Robert Engler

Robert Engler

Remembering the political economist who brought to contemporary issues the research and philosophical vision of a scholar.


Robert Engler, a friend and contributor, died February 23, aged 84. He died at his desk, working on a biography of Thorstein Veblen, a longstanding project. A retired professor of political science at the City University of New York, Engler was a political economist who brought to contemporary issues the grounded research and philosophical vision of a scholar. His daughter Nadya recalled traveling with him to Alaska to investigate the Exxon Valdez oil spill: “He talked to everybody. He treated the opinion of a taxi driver equally with the officials’.” The oil industry was his primary field of study; his best-known book, The Brotherhood of Oil (1977), analyzed it from the standpoint of institutional power and social responsibility. He also edited America’s Energy (1980), an anthology of Nation articles. Of all Engler’s writings here over fifty years, the most powerful was “Technology Out of Control” (April 27, 1985), about the catastrophic escape of toxic gases from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, which killed thousands. Engler wrote: “The tragedy gives credibility to the fear that the human race may perish by its own violent cleverness.” Lives lost were not abstractions: “Bhopal was murder, if not genocide.”

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