Rebirth of Reason


The Robert Stadler Story: The Moral Fall of a Man Who Knew Better
by Edward W. Younkins

There are many villains in Ayn Rand’s masterpiece, Atlas Shrugged. However, her ultimate villain by far is Dr. Robert Stadler – a man who knew better. Robert Stadler is a villain and a man of stature who once possessed some excellent qualities. A man of great intelligence, Stadler early in the novel loved ability in others, hated ineptitude, exhibited no envy of others, and was focused on achievement. Throughout the novel he increasingly becomes an irrational power-luster who wants unlimited funds for his laboratory in which he will seek pure knowledge without the requirement of producing anything of practical use to people. Stadler, a famous and brilliant physicist and mentor of Ayn Rand’s greatest hero John Galt, sells his soul to the state. Stadler’s guilt and breach of morality are beyond forgiveness because of his great virtues and the fact that he knew what he was doing. Robert Stadler, a once great man, deliberately becomes evil through his own free will.

The character of Robert Stadler has many times been compared with Alan Greenspan who left Ayn Rand’s Objectivist circle to enter politics eventually becoming an “economic czar” as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Of course, Greenspan can be viewed as only one of several modern-day Robert Stadlers.[i]

Robert Stadler, Director of the State Science Institute, is a Plato-like character who holds a theoretical versus applied science split. He is a cynical and brilliant theoretical physicist and intellectual elitist who believes that most people are corrupt, stupid, and incapable of virtuous behavior and that only a rare handful of men are open to reason. Stadler is contemptuous of applied science and material production. He is a thoroughgoing Platonist who thinks that the human mind, reason, and science exist on a higher realm that has nothing to do with life on earth.

According to Stadler, the mind has its own higher and better abstract dimension divorced from practical applications in the world. He is disdainful of the notion that the purpose of science is to develop technologies to improve man’s life on earth. Stadler is not concerned with practical products of technology and refers to them as “gadgets” or “plumbing.” For example, with respect to Galt’s motor, Stadler is only concerned with the extraordinary theoretical breakthrough the inventor made in the field of energy and not with the practical applications of such a motor which, to him, is just another gadget. Like Hamlet, Stadler is content with his abstract isolation.

Stadler resorts to the extortion of citizens to finance his theoretical noncommercial projects. Why would a man with such a great mind tragically turn to the use of brute force to get the funding he desires? The answer is that Stadler concludes that his work must be sustained through government force because he thinks that reason is impotent in the world. Because he wants unearned material wealth for his laboratory, he aligns himself with the statist brutes and looters and their barbarous methods. Stadler thinks that the role of the mind is to deal with a higher realm of reality that is divorced from this world and that, therefore, the mind is inefficacious in dealing with this world. He deduces that brute bodily power is dominant in a world in which most people are irrational, emotional, and impervious to reason. Because most individuals can’t appreciate science, he needs a state-backed science institute to force people to finance his research. John Galt recognizes that Stadler, his former professor at Patrick Henry University, is a traitor to the mind and breaks with him when he endorses and joins the State Science Institute. At one time, Stadler would say that the phrase “free scientific inquiry” was redundant. He later insists that government is necessary to conduct scientific inquiry.

Stadler, a man with a great mind, chooses to renounce the mind by throwing in with the force-wielders. Believing that the thinkers are his enemies, he seeks dictatorial  physical power over others and, in the end, is destroyed by his own power-lust. Stadler is doomed once he turns his mind over to the brutes. He is destroyed because he mistakenly thinks that he can survive by joining the power-lusters. At that point, the men of the mind become his enemy alongside the looters who always were his enemy given that Stadler, at least in the beginning, was one of the thinkers. Ultimately, Stadler has nowhere to go. Toward the end of the novel he realizes that if Galt and the other men of the mind are victorious he will be repudiated as a traitor to the mind and if the looters win he will be shackled to the irrational brutes. At the end of the story, Stadler, the great mind who once yearned for other great minds, wants to have John Galt murdered!

To gain power, Stadler makes himself invaluable to the government’s looter-politicians. He aligns himself with the looters even though he knows that reason and force are opposites. Stadler gets to the point when he views other people’s reason and accomplishments as threats. For example, Stadler knows that Rearden Metal is an excellent product, but does nothing to publicly recognize it or to save it because it would make the State Science Institute appear to be inept. If a private individual produces a new metal, while the State Science Institute’s metallurgical researchers have created nothing of such value, the public will question the need for the institute and Stadler’s funding will be put at risk.

Stadler says nothing against and even supports the book, Why Do You Think You Think?, written by Dr. Floyd Ferris, top coordinator of the State Science Institute, even though he vehemently disagrees with the ideas espoused in it. Ferris’ book tells people to accept, adapt, obey, and follow those few who are the “thinkers” in the world. Accordingly, people are told to take orders, obey their superiors, and to not use their minds. Stadler promulgates these views in his efforts to gain and keep political power. He tells the public that too many people think too much and that they should leave the thinking to the few thinkers that exist in society of which he happens to be one. As one of the few people in the world concerned with knowledge, it follows that he should have political authority and power.

Stadler’s sanctioning of the appalling Project X, a weapon that uses sound waves to cause mass destruction, symbolizes the total annihilation of his once great mind. Rather than leave the Project X demonstration or tell the public what he really thinks of it, he delivers a speech praising it. Through this endorsement, Stadler openly accepts the rule of the brutes.

At the end of Atlas Shrugged, Stadler attempts to take personal control over Project X which was created through the use of his breakthrough ideas. When he drives to the Project X site in Iowa, he finds that the brainless politician, Cuffy Meigs, has already taken command of the horrific weapon. In the ensuing struggle, Project X is activated destroying everything and everyone for hundreds of square miles, including Stadler himself.

Talk about justice! Stadler is killed by the machine that was created through the use of his theoretical research – a machine that was triggered by a ruthless looter-politician that Stadler had helped to empower. Stadler’s demise highlights his essential guilt. By sanctioning the looters, he delivered his mind into their grasp and ends up being destroyed by the state. Stadler, once a man of the mind with many virtues, turned against reason, logic, and morality. It is Stadler’s great qualities and virtues and the fact that he knew better that makes his moral fall all the greater.

[i] Walter Block, “The Non-Fictional Robert Stadlers: Traitors to Liberty,” in Edward W. Younkins (ed.), Atlas Shrugged: Ayn Rand’s Philosophical and Literary Masterpiece. (forthcoming)
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