Wikipedia describes Dr. Robert Stadler from Atlas Shrugged as follows:

A former professor at Patrick Henry University, and along with colleague Hugh Akston, mentor to Francisco d'Anconia, John Galt and Ragnar Danneskjöld. He has since become a sell-out, one who had great promise but squandered it for social approval, to the detriment of the free. He works at the State Science Institute where all his inventions are perverted for use by the military, including the instrument of his demise: Project X (Xylophone). The character was, in part, modeled on J. Robert Oppenheimer, whom Rand had interviewed for an earlier project, and his part in the creation of nuclear weapons. To his former student Galt, Stadler represents the epitome of human evil, as the "man who knew better" but chose not to act for the good.

(It cites Ayn Rand's journals as a source for these claims, which I unfortunately do not have access to at this time).

In what way was Stadler based on Oppenheimer? Since Stadler's defining characteristic was being the man that knew better, did Ayn Rand view Oppenheimer in the same way? What did Oppenheimer know better than to do - work on nuclear weapons? (Wikipedia seems to imply as much). If so, why did she oppose his involvement with that?

I can see how Project X was analogous to nuclear weapons in one sense, but Dr. Stadler was only loosely aware of the project (although he was admittedly ignorant largely by his own choice) whereas Oppenheimer personally supervised the research into the nuclear bomb, so does this analogy "break down" at some point?

What's the exact nature of the analogy between Stadler and Oppenheimer? Is Wikipedia's assessment of the analogy accurate?

1 Answer 1


As described in my answer here, Ayn Rand interviewed Dr. Oppenheimer multiple times for a movie she was writing about the Atomic Bomb. That movie was never actually made; the only place that she seems to have published any of the material was Atlas Shrugged, where it inspired the character Dr. Robert Stadler.

In an essay on how she intended to approach that film, she commented, first, that making such a movie was actually a great responsibility in a sense.

In terms of the bomb itself, she commented in the same essay that

The first question we have to ask ourselves is: what is the specific danger of the atomic bomb to mankind?

The specific danger is that the bomb constitutes a weapon of total destruction and if it exists at a time when men and nations are bent on a course of destruction, it will wipe out mankind.

Therefore, we cannot permit ourselves to preach anything that will push men further along that course.

She then goes on to argue that violence and coercion is intrinsic to statism (as seen in, for example, Hitler and Stalin). Thus,

An atomic bomb is safe only in a free society - because a free society does not function through violence and does not cause wars. Such a weapon would be dangerous in the world at any time. At a time when most of mankind has embraced the faith of Statism - a world suicide is most surely ahead of us, unless men learn a different faith.

So, evidently, she wasn't too thrilled about the Bomb and saw it as a potential tool for statists (which Project X in Atlas Shrugged ended up being).

She actually interviewed Dr. Oppenheimer a number of times, which ranged on topics related to the project itself to various personal matters. For example:

When did he start in Chicago? (Summer, 1942).
When did he start in New Mexico?
How was he picked to be the head of Los Almos - was he chosen or did he volunteer? When and how did he hear about the project?
Incidents to show progress of the work? Were there crucial turning points, i.e. milestones of the progress?
What points or events stand out in your mind?

He mentioned, among other things, the fact that the project was in such a remote location, in a town that was essentially run by the Army, as an obstacle to hiring people.

Quite significantly, Dr. Oppenheimer was originally a theoretical physicist who hated lab work (not unlike Dr. Stadler).

Also, one of Oppenheimer's achievements that came up in the interviews was his "theory of cosmic ray particles - that neutron particles were cosmic rays - 1936." Significantly, one of Dr. Robert Stadler's major achievements was his research on cosmic rays, and that research was used prominently in creating Project X.

The editor includes the following note:

AR's meetings with Oppenheimer proved useful later: he became the model for Robert Stadler in Atlas Shrugged. In a 1961 interview, she recalled: "Oppenheimer set the character of Stadler in my mind, which is the reason for the first name of Robert. It's the type that Oppenheimer projected - that enormous intelligence, somewhat bitter, but very much the gentleman and scholar, and slightly other-worldly. Even his office was what I described for Stadler - that almost ostentacious simplicity.

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