Salvor Hardin is a fictional character who appears in two parts of Isaac Asimov's novel Foundation. The two parts were initially published as short stories before being published in novel form. Hardin is the first mayor of Terminus City, the sole inhabited location on the planet Terminus.
In the novel, Terminus is settled by a colony of scientists and professionals, the Encyclopedic Foundation, working on compiling human knowledge into a compendium called the Encyclopedia Galactica, a project that hides the true meaning of the colony, which is meant by its founder Hari Seldon to outlast the inevitable fall of the Galactic Empire and preserve the sciences through the dark age that must follow. Seldon is noted to have been aware of this future due to the tenets of psychohistory, a science originally formulated by Seldon himself.
The colony is, in its first decades, managed by the Foundation's Board of Trustees, whose members are prominent scientists but poor administrators. Hardin, born on Terminus, is elected mayor and is given the responsibility of managing the city's day-to-day affairs. Finding that his role in the city government is undermined by elements of the Board, Hardin launches a popular campaign that demands city representation at Board meetings, and is reluctantly granted the privilege of attending.
Portrayed as a shrewd, manipulating politician, Hardin eventually realizes the true intentions of Hari Seldon in forming the Foundation, but his beliefs and subsequent claims are derided by the members of the Board of Trustees, who attempt to remove him from his new position of power. Outmaneuvering them through, among other means, his control of the Terminus City Journal, Hardin simultaneously manages to defuse a crisis arising between the Foundation and the neighboring kingdom of Anacreon, which has seceded from the crumbling Galactic Empire. His beliefs are proven correct after a recording of Hari Seldon is played after the passing of the "First Seldon Crisis"; he then is able to assume the role of the Foundation's de facto head of state.
After the crisis, Hardin and his chief advisor, Yohan Lee, devise a method of subjugating the neighboring interplanetary kingdoms, who have neglected the sciences and are regressing into a state reminiscent to feudalism. Creating a religion, called Scientism, which treats scientific occurrences as sacred events, Hardin and Lee send priests—truly, technicians—to the "Four Kingdoms" adjacent to the Foundation's territory in the Terminus system. This plan is successful, and, as the Foundation's power grows, Hardin is returned to office numerous times.
The second Seldon Crisis arises during Hardin's mayoralty but several decades later, when Anacreon, under Prince Regent Wienis, expands the Anacreonian fleet using a spaceship remodeled by Foundation "priests". Using the masses’ belief in the Foundation’s “religion” against Wienis, Hardin defeats the prince regent, who commits suicide, and the young King of Anacreon signs a treaty with clauses favorable to the Foundation. Hardin demonstrates significant advances in Foundation technology when he wears a personal force field to deflect the fire emitted from a nuclear handgun; force fields small enough to be mobile, such as this one, had not yet been seen in the history of the Galactic Empire.
Hardin was born in 17 or 18 FE. Little is known about Hardin's personal life, there is no mention of a wife or children. The parts of the novel focusing on his mayoralty describe only his actions in a professional capacity, as a public official.
Salvor Hardin was well known in the Foundation for his epigrams, which recur throughout the series, including:
- "An atom-blaster is a good weapon, but it can point both ways."
- "It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety."
- "Nothing has to be true, but everything has to sound like it was."
- "Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right."
His best-known maxim, "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent", became one of Isaac Asimov's favorite sayings.