed, the ability to easily manipulate and distort power to meet the needs and goals of the manipulator(s) makes the drive for power much more attractive to those in a position to take control.  Such is the case in J.K. Rowling’s famous Harry Potter Series.  Whether for the good or for evil, the concept of power is an ever-present theme throughout the series and holds relevance to the actions of each of the novels’ main characters.  Although there are many characters in the book with which to discuss the possession and use of power, for the purpose of this paper, the antagonist character Lord Voldemort will be the focus of discussion.  To follow is an analysis of how Lord Voldemort’s authoritarian personality lead to his ascension to power, what type of power he used to gain prominence, and how he abused power while in control.

From the onset of the series, it quickly becomes evident that Lord Voldemort has an authoritarian personality.  This argument can be evidenced by his general fear of weakness, a major characteristic of people with authoritarian personalities.  Authoritarian-type people tend to have a preoccupation with dominance-submission, conceal signs of softness, strive for positions of power and status, and avidly reject others possessing obvious weaknesses (Wilkins & DeCharms, 1961).  Lord Voldemort’s need for dominance-submission of his subordinates appears most notably in The Goblet of Fire during the scene in the graveyard following his rebirth in human form.  Lord Voldemort parades around his circle of Death Eaters demanding to know why their loyalty waivered and laughs at the wailing and shrieking of Avery on the ground as he tortures him with the Cruciatus Curse as punishment for his disloyalty (Rowling, 2000).  Lord Voldemort’s abuse of his followers not only acts to satisfy his desire for dominance, but also to realign himself into a position of power following his long absence.  As additional evidence to his authoritarian nature, Lord Voldemort rejects anyone who appears weak, even his own mother.  Zimmerman notes Voldemort’s distain for his mother and lack of reverence for her sacrifice calling her weak for dying during child-birth even though she was working to give him life (Zimmerman, 2009).  This fervent rejection of weakness even extends to his own failures to effectively kill baby Harry Potter on the night of his first downfall.  Harry’s famed scar exists as a constant reminder of Voldemort’s failure and causes him to obsess over destroying the “boy who lives” (Zimmerman, 2009).  Most central to the book however, is Lord Voldemort’s fear of mortal death.  Mortal death is perceived as the most absolute form of weakness, and by ensuring his immortality through the creation of horcruxes, Voldemort is able to assert himself into, what he believes to be, an eternal position of power.

Although power is thought of as the ability of a person(s) to get things done in a manner they desire (Salancik & Pfeffer, 1977), the way in which said person(s) accomplishes their goals can vary greatly.  In general there exists five types of power that can be used by a person to accomplish goals: 1) Reward Power – influence through potential rewards received, 2) Legitimated Power – influence through recognized and legitimate right, 3) Referent Power – influence through ones identification with another, 4) Expert Power – influence by knowledge attributed to a person, and 5) Coercive Power – influence through potential punishment (Manz & Gioia, 1983).  Though Lord Voldemort utilizes many of these forms of power, it is undeniable that throughout his entire reign, he ruled those around him most heavily through the use of fear and coercion.  Turner defined “control as coercion” as controlling others against their will:

…by resorting to the deployment of the human and material resources it controls to constrain, block, compel and manipulate the targets behavior without any effort at persuasion or appeals to legitimate authority (Turner, 2005).

He further identified coercion as the type of power that a person(s) uses when they do not have power (Turner, 2005).  Voldemort uses coercive power, both directly and indirectly through his faithful Death Eaters, several times throughout the series, generally through the torturing of his victims.  For example, in Goblet of Fire, Voldemort’s Death Eaters tortured Neville Longbottom’s parents to insanity for information related to the Potter family’s whereabouts just after Harry’s birth (Rowling, 2000), and later, in Half –Blood Prince, Voldemort tortured and murdered Amelia Bones of the Ministry of Magic during her summer vacation for information as well.  Also in the Half-Blood Prince, Voldemort threatened to kill Draco Malfoy’s parents if he was unsuccessful in killing Albus Dumbledore (Rowling, 2005).  In this respect, coercive power is the most abusive form of power and will be discussed in more detail in a later section.

In addition to coercive power, Voldemort utilizes, to a lesser degree, the other four types of power in his quest to take control and purge the world of non-pure blood wizarding families.  Voldemort uses Reward Power by bribing people with rewards to get people to do his bidding.  Upon their escape from Azkaban Prison, Lord Voldemort rewarded the Lestranges for their unwavering and continued loyalty to him by appointing them as his most trusted Death Eaters (Rowling, 2005).  Voldemort also offered a bounty to anyone who managed to locate and capture Harry Potter alive.  This method of offering a bounty proved affective in capturing both Harry Potter and Hermione Granger in The Deathly Hallows although instead of receiving their rewards, the bounty hunters were killed (Rowling, 2007).   Lord Voldemort also held influence over the Death Eaters through Legitimate Power.  The Death Eaters recognized Lord Voldemort as the final living heir of Salizar Slitherin and inherently regarded him as a figure of importance and power (Rowling, 1999).  Additionally, in relation to Lord Voldemort’s Legitimate power claim, the Death Eaters understood his desire to “continue Salizar Slitherin’s noble work” of purging mudbloods from the wizarding world and sympathized with his goal, therefore affording him referent power as well.  Finally, Lord Voldemort is attributed for his mastery of the dark arts giving him the benefit of expert power (Rowling, 2005).

Despite the fact that possessing some level of power in general is reasonable and necessary in most organizations and social situations, taking the possession of power to an extreme can lead to an abuse of power. Those people who tend to abuse power have been cited to have “little self control, impulsiveness, emotional immaturity, [desire for] dominance, and manipulativeness” (Vredenburgh & Brender, 1998).  Lord Voldemort fits such a description evidenced by his exhibition of emotional immaturity and lack of self control when he viciously murdered a group of Death Eaters, Goblins, and Vault Guards out of rage after discovering that the cup of Helga Hufflepuff was stolen from Grimgotts Bank (Rowling, 2007).  This apparent display of vindictive anger is an outward expression of Voldemort’s emotional instability and is representative of acts of frustration that often lead to other abusive acts of power (Vredenburgh & Brender, 1998).  Another instance of uncontrolled frustration displayed by Lord Voldemort occurs during the Battle of Hogwarts when, out of pure anger at Harry’s unexpected return to consciousness, Lord Voldemort stuns Neville Longbottom while sending fitful pulses of magic from his wand (Rowling, 2007).  These violent and immature displays of emotions link back to the presumption of Lord Voldemort having an Authoritarian-type personality and his need for dominance-submission and personally embedded drive for ultimate power.

Self-institutionalization is a second major example of how Lord Voldemort abuses power in the Harry Potter Series.  Salancik and Pfeffer define self-institutionalization as “the establishment of relatively permanent structures and policies that favor the influence of a particular subunit (Salancik & Pfeffer, 1977).   Direct application of this definition can be placed on Rowling’s final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows after Lord Voldemort’s takeover of the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  Following the demise of Albus Dumbledore at the end of Half-Blood Prince, the wizarding world was left in a state of stunned disbelief (Rowling, 2005).  Broken and leaderless in the fight against the rapidly growing circle of dark witches, wizards, and magical creatures of Lord Voldemort’s “army,” the defenses of the rest of the wizarding world crumbed, opening the door to Voldemort’s regime.  In accordance with the concept of self-institutionalization, Voldemort put his followers and supporters, mostly acting under the imperious curse, in key governmental leadership positions within the ministry and began passing laws requiring witches and wizards to provide proof of their magical lineage.  Lord Voldemort’s regime also infiltrated the heavily circulated Daily Prophet and began running propagandistic articles supporting the work of the new regime.  Additionally, by taking over the Hogwarts School, Voldemort was able to institute a new and dark-arts focused curriculum that aimed to only teach worthy, magical students.  In each of these examples, Lord Voldemort uses self-institutionalization as a device to further legitimize his authority by enforcing policies and practices that influence the actions of members of the wizarding community.  Such forced influence is a clear abuse of power.

Finally, prejudice is another form of power abuse used heavily by Lord Voldemort within the series.  Prejudice is a power-maintaining and enhancing device used by a group as a means of coercing and excluding another group from a position of dominance and power (Turner, 2005).  Kipnis asserted that “inequality in power inevitably produces dominance, manipulation, and precludes the possibility of truly loving relations…” and that those holding power tend to “value power above all other values” until the pursuit of power “becomes an end in itself and replaces…love, charity, compassion, and the like” (Kipnis, 1972).  While in power, Lord Voldemort sets to the task of cleansing the gene-pool by establishing a totalitarian police system.  The newly established police force was appointed the sole task of locating and arresting muggle-born witches and wizards and persecuting them for “stealing magic from purebloods” (Rowling, 2007).  This avid hatred of witches and wizards of non-magical descent fuels Lord Voldemort’s drive for power and leads to a growing lack of compassion as Voldemort’s Regime takes control of the wizarding community.  Voldemort abuses power here by singling out an individual group from within the wizarding community and exploiting them for his own power gain.

In conclusion, Lord Voldemort’s fear of weakness and exceptional need for dominance-submission acts to motivate him in his pursuit of ultimate power, status, and immortality.  He uses resources, knowledge, and coercion to take control of the wizarding world and to manipulate his enemies in such a way as to elevate himself well above his subordinates.  Voldemort’s later self-institutionalization and forced influence of ideologies on the whole wizarding community worked to further legitimize his authority.  The use of forceful and unfair policies, psychological manipulation through media and prejudice with the intent to harm those seen as a threat to his position and agenda represent an excessive abuse of power for which Lord Voldemort was most noted for throughout the Harry Potter series.


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