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I am somewhat confused about the Objectivist position when it comes to nuclear weapons. On the one hand, a self-interested foreign policy dictates that nuclear weapons are good when used in defense/retaliation against one's enemies; but on the other hand, Dr. Robert Stadler in Atlas Shrugged was modeled in part on J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atom bomb (and thus Project X was modeled on the atom bomb). What exactly is the Objectivist position on the creation/use of nuclear weapons, and are there more specific similarities between Stadler and Oppenheimer besides the fact that they both sold out their knowledge in order to create weapons for the state?

asked Apr 12 '13 at 18:08

AYoungObj's gravatar image


There should be no confusion about the abstract meaning of Dr. Stadler and Project X and how it would apply to nuclear weapons. The question itself observes:

... a self-interested foreign policy dictates [i.e., implies] that nuclear weapons are good when used [if needed] in defense/retaliation against one's enemies...

But the questioner sees Atlas Shrugged presenting the story of Dr. Stadler (modeled on J. Robert Oppenheimer) and Project X (somewhat similar to a nuclear weapon) as destructive and harmful to man's life, which seems paradoxical. The answer to the riddle is that the society in Atlas Shrugged was not a free and rational society. In the hands of a statist society, nuclear weapons certainly are a major threat to world peace, and scientists like Dr. Robert Stadler in statist societies should recognize that fact and not assist the development of nuclear weapons. They should assist only free societies seeking weapons for self-defense.

Ayn Rand discusses the role of scientists in her article, "To Young Scientists," republished in VOR, Chap. 3. (This may be where the questioner learned about the connection between Stadler and Oppenheimer [VOR p. 15], although the questioner so far hasn't indicated where he learned it.) A wealth of additional insight on nuclear weapons development, along with the role of J. Robert Oppenheimer and Ayn Rand's inspiration for Dr. Robert Stadler, can also be found in Journals of Ayn Rand, Chapter 9, "Top Secret" (pp. 311-344). "Top Secret" originally was to have been a documentary film on the life and role of J. Robert Oppenheimer. The initial synopsis was started in 1946 but never finished (see p. 311), at about the time that Ayn Rand was beginning her work on Atlas Shrugged. An editor's note on pp. 330-331 explains that Ayn Rand modeled Stadler after Oppenheimer, even giving Stadler the same first name as Oppenheimer.

In a key summarizing passage on nuclear weapons, Ayn Rand explains (p. 316):

... with a weapon such as the atomic bomb and with a trend toward Statism in the world, there is no more chance left [for survival] and our days are literally numbered -- unless the trend [toward Statism] is reversed.

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.

(The "different faith" here surely means a rational philosophy, which, of course, isn't faith.) Was it wrong, then, for Americans, led by J. Robert Oppenheimer and his extraordinary team of fellow scientists, to develop the atomic bomb during World War II? Ayn Rand answers this question in the negative (i.e., not wrong) on p. 317:

The whole history of the atomic bomb is an eloquent example of, argument for and tribute to free enterprise. It would be monstrous to disregard the lesson, to ignore it or to twist it into the exact opposite. We don't have to attach artificial propaganda to the picture. We must let the facts speak for themselves. We must only present the truth. But we must present the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

answered Apr 13 '13 at 22:39

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

Thanks for clearing this up. As to where I learned of Oppenheimer being the model for Stadler, I can't say I remember with certainty.

(Apr 15 '13 at 06:20) AYoungObj AYoungObj's gravatar image

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Asked: Apr 12 '13 at 18:08

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Last updated: Apr 15 '13 at 06:20