Study Guide

Professor Bernardo de la Paz in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

By Robert Heinlein

Professor Bernardo de la Paz

Professor Bernardo de la Paz is a rebel through and through. No, he's not the James Dean kind of rebel, you know—no cause, but with a swinging jacket and a killer haircut. He's also not the Marlon Brando kind of rebel, a real wild one, rebelling against whatever you've got. He's not even the Han Solo type of rebel, making Kessel runs in less than twelve parsecs.

Okay, so he's not the kind of guy people generally associate with the label rebel. He's elderly, enjoys giving a good lecture, and has probably read more books than some libraries have shelf space for. But Professor Paz, or Prof as his friends call him, shares one quality in common with all other rebels: He revolts against traditional and societal norms.

This is perhaps most explicit when Prof addresses the new Luna Congress and asks them to "distrust the obvious, suspect the traditional" (22.39), and not to "reject the idea merely because it seems preposterous—think about it" (22.41). He does just this himself, he just does so through speeches and book learning rather than fast-driving or hard-drinking.

Unlike Wyoh or Mannie (more on them elsewhere in this section), Prof doesn't have a moment when he goes from average person to revolutionary—instead Mannie imagines Prof just enjoys rebelling against the traditional "for [it's] own sake" (7.108). Prof's subversion of what society considers normal is what got him a one-way ticket to Luna in the first place, and he considers Carl von Clausewitz, Che Guevara, Oskar Morgenstern, and Machiavelli as "classical authorities" (6.111), suggesting a bit of hero worship on his part.

And these heroes of Prof's provide us the key of unlocking this character. He embodies many traits of famous thinking rebels throughout history. And thinking rebels are, believe it or not, really just philosophers.

Socratic Spaceman

Prof's key trait is that he likes to talk—a lot. But he's not just talking to himself throughout the novel; that'd be boring to read. Instead, he talks with other people, especially Mannie and Wyoh. When you talk with other people, you get a dialogue, and that takes us to Socrates.

Socrates's favorite mode of discourse was dialogue. He would sit down with an Athenian thinker and ask them a question about the nature of truth, justice, or knowledge. Then the thinker would take a shot at answering the question, Socrates would consider what he said, and then ask another question. This would continue until Socrates and the thinker reached a conclusion or reached the conclusion that they could reach no conclusion.

We call these discussions today the Socratic Dialogues, and Prof clearly wants to be the Socrates of the space age. In fact, Prof himself points out the benefits of Socratic inquiry for knowing "where one stands and why" (6.11)—so he is definitely influenced by the guy.

We can see Prof working a bit of the Socrates magic with Wyoh and Mannie when they are in the hotel room deciding whether or not to become revolutionaries. He asks, "Under what circumstances may the State justly place its welfare above that of a citizen" (6.15), and Mannie provides an answer, Wyoh argues against it, and then Prof steps back and examines the underlining principles behind their comments.

Wyoh then asks for Prof's political principles, but he asks her for hers first—only then does he answer, and his answer leads to more questions. And that, dear Shmoopers, is the basic structure for a Socratic dialogue.

During some of the longer speeches, this trait of Prof's can tend to lead into author filibuster territory. But, hey—some have argued the same about Socrates.

Jefferson v. 2.0

Prof also borrows several ideas from American idea man Thomas Jefferson, and by borrows, we mean steals. As a result, Prof can be seen as the Luna equivalent to the United States founding father. Prof himself makes the connection when he calls Jefferson the first rational anarchist, a political label he ascribes to himself earlier in the novel (14.147). Just as with Socrates, then, Prof joins us in comparing himself to this famous thinker.

First and most obviously, Prof crafts the Declaration of Independence just like Jefferson does for the United States. Unlike Jefferson, Prof works alone and doesn't let anybody edit his work other than a self-aware super computer. Jefferson worked with John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, and Robert Livingston to craft the famed document—though we wonder what Jefferson would have done had he had the option of a super computer.

Still, Prof has love for the classics and tells Mannie: "I cannot improve on [Jefferson's] phrasing; I shall merely adapt it to Luna and the twenty-first century" (14.147).

Prof also calls for an embargo of Luna supplies to Earth, claiming "there must be an end to food shipments; nothing less will save Luna from disaster" (20.37). When he was President, Jefferson tried a similar tactic with the Embargo Act of 1807. Prof must have had the advantage of hindsight, though, since his embargo was way more successful than Jefferson's.

Finally, Prof sees himself as living freely while enslaved under a harsh system, and the Loonies are described as slaves several times in the text (2.72). He sees Jefferson as having tried to do the same in America, noting, "One might say he tried but failed" (14.149). Jefferson, after all, both owned several hundred slaves over the course of his lifetime and saw the slave trade banned during his presidency.

With this in mind, Prof isn't supposed to be a recreation of Thomas Jefferson in the novel—he embodies the spirit of Jefferson, not the reality. His ideal of Jefferson, the man who wrote about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and that all men were created equal, is what drives him. But if Jefferson were still running the show on Earth, well, we think Prof would have pretty major beef with the dude.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...