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Why Is Dr. Robert Stadler the "Guiltiest Among You"?

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One thing that really disappointed me about Atlas Shrugged was Dr. Robert Stadler's 1 1/2 page incoherent rant to John Galt (pp. 1117-1119) containing such hysterical lines as "Don't look at me, God damn you! I'm not afraid of you any longer!" and "Oh yes, you're going to be killed! You won't win! You can't be allowed to win! You are the man who has to be destroyed!".


It seemed totally out of character of this prim and genteel professor; what I expected was a real discussion between Stadler and Galt with arguments, counterarguments, and a real debate between the two views. I don't know why that didn't happen and instead we got this completely out-of-place hysterical rant.


Frankly, I think the reason is that Rand didn't have a real argument as to why we should see Stadler as "guiltier" than other villans such as James Taggart and Cuffy Meigs. He is certainly in no way guiltier than those who held real political power during the situation, such as Mr. Thompson and Wesley Mouch.


The one argument I have heard from objectivists (and Rand herself, on p. 1066) trying to establish Stadler's greater guilt is that he had the intelligence to "know better". I do not accept this argument, as even a fool should have known that the ridiculous laws they were passing (Directive 10-289, for instance) could only make things far worse (e.g., by forbidding anyone from inventing anything new, from writing any new books, etc.).


Please don't think I am defending Stadler; he was a coward and really no better than the others, but I cannot understand how he was somehow worse than the others. I certainly cannot see how he was worse than those who wielded real political power during the novel.

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He delivered the power of science into the hands of those people that wielded political power.  His name single-handedly led to the creation of the State Science Institute (an institution whose evil nature is gradually revealed over the course of the book).  Recall the passage when he is introduced as a character: "At the age of forty, Dr. Robert Stadler addressed the nation, endorsing the establishment of a State Science Institute.  "Set science free of the rule of the dollar," he pleaded. The issue had hung in the balance... The name of Dr. Robert Stadler acted upon the country like the cosmic rays he studied; it pierced any barrier.  The nation built the white marble edifice as a personal present to one of its greatest men."


As the novel progresses, we (along with Dr. Stadler himself) gradually begin to discover the true nature of the State Science Institute that Stadler has created.  The ultimate dramatization of this is Project X, a weapon that the Institute builds for the (totalitarian) government in the novel.  Although the scientists that build it claim that it will be used to preserve peace and quash rebellion, by this point in the novel we know the true totalitarian nature of the government for whom this weapon was built.  This situation is basically analogous to the scientists who worked on building the atomic bomb for the Germans during WWII.  Those scientists knew, better than anyone else, the requirements that the human mind be free to think and pursue its own vision, and yet they use the products of science and reason to empower those who would destroy that freedom.  This is one of the themes of the novel, that there is no division between the scientists here and the politicians.  You can't just hide behind the excuse that, "I'm a scientist; I never actually hurt anyone."  It is the responsibility of each individual to know to what purpose his labor is being put.  Dr. Stadler defaults on this responsibility, and ends up enabling an evil government to create a weapon of mass destruction.

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I still do not understand why Dr. Stadler was worse than the others. He did not know what Project X was for the vast majority of the book. The fact that his sound equation was used in its design cannot in and of itself mean that he was responsible. (This would be like arguing, as some liberals do, that gun manufacturers bear personal moral responsibility for every crime committed with their guns.) His responsibility for Project X, rather, lies in creating the venue that hosted its development, namely the State Science Institute. For that he does bear moral responsibility, I get that. However, I still do not understand why Stadler's moral responsibility is greater than those who designed and built the device, or he who wielded its power, namely Mr. Thompson, or he who actually activated the device, namely Cuffy Meigs.

Edited by Dustin86
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One of the major themes of Atlas Shrugged is that active evasion, the refusal to know or see what one should (by all rights) realize is at the root of the evil that plagues the book.  In the very first passage of Part II of the book, Stadler is talking to Dr. Ferris about Project X.  After Dr. Stadler inquires about it, Ferris replies, "The work has to do with sound.  But I am sure it would not interest you.  It is a purely technological undertaking."  Dr. Stadler: "Yes, do spare me the story.  I have no time for your technological undertakings."  Dr. Ferris: "May I suggest that it would be advisable to refrain from mentioning the words Project X to anyone, Dr. Stadler?" Dr. Stadler: "Oh, all right, all right.  I must say, I do not enjoy conversations of this kind." Dr. Ferris: "But of course!  And I wouldn't forgive myself if I allowed your time to be taken up by such concerns.  Please feel certain that you may safely leave it to me."


Stadler is in charge of the State Science Institute.  His name has literally allowed its creation.  And yet, he actively avoids involvement in Project X, because he doesn't want to allow himself to know what it's for.  Later in the same conversation, he is discussing a book published by the Institute which declares that reason is a superstition.  He assumes that it must be in error, because the only other motive for many passages in the book would be an attempt to convince people not to trust their own judgment, as a primer to get them to accept any government edict without question.  He disregards considering this motive with the following statement: "I cannot permit myself to consider certain things as possible in a civilized society."  Dr. Ferris' response is very important: "That is admirably exact," said Dr. Ferris cheerfully.  "You cannot permit yourself."


At heart, Stadler knows the use to which his scientific reputation is being put.  He simply refuses to allow himself to realize it.  Atlas Shrugged makes the point again and again that it is only by the sanction of the victim that evil is allowed to succeed.  Evil is impotent in and of itself; it requires the cooperation of those men of ability in order for it to function.  Dr. Stadler is the quintessential example of the man of ability who puts his ability in service of evil.  It's not hard to damn people like Dr. Ferris, who actively seek to control and destroy the lives of others.  It's much more important to make the point that none of it would be possible without the tacit cooperation of people like Dr. Stadler.

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Another reason is the scale of his crime. Men like Thompson and Meigs were evil, but ordinary men who managed to weasel their way into power. If they weren't there to pull the trigger there would have been a hoard of others to take their place. Stadler was the genius who made Project X possible. As Dante explained, Stadler actively evaded knowledge that his science would be used for evil purposes. This is unlike gun manufacturers who reasonably expect that the values they provide to law abiding citizens far outweigh their marginal contribution to crime by people who use their products for evil. A better comparison would be to Erwin Rommel. He's commonly known as humane general for refusing to murder captured soldiers or civilians. In reality, by the virtue of his military genius he contributed more to the Holocaust than any extermination camp commandant.

Edited by oso
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He is guilt exactly because “He knows better”. 


The issue is the context you’re putting it in.  It’s more than government force and law.  He is a man whose career is reason.  His literal career is the use of his mind and he abandoned it with full evasion to get along with the looters.  He took power and money over his mind. 


In a complex society specialization occurs.  It has to occur.  No one can know everything needed to be an expert in all fields.  We depend upon specialists to fix cars, navigate legal issues, and know how to do brain surgery.  We also need teachers to teach as they are experts in knowledge and experts in other areas of knowledge.  Robert Stradler is the man who is the expert who completely ignored the tool of his field, and worse compromised the product he delivered to others.  By bromide and excuse, which tumbles out in his confession to Galt when he has to face his inept abandonment of thinking, he evaded the fact he was putting their muscle above his mind.  The very tool needed to do his field.  Galt didn’t and that is why he flies apart – He’s forced to see his evasion and what he did to the field he supposedly loved enough to sell to the looters. 


Wesley Mouch , even if a looter and a parasite, is less evil in that somewhere along the way someone who specialized in ideas, the Stadlers , rubber stamp his ideas and used his intellectual credibility to sanction him.    They taught him the ideas to be Wesley Mouch. 


Stradler did know better and he ignored it.  

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