Study Guide

Salvor Hardin in Foundation

By Isaac Asimov

Salvor Hardin

The first mayor of Terminus, Salvor Hardin saw the Foundation through its first two Seldon Crises. He's also the first protagonist Asimov wrote for the Foundation series, since he came up with "The Encyclopedists" and "The Mayors" well before "The Psychohistorians." So while Seldon might set the character precedent, it was Salvor Hardin who solidified it with fully drawn-in details and two stories worthy of development. Let's jump in and see what we can find.

David Bowie Would be Proud...

…of all the ch-ch-changes Hardin enacts for the Foundation. Hari Seldon too, but as much as we love Seldon, we've got to give Bowie the love first and foremost. We're pretty sure it's the law or something.

Anyway, Hardin is all about changes. To be more accurate, Hardin isn't as in love with tradition and custom. We can tell from the first moment we meet him in "The Encyclopedists."

When Hardin first visits Pirenne's office, he reports that the succession of the Anacreon kings means their trade route to the Empire has been cut off. Hardin believes the Foundation needs to change its tactics to survive in a changing universe.

But Lewis Pirenne isn't interested. Hari Seldon told them to create the Encyclopedia Galactica, and that's exactly what they're going to do. Foundation's second story pits these conservative dudes—Pirenne, Lord Dorwin, and the Board—against Hardin's desire to do something new, and necessary.

But why does Hardin try to change the Foundation so much? Because he sees an unwillingness to alter the world as "a worship of the past […] a deterioration—a stagnation!" (II.5.76). Things that don't change stagnate, and stagnation can only mean death. In the wise words of Woody Allen: if it's not moving forward, it's dead.

And since Hardin is a member of the Foundation, he doesn't want to see it stagnate and die. Not the best retirement plan.

A Ration of the Rational

Like Seldon before him, Hardin solves his problems with rational thinking. That means being a scientist: collecting data, considering the information, analyzing the best possible outcome, and coming up with the next steps.

Simple enough, right? Not in the Foundation universe.

Take the situation with Lord Dorwin. Lord Dorwin assures Pirenne that the Empire has their back when it comes to the whole Anacreon fiasco. But Hardin isn't so sure Dorwin is on the up and up. So he takes the following steps:

Collect Data: Hardin gathers the treaty between Anacreon and the Empire, written by Lord Dorwin himself. He also records every conversation Dorwin has during his stay on Terminus.

Analyze the Information: Hardin has Muller Holk analyze the Anacreon treaty with symbolic logic. The results show "something like ninety percent of the treaty boil[s] right out of the analysis as being meaningless" (II.5.24). When he considers Lord Dorwin's conversations on Foundation, Holk found that "in five days of discussion [Lord Dorwin] didn't say one damned thing, and said it so you never noticed" (II.5.36).

In other words? Don't count on the Empire.

Consider the Best Outcome and Solution: Since Lord Dorwin's promises mean nada, and Anacreon is still a problem, Hardin realizes that the solution has to rely on the Foundation. The members of the Foundation must forget working on the Encyclopedia Galactica, and stop "invariably [relying] on authority or on the past" (II.5.70). Instead, "[they] must work it out [them]selves" (II.5.79).

Hardin solves his problems through rational thinking in a way that looks a lot like the scientific method. And he's so good at it that Pirenne and the Board of Trustees—who are actual scientists, mind you—just give up on solving the problems themselves to hope that Hari Seldon has a way out for them.

So here's a thought: a scientist isn't something you become or are (like Pirenne). Instead, science is something you do and a philosophy one uses to see the world (like Hardin). Anyone who's logical, reasonable, and thorough is a scientist—and that means you, Shmoopanauts.

Turn That There Other Cheek

Hardin has something else going for him: he's a pacifist. As he famously says in "The Mayors,""Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent" (III.1.56). But actions speak louder than mouth noise, so what it really comes down is how Hardin acts. And we've got to say, he acts with exceptional nonviolence.

Twice, Hardin has the option to do violence to others, and twice he manages to avoid violence by thinking rationally and not giving into his emotions: first, during his coup d'état of the Encyclopedists; second, when he prevents war with Anacreon.

Let's take a closer look at the war with Anacreon. Through Wienis, Anacreon aims to win the Foundation's power through war. Hardin could fight back—in fact, that seems like the logical thing to do, doesn't it? Someone threatens you with violence, so you push back. You have to stand up yourself, right?

Not Hardin, and not even when his political rivals, the Actionist party, threaten to destroy Hardin's career if he doesn't attack. But Hardin still refuses. Why?

For starters, he finds violence to be an act of incompetence. For Hardin, violence is only the easiest solution, the one that is "the easiest way out, and the most satisfactory to self-respect—but, nearly invariably, the stupidest" (III.1.61). In other words, the only people who use their fists are dummies without the brains to come up with a better solution.

Also, Hardin seems to follow Seldon's ideal in identifying himself "with that general mystical generalization to which we refer to the term, 'humanity'" (I.6.9). Hardin wants to defend himself and the Foundation, but he doesn't want to harm anyone else in return. Like Seldon, he empathizes with their humanity as a whole—rather than, say, empathizing with only his nation or people he knows.

And one more thing. Violent methods have a tendency to backfire on their user. Proof? When Wienis attacks Hardin, his shot ricochets back on him and blows his head "into nothingness" (III.8.21).

How's that for driving the point home? Hardin knows that there are only losers, when violence is involved.