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Francisco D'Anconia and the Art of War: My 2011 entry in ARI's Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest

Posted by Eudaimonia 7 years, 3 months ago to Philosophy
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Each year the Ayn Rand Institute conducts an Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest scholarship.

In 2011, I entered with the following essay.
I didn't win, but it was still fun.

In writing the essay, I more fully developed the reasons why Francisco D'Anconia is my favorite of Rand's heroes.

As always,
Enjoy, or not.


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Francisco D'Anconia and the Art of War

Francisco D'Anconia was one of three philosopher generals in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Leading the oppressed “Men of The Mind” (Rand 644) against the tyranny of the “Aristocracy of Pull” (Rand 426), each of these generals employed tactics which can, to varying degrees, be identified with specific philosophies on strategy and tactics. John Galt, following a path similar to Mohandas Gandhi, covertly implemented a strategy of non-violent non-cooperation and hobbled the Aristocracy's productive capability. Ragnar Danneskjöld, applying the theories of Carl von Clausewitz, brutally disabled the Aristocracy's supply lines, leaving remote allied socialist “republics” to face the grim reality of their policies. Francisco D'Anconia, acknowledging the wisdom of Sun Tzu, deftly incorporated the premise “All warfare is based on deception” (Sun Tzu Estimates:17 66) and lured the Aristocracy to economic death ground.

Throughout most of the novel, the heroine Dagney Taggart struggled to reconcile a seeming contradiction presented by Francisco D'Anconia: the man whom she saw that he had become, “the most spectacularly worthless playboy on earth” (Rand 69), and the man whom she believed that he would become, “the climax of the D'Anconias” (Rand 110). However, as Rand often advised her readers, and in this instance as Francisco advised Dagney when she mentioned her struggle, “Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong” (Rand 214). The crucial piece of information which Dagney was missing and which led her to her erroneous conclusion was that, as Shakespeare's Hamlet feigned madness in order to flush out the crimes of the king, Francisco was feigning decadence in order to flush out the predatory nature of the Aristocracy. Rather than public and purposeless hedonism, Francisco was, in fact, engaged in a massive operation of deception: the promotion of a wholly fraudulent investment opportunity, The San Sebastian Mines.

The purpose of this operation for which the San Sebastian Mines served as a front was, as were the operations of each of the other generals, the economic crippling of the Aristocracy. Through the creation of circumstances in which the Men of the Mind who did their due diligence would not be taken in and yet in which the Aristocracy would expect once again to profit from the work, due diligence, and honor of the Men of the Mind, Francisco ran an elaborate Big Con, “He made no effort to sell stock in his venture; the stock was begged out of his hands, and he merely chose those whom he wished to favor among the applicants. ... Those who censured him most were the first to seize the chance of riding on his talent.” (Rand 69).

The successful execution of this operation depended on Francisco himself: he had to make the world believe that he had become thoroughly corrupted and now led the life of a worthless playboy. Francisco's strategy required heavy stakes from him: his personal reputation, the reputation of his family, portions of his wealth, and, ultimately, the woman he loved. However, he recognized that these stakes were the required price for a trade in which the endgame was to be won. With his ruse in place, the necessary circumstances of the operation were set. The Men of the Mind who researched the San Sebastian Mines would find an investment as worthless as D'Anconia himself and would see no contradiction in this discovery. The Aristocracy of Pull, however, would see only a rainmaker wunderkind who happened upon an opportunity so lucrative that he actually took precious time away from his busy life of debauchery in order to pursue it. Seeing this, the Aristocracy would look no further. They would not suspect that Francisco D'Anconia, a philosopher general, had read his Sun Tzu, “Therefore, when capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity. When near, make it appear that you are far away; when far away, that you are near. Offer the enemy a bait to lure him; feign disorder and strike him.” (Sun Tzu Estimates:18-20 66).

The successful conclusion of this operation, however, turned solely on the prejudices of the Aristocracy: the Men of the Mind made money, they did not, as did the Aristocracy, destroy it. So, all that was necessary for Francisco to do in order for the conclusion of his Big Con to be believable was to lose his own money in the venture. The Aristocracy, seeing this, was left with the conclusion, not that they had been duped, but that D'Anconia truly was, after all, a worthless playboy. Once again they would not suspect that Francisco D'Anconia, a philosopher general, had not only read his Sun Tzu but also knew that the standard of a truly successful con was found in its marks never realizing that they were taken in, “Subtle and insubstantial, the expert leaves no trace; divinely mysterious, he is inaudible. Thus he is the master of his enemy's fate.” (Sun Tzu Weaknesses and Strengths:9 97).

The endgame, in which the San Sebastian Mines operation was only a part, and the ultimate reason for Francisco placing the things which he valued most highly as stakes in a dangerous game run by dishonest and powerful men, for playing the playboy to the hazard of all that he was and could be, was the securing of simple liberty. Francisco realized and actualized the non-contradictory conclusion that in order to truly become the climax of the D'Anconias and secure the liberty of his name, property, honor, and the woman that he loved that he must break the Aristocracy's unjust claim on all of these things, that he must play the game into which they dragged him, and that he must play it to win. And in playing to win, Francisco D'Anconia, a philosopher general, took Sun Tzu's words to heart, not just on the nature of warfare and deception, but also on roles that he and the Aristocracy would play, “Invincibility depends on one's self; the enemy's vulnerability on him.” (Sun Tzu Dispositions:2 85).

After the endgame had been reached and the Aristocracy met its inevitable collapse, Francisco was able to take measure of what had been gained and lost by his strategic deception. The worthless playboy, the climax of the D'Anconias, the philosopher general had retained his personal and family name and honor, had lost the woman he loved but regained her respect, had lost most of his property but had retained enough to begin again, and most importantly had won the liberty to begin again as a free man, and that was enough.


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Works Cited

Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Signet, 1996. Reader Store. Web. 12 Feb. 2011
Sun Tzu. The Art of War. Trans. Samuel B. Griffith. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971. Print.


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  • Posted by xthinker88 7 years, 3 months ago
    Good essay. Although as a long term student of Sun Tzu, I have to point out that he counseled never to put the enemy on death ground. Because on death ground, an enemy has no way out and will strike back with renewed vigor. One might argue that that happened in AS when they captured Galt and were going to use the xylophone weapon (can't remember what it was called) to destroy the Gulch as soon as they tortured its location out of Galt.

    But good essay.
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    • Posted by $ Temlakos 7 years, 3 months ago
      You're thinking of Project X, a/k/a the Thompson Harmonizer, built at Dunkertown, Iowa, renamed Harmony City. But the Xylophone was not mobile. It was fixed at Dunkertown. And it was Robert Stadler, ironically, who, in an attempt to seize it for himself, caused its destruction in a death-struggle with someone else who had already seized it.

      What the last Aristocrats of Pull were trying to do was force Galt to work for them. Galt was not the con artist Francisco was--and Francisco not only was gone but also had given up the game. ("Brother, you asked for it!")
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  • Posted by Lucky 7 years, 3 months ago
    'Life imitates art'
    There was that massive ponzi type scheme a coupla years back, billions lost, guy went to jail, his son committed suicide. The suckers were made to feel like they were insiders with an allocation only for the good ol' boys, only a few declined.
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  • Posted by $ Temlakos 7 years, 3 months ago
    An excellent treatment of Francisco d'Anconia's war.

    Will you offer a similar treatment of Ragnar Danneskjold's war? Of all the characters in AS, he has fascinated me the most, yet gets too short a shrift.
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    • Posted by 7 years, 3 months ago
      Thank you, Tem.

      Probably not.
      I only did this to enter the essay contest.
      If I were to do a treatment on Ragnar, I wouldn't take the same approach, and a treatment with the most appropriate subject of "Robin Hood" has probably been done to death.

      If I put into in my mental "to do" stack, it will trend toward the bottom and probably stay there.
      But, you never know.
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  • Posted by Hiraghm 7 years, 3 months ago
    psst... Sun Tsu was a vile despot.

    And you people judged me for not caring what... well, you all know the comment...

    You could have compared Galt to Machiavelli, but no, y'all hate Machiavelli and love that bedsheet wearing.... gah.

    Now I'm going to go re-read "The Last Article" (by Harry Turtledove) and gloat while The Great Soul gets a lesson in the real world.
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    • Posted by Hiraghm 7 years, 3 months ago
      And yes, the above message is facetious and intentionally petulant...
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      • Posted by Lucky 7 years, 3 months ago
        Some of us, well me, are not that smart and do not get it without help so if you continue to make those kind of remarks, the elaboration is appreciated.
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        • Posted by Hiraghm 7 years, 3 months ago
          Some Machiavelli wisdom:

          "Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage."
          Niccolo Machiavelli

          "The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him."
          Niccolo Machiavelli

          "No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution."
          Niccolo Machiavelli

          "I'm not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it."
          Niccolo Machiavelli

          "A return to first principles in a republic is sometimes caused by the simple virtues of one man. His good example has such an influence that the good men strive to imitate him, and the wicked are ashamed to lead a life so contrary to his example."
          Niccolo Machiavelli

          "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."
          Niccolo Machiavelli

          "When neither their property nor their honor is touched, most men live content."
          Niccolo Machiavelli

          "When you disarm the people, you commence to offend them and show that you distrust them either through cowardice or lack of confidence, and both of these opinions generate hatred."
          Niccolo Machiavelli

          And my favorite:
          "God is not willing to do everything, and thus take away our free will, and that share of glory which belongs to us."
          -- Niccolo Machiavelli
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          • Posted by Zero 7 years, 3 months ago
            Nicely done, H.
            I didn't think you had it in you.
            I'll be careful not to underestimate you again.

            You must be either very complex, very confused or totally f***ed up!

            Ha! [Big smile!]
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        • Posted by Hiraghm 7 years, 3 months ago
          Once Sun Tsu demonstrated the importance of an army's discipline to his Emperor.

          He ordered up the Emperor's wives, and began drilling them. Being girls, there was of course a lot of giggling and silliness.

          So he had the Emperor's favorite beheaded.
          The rest drilled like robots after that.

          I always thought Gandhi's success was contrived. I figured out why I felt that way when I read "The Last Article", an alternate-history story by Harry Turtledove.

          It postulated that the U.S. stayed out of WWII. As a result, the Germans conquered Britain, and as a result, he faced Nazis, not Brits.
          He... doesn't have the success he had in real life. The story ends with Gandhi and Nehru having noodles, while Fieldmarshall Model has saurbraten, I think it is. Some disgusting German dish or other. (Not that all German dishes are disgusting, I just remember being disgusted by the description).

          Anyway, in the story he faced people who would have dealt with him the way I would have, and the way history dictates would be most successful for his enemies.

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          • Posted by 7 years, 3 months ago
            While I agree that the anecdote is shocking, a couple of points on Sun Tzu.

            1) A lot of people here reference the Ad Hominem fallacy when people start name calling. The point of the Ad Hominem fallacy is this: If a total reprobate speaks the truth, the truth is not diminished. There is a reason why Sun Tzu is still studied in military academies.

            2) Sun Tzu lived before all of these: The Enlightenment, Locke, Aquinas, Christ, Aristotle, The Roman Republic. Even though the anecdote is shocking, condemning Sun Tzu for not recognizing an Enlightnment/Humanist Rights of Man is unreasonable: akin to condemning Medieval barbers for using leeches instead of vaccines.
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            • Posted by Hiraghm 7 years, 3 months ago
              I've read Sun Tsu. His policies, strategies, and tactics are predicated upon Total War, something that, until WWII, when we began to be exposed to Asian philosophy, was considered immoral by Americans.

              Sherman's March to the Sea and the Plains Indians wars were conducted in ways which Sun Tsu would approve.

              Take an American general, raised in "traditional" American culture pre-WWII, who hasn't studied Sun Tsu, but *has* studied Machiavelli and Von Clauswitz... and he'll beat Sun Tsu.

              I don't condemn Sun Tsu for being a despot, for the very reason you give.

              I condemn those children of the philosophies of The Enlightenment, Locke, Aquinas, Christ, Aristotle, The Roman Republic who would follow his teachings.
              Those philosophers got us to where we are; why switch to him, now?

              Michelangelo: I will paint Man as God created him; in the glory of his nakedness!
              Critic: But, may I suggest, in the manner of the Greeks...
              Michelangelo: No! In my own manner.
              Critic: True, no modern artist could hope to equal the Greeks!
              Michelangelo: Why not? Why should we equal them? Surpass them if we can!
              Critic: Really, Buonarroti! I heard you lacked modesty, but now you claim to be better than the Greeks!?
              Michelangelo: I claim to be different!
              Critic: For the sake of difference?
              Michelangelo: Because I AM different! I'm a Florentine, and a Christian, painting in this century; they were Greeks and *pagans* living in theirs.
              Critic: "Pagans", "Christians"... An Artist should be above such distinctions!
              Michelangelo: And a Cardinal, especially one who claims to understand about art should be above such foolishness. I'll tell you what stands between us and the Greeks: two thousand years of human suffering stands between us. CHRIST ON HIS CROSS STANDS BETWEEN US!
              This difference is what I'll express in my paintings; just as I'll paint the truth in spite of all the bigots and hypocrites in Rome!
              [to the Pope] Why do you bring FOOLS to judge my work?!?
              (From, "The Agony and the Ecstasy")

              i don't get you modern people; I never will. We won the original culture wars. We put men on the moon, we built the pinnacle of human civilization, and when alien archaeologists come to pick through the potshards of our bones millennia hence, it will be our legacy they'll be studying, not those dead philosophies. And yet at the height of our supremacy, when our cultural philosophies have proven themselves, it is then that we listen to the devil whispering behind the curtain and doubt. Do we recognize how we've strayed from what made us great, and seek out what we once were? Hell no! We seek out exotic philosophies and practices which whose originators have already abandoned while attempting to emulate us.

              http://www.kipling.org.uk/poems_conundru...

              "Now, if we could win to the Eden Tree where the Four Great Rivers flow,
              And the Wreath of Eve is red on the turf as she left it long ago,
              And if we could come when the sentry slept and softly scurry through,
              By the favour of God we might know as much - as our father Adam knew! "
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            • Posted by iroseland 7 years, 3 months ago
              Sun Tzu was actually pretty good considering the times he was in. Lets also keep in mind that his strategies won wars with a lower cost to everyone involved. As he was fairly into winning quickly and moving on to more interesting things. The beauty of Sun Tzu is how amazingly insightful he is when it comes to military strategy. As for Machiavelli, disregard what the Catholic Church has had to say about him and just read The Prince. If our politicians acted like they had actually read the book we would have a heck of a lot less to complain about. Instead they spend their time working on breaking all of his rules, then act surprised when we act exactly as Machiavelli said we would. I would also add the Book of Five Rings to the self help reading list. Then there is Gandhi, he was way more of a dick then Sun Tzu as he did have the benefit of the enlightenment yet still went on a hunger strike to protest giving more rights to the lower cast. If the Soviets had taken India Stalin would have simply had him shot.
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