Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Friday, July 15, 2011

Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking Part 4

A modern day aristocrat (just like Francisco d'Anconia!) protests against the looters and moochers.

Chapter 5 The Climax Of The D'Anconias

It's not easy being a Galtian Overlord. Sure, you are perfect, if by perfect you mean arrogant, emotionally stunted, and obsessed with personal glorification, and Ayn Rand most certainly does. They are burdened by the existence of lesser creatures who are too stupid to understand and appreciate them and all existence is a constant struggle against the mediocre and depraved rabble. Yet the scum prosper and spread their socialism everywhere like the silver trail of a slug. Fortunately Ubermensch are simultaneously born perfect and achieve perfection entirely by their own efforts, and every self-obsessed thought and action committed by the superior ones as they stomp lesser mortals into the dirt is perfectly justified.

Previously on Atlas Shrugged, The Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Act has reshaped Dagny Taggart's railroad empire but has not defeated her or the other Galtians such as whiz-bang industrialist Hank Reardon, inventor of Reardon metal. A notable exception to this stalwartness is Francisco d'Anconia, a Spanish nobleman and Ubermensch and the closest thing Dagny Taggart had to a childhood sweetheart, considering she was never a child and is devoid both of sweetness and a heart. Dagny washed her hands of D'Anconia after his descent into playboy irrelevance but since she has the emotional range of a perpetually angry teenager it's not surprising that she is unable to understand his behavior. Still, as our story continues, she must visit him to find out what he knows about the earth-shattering events that threaten both their empires.

We are now on Chapter 5 and it's become painfully obvious that if any action is going to occur, Rand is going to put it off-stage, the better to fill her tale with static conversations and dull meetings. Megan "Jane Galt" McArdle complained that the movie version of Atlas Shrugged did not show any action and it is obvious why: there isn't any. We have 1,078 pages remaining and it appears that they will be nothing but political proclamations and improbably socialist board meetings and cocktail parties, with a choo-choo train running in circles in the background to simulate the appearance of action. Rand lavishes attention on one thing only: the infinitely superior people on whom the entire world depends, the scapegoats of mankind who hold up the world. How marvelous they are! How misunderstood! How sexually alluring, so strong in mind and body, so brilliant and cutting and clear and fine, like a diamond, like a God!

How tiresome, how unreal, how inhuman. But nobody ever said Rand wanted to be part of mankind, to form human connections, to share and give and love, and receive in return. There are no bonds of affection, friendship or love. Rand was far, far above the lesser mortals and their petty emotions---which brings us back to the subject of this chapter, Francisco d'Anconia.

Evidently Ubermensch are just like characters in the light romance novels and bad Lifetime movies; they are all in love with the heroine of the story, whose modest yet winsome charms ruthlessness wins their hearts. As we discussed earlier, this was a habit of Rand's, an amateurish bit of wish-fulfillment that reveals a great deal about Rand's reasons for writing her fantasies.

Rand referred to Atlas Shrugged as a mystery novel, "not about the murder of man's body, but about the murder – and rebirth – of man's spirit".[6] Her stated goal of writing the text was "to show how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them" and to portray "what happens to a world without them".[6]

Remember that Rand grew up in a world of prime movers, men who shook the world, started revolutions, committed genocide. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler. And also Roosevelt, Churchill, De Gaulle. That's quite enough greatness and moving and shaking for most people, but not for a young woman who was determined to remake the world in her own image--or rather, the image of the B-movie, starring herself, constantly running in her head. Rand had an iron will and a forceful personality and such people attract authoritarians to them by giving the latter a creed to live by and a purpose in life--spreading that creed and making it a reality for the entire world. It's no fun to be the only one who has The Secret Of Life; you constantly need others around you to reassure you that the rest of the world is wrong and you are right. Which is why Rand was able to dismiss history so easily; if facts will kill your fantasy world the facts will be rejected for the self-flattering, sexy fantasy.

Rand remarked that the core idea for the book came to her after a 1943 telephone conversation with a friend who asserted that Rand owed it to her readers to write a nonfiction book about her philosophy. Rand replied, "What if I went on strike? What if all the creative minds of the world went on strike?"[7]

It is easy to see why Megan McArdle chose Jane Galt as her avatar. When you have been raised to believe that you are a member of a very special club of gifted elites yet your eliteness has not--yet!--manifested itself upon an eagerly anticipating world, you tend to grow a little bit resentful of the lack of appreciation. Sure, you are still a member of the elite; you went to the same schools as the elite and you socialize with the elite after all, but where is the brilliant career and wealth and power you were promised? Doesn't the world understand that if it weren't for the elite the rest of the world would crumble into nothing and disappear? What if the Megan McArdles of the world just walked off and refused to put up with the humiliation any more?? Ayn Rand was a marginally successful writer of movies, plays and books. She didn't take Hollywood by storm out of sheer talent, drive and creativeness. She didn't conquer Broadway, although the play she wrote was quite popular after someone else re-wrote it. She didn't become a best-selling author. (Yet.) Where was her fame, admiration, sycophants, wealth? It's time to strike!

Ordinarily, when a person proclaims that they are a mover and shaker and threatens to go on strike, his mother tells him to stop complaining and finish cleaning his room. Yet Rand was easily able to convince McArdle and millions of more McArdles that every resentful, angry teenage fantasy was true; that they were really a a princess in a castle who can do magic superior human being whose intelligence, drive, ambition, and ruthless brilliance is the foundation upon which all mankind depends. And thus a philosophy was born, which proudly proclaimed that selfishness was a virtue and if they didn't want to clean their rooms, nobody could make them.

If I were Queen of the Universe, do you know what I'd do? I'd have a boyfriend who adored me and was the smartest guy in the school because stupid people are a waste of my time and he'd be so good-looking all those shallow, empty-headed girls would envy me and he would take me in his arms and I would tell him I love him more than anyone else in the whole wide world....

She wondered why she felt that she wanted to run, that she should be running; no, not down this street; down a green hillside in the blazing sun to the road on the edge of the Hudson,at the foot of the Taggart estate. That was the way
she always ran when Eddie yelled, "It's Frisco d'Anconia!," and they both flew down the hill to the car approaching on the road below.

He was the only guest whose arrival was an even in their childhood, their biggest event. The running to meet him had become part of a contest among the three of them. There was a birch tree on the hillside, halfway between the road and the house; Dagny and Eddie tried to get past the tree, before Francisco could race up the hill to meet them. On all the many days of his arrivals, in all the many summers, they never reached the birch tree, Francisco read it first and stopped them when he was way past it. Francisco always won, as he always won everything.


Francisco found it natural that the Taggart children [Dagny and Eddie] should be chosen as his companions; they were the crown heirs of Taggart Transcontinental, as he was of d'Anconia Copper. "We are the only aristocracy left in the world--the aristocracy of money," he said to Dagny, once, when he was fourteen. It's the only real aristocracy, if people understood what it means, which they don't."


He pronounced his name as if he wished his listeners to be struck in the face and knighted by the sound of it.

He spoke five languages, and he spoke English without a trace of accent, a precise, cultured English deliberately mixed with slang.

When d'Anconia was eleven he ran away to sea as a cabin boy. When he was twelve he sneaked off to work on the Taggart railroad. Naturally he was the best call boy that Taggart Railroad ever had. Francisco hit a baseball perfectly every time, from the first time he picked up a bat. Francisco drove a motorboat with perfect skill and daring the first time he ever stepped into one. Francisco taught himself differential equations when he was twelve.

An Argentinian legend said that the hand of a d'Anconia had the miraculous power of the saints--only it was not the power to heal, but the power to produce.

Yes, I remember how Jesus laid his hand on the merchants in the Temple, blessing their power to produce.

The d'Anconia heirs had been men of unusual ability, but none of them could match what Francisco d'Anconia promised to become, It was as if the centuries had sifted the family's qualities through a fine mesh, had discarded the irrelevant, the inconsequential, the weak, and had let nothing through except pure talent; as if chance, for once, had achieved an entity devoid of the accidental.

Well, no wonder almost everyone else deserves to be trampled in the dirt. Our Ubermensch are, indeed, the most perfect specimens ever to walk the earth, seemingly designed by nature to rule the world. Who could blame them for wanting desperately to get away from the lice and scum, leaving the looters-n-moochers to their mutual and inevitable self-destruction?

D'Anconia is full of absolutisms. Industrial trademarks are the most important thing on earth. The greatest virtue of all is making money. The most depraved type of human being is a man without a purpose. There's nothing of any importance in life except how well you do your work. The only system of morality is the code of competence.

Naturally one Ubermensch recognizes another and Dagny Taggart worships d'Anconia's superiority. Rand believed that achieving greatness and appreciating greatness were the only source of joy in life and Dagny joyfully submits to d'Anconia's superiority. The defining moment of their existence together occurs when they are still teens. Dagny tells Francisco that she's unpopular at school because the other girls "dislike me because I do things well."

They dislike me because I've always had the best grades in the class. I don't even have to study. I always get A's. Do you suppose I should try to get D's for a change and become the most popular girl at school."

Francisco stopped, looked at her, and slapped her face.

What she felt was contained in a single instant, while the ground rocked under her feet, in a single blast of emotion within her. She knew that she would have killed any other person who struck her, and she felt the violent fury which would have given her the strength for it--and as she violent a pleasure that Francisco had done it. She felt pleasure from the dull, hot pain in her cheek and from he taste of blood in the corner of her mouth. She felt pleasure in what she suddenly grasped about him, about herself and about his motive.

Our little Dagny has become a woman!

She braced her feet to stop the dizziness, she held her head straight and stood facing him in the consciousness of a new power, feeling herself his equal for the first time, looking at him with a mocking smile of triumph.

When Francisco tries to wipe away the blood she won't let him.

She laughed, stepping back. "Oh no. I want to keep it as it is. I hope it swells terribly. I like it.

He looked at her for a long moment. He said slowly, very earnestly, "Dagny, you're wonderful."

"I thought that you always thought so," she answered, her voice insolently casual.

They become lovers and over the next few years Dagny is overwhelmed by the joy of being chosen to sleep with Francisco when he happens to drop by every few months. It is no coincidence that Rand has Dagny's sexual awakening happen through an act of violence. Rand equated superiority with strength, strength with violence, and violence with sexuality. Strength made you superior, violence made you a man. She notoriously fawned over a teenage kidnapper and murderer, William Edward Hickman, a self-proclaimed superior being..

At times, Rand -- who, we must remember, was still quite young when she wrote these notes -- appears to be rather infatuated with the famous and charismatic boy killer. She offers a long paragraph listing all the things she likes about Hickman, somewhat in the manner of a lovestruck teenager recording her favorite details about the lead singer in a boy band. Rand's inventory includes:

"The fact that he looks like 'a bad boy with a very winning grin,' that he makes you like him the whole time you're in his presence..."


Still writing of Hickman, she confesses to her "involuntary, irresistible sympathy for him, which I cannot help feeling just because of [his antisocial nature] and in spite of everything else." Regarding his credo (the full statement of which is, "I am like the state: what is good for me is right"), Rand writes, "Even if he wasn't big enough to live by that attitude, he deserves credit for saying it so brilliantly."


At one point, a sliver of near-rationality breaks through the fog of Rand's delusions: "I am afraid that I idealize Hickman and that he might not be this at all. In fact, he probably isn't." Her moment of lucidity is short-lived. "But it does not make any difference. If he isn't, he could be, and that's enough." Yes, facts are stubborn things, so it's best to ignore them and live in a land of make-believe. Let's not allow truculent reality to interfere with our dizzying and intoxicating fantasy life.

Punctuating the point, Rand writes, "There is a lot that is purposely, senselessly horrible about him. But that does not interest me..." No indeed. Why should it? It's only reality.

By the appraisal of any normal mind, there can be little doubt that William Edward Hickman was a vicious psychopath of the worst order. That Ayn Rand saw something heroic, brilliant, and romantic in this despicable creature is perhaps the single worst indictment of her that I have come across. It is enough to make me question not only her judgment, but her sanity.

Meanwhile, fictional psychopath Francisco starts work as a copper foundry boy for a competing firm since his father will not let him take over the d'Anconia enterprises at once. Because he is a shiny diamond of superiority, he is able to buy the foundry in four years at the age of 20, using his allowance and money he makes on stock market, which naturally is child's play for someone of his innate talents. But something strange, something utterly inexplicable begins to happen. D'Anconia's behavior undergoes a radical change. He warns Dagny that he must do things that she will find inexplicable and hurtful, but she must trust him and believe that he is doing the right thing, what he must do.

Despite her superiority, Dagny spends the next years wondering why d'Anconia began acting so strangely and hurtfully, seeming to become a wastrel playboy who produced---nothing!!!! If Dagny had spent less time over railroad timetables and engineering textbooks and more time with comic books she would have instantly recognized the famous tactic beloved of millionaire industrialist playboys everywhere: they are secretly part of an crime-fighting organization and must camouflage their derring-do with a false front of idleness and dissipation. Sadly, despite all the evidence before her brilliant mind, Dagny mourns the loss of d'Anconia instead of appreciating his clever plan.

But now the world is rocked by Atlas's shudders as he tries to relieve himself of the burden of humanity, and Dagny pulls herself together to visit d'Anconia, who just happens to be at a New York hotel. He brags that Mexico confiscated an empty mine and other sham facilities, that Taggart Railroads and Orren Boyle's steel mills and other businesses will lose millions in their investment, and the entire financial world might collapse. Then he laughs like a movie villain. Poor Dagny is devastated; she might be able to get A's in math without studying but she is provingly to be sadly inept at adding two and two and getting four and must wait many hundreds of pages before she starts to understand.


Downpuppy said...

Some good science fiction is The Ugly Chickens by Howard Waldorp, available in full online at

Which was not the story I was looking for - the one where a character who is sort of a mockery of Francisco builds a time machine which he uses to capture dodos for soup. Alas! Between Aviary's Dodo, Dodo Press, and a Dr Who character, I can't find a trace of it.

So yeah - Even for Atlas, Francisco is fowl.

Susan of Texas said...

I can't believe people take this stuff seriously. It's so adolescent that adolescents would be insulted. How can people look at this thousand page bodice ripper and treat it seriously?

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

How can people look at this thousand page bodice ripper and treat it seriously?

Ladles and Jellyspoons, meet the Maestro.

Susan of Texas said...

Well, I guess that's what happens when you let the goblins out of Gringott's.

Mr. Wonderful said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the reason to read Atlas Shrugged is to grasp how completely ludicrous it is, and thereby to realize that you need never take seriously anyone who likes it ever again.

Oh, and also to have fun with this (as always)--

Kathy said...

Did Rand think the Lenin-Stalin types who destroyed her Familie's business were superior, or leeches?

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

When d'Anconia was eleven he ran away to sea as a cabin boy...

Heh, that reminds me of I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice...

heubler said...

"When d'Anconia was eleven he ran away to sea as a cabin boy. When he was twelve he sneaked off to work on the Taggart railroad. Naturally he was the best call boy that Taggart Railroad ever had. Francisco hit a baseball perfectly every time, from the first time he picked up a bat. Francisco drove a motorboat with perfect skill and daring the first time he ever stepped into one. Francisco taught himself differential equations when he was twelve."

He is, quite simply, the Most Interesting Man in the World. The advertizing template would seem to fit D'Anconia better than Hemingway. Or was Hemingway the template for D'Anconia?

Susan of Texas said...

I kept thinking of that beer commercial.

Ben Wolf said...

I'm not not much of a commenter, but I wanted to say I look forward to your posts, Susan. They're funny, smart-assed and always entertaining. Please, keep up the good work.

Clever Pseudonym said...

That first paragraph described to a tee the insufferable Rand, her doltish sycophants, and conservatives
who call themselves libertarian because they somehow think it's cooler. I believe it is one of your finest. Brava.

Anonymous said...

I know its a bit off your beat but I'd be fascinated to see what you have to say about the Murdoch situation. There's so much Randian supermanworship, and anger (on the part of the WSJ and etc..) that the proles and plebes *from whom he made his money* are experiencing free pleasure at his fall. There's also all the revelations about what cheap fucking chislers these top guys are. How on earth does the head of the Metropolitan Police imagine that he is entitled to a free 12,000 pounds worth of bribe money while low level police are nickled and dimed for expenses and the NHS is being cut?

Like the Parlementarians scandal which started just before this its clear that wealth and class are understood--by the wealthy if not by the working class--as a licence to steal from the public purse, or sell public office to private bidders. The idea of living on one's salary and therefore being reduced to mere middle class existence is anathema to these guys, even as Murdoch and Fox News and the WSJ sell the line that they are "self made men" or "entitled to spend their own money." When are the voters going to grasp that they aren't spending their own money--there's no such thing as a great fortune that wasn't built on theft from the public purse at this point.


imatalkaboutit2u said...

Excellent treatment of pulp fiction. I much prefer reading your review than the original for which I simply have no patience to endure.

More, more!

NonyNony said...

We have 1,078 pages remaining and it appears that they will be nothing but political proclamations and improbably socialist board meetings and cocktail parties, with a choo-choo train running in circles in the background to simulate the appearance of action.

And don't forget - you have a speech from John Galt to look forward to as well. Where Rand gives up all the subtlety she's been using and just has her mouthpiece rattle off her theory of Objectivism via a speech.

As I recall, it's something like 50 pages long too.

Have fun with that!

Anonymous said...

I've tried reading that speech at least a dozen times over the past 20 years. I don't really think it can be done. It's like the uncanny valley of written language.


satch said...

I could never quite figure out whether Ayn Rand wanted D'Anconia or Dagny as her alter ego.

cynic said...

Frisco (Slug!) is not quite the ubermensch who does everything perfectly the first time: he needs Dagny to figure out a simple three mile railroad in Galt's Gulch.

In other words, he can do everything except what other ubermensch can. So no inventing Francisco Metal, no building motors and definitely no railroads.

CMike said...

Warning: Literary and historical plot spoilers ahead.

For anyone reading this thread but who hasn't watched this particular Adam Curtis documentary hour, I'm sure you'll find it an interesting treatment of the subject at hand.