The character of Francisco d’Anconia, from Ayn Rand’s epic novel Atlas Shrugged, was portrayed in this series’ May 15th article as the moral defender of money. It was presented as the keystone of civilization, and central to the virtues of honest economic dealings. What he explained to those desperately clinging to the collectivist idea that money is the root of all evil,
Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue. When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion; when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice, you may know that your society is doomed.
Two weeks later, this column featured d’Anconia as a financial scoundrel and philandering playboy. His d’Anconia Copper had attracted the investment dollars of his closest crony friends, and squandered it.
Mr. Rearden, do you know where most of those new aristocrats keep their hidden money? Do you know where most of the fair-share vultures have invested their profits? In d’Anconia Copper stock. Safely out of the way and out of the country.
However, Francisco’s contradictions of character go much deeper than that. Publicly, he was celebrated for his flamboyant lifestyle, wealth producing ability, and willing cooperation with government social programs. Privately, he crushed the relationship with the love of his life, and systematically bankrupted his family’s namesake.
In real life, it’s nearly impossible to find an enigmatic character that remotely resembles the fictional one. Of course, fiction is just that, and Rand’s heroes were idealized versions of what is possible. One such personality was an American hero from the European theater of World War II. Prior to enlisting, his wife had been promoting the sale of government bonds to help fund the war against fascist oppression. When Carole Lombard’s plane crashed in Nevada on her way home, it was a crushing blow. According to Lombard biographer Michelle Morgan,
Clark Gable rode his motorcycle recklessly, drank and smoked heavily. He kept Lombard’s bedroom unchanged. He signed up for the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942 and told friends he didn’t care if he lived or died.
Journalist Robert Dorr reported years later,
At age 40, Gable didn’t feel that he and Lombard had done enough. He volunteered, and was trained as a photographer and aerial gunner. Because of his Hollywood connections, he was part of the First Motion Picture Unit.
At the time, Gable was the most admired leading man in the world, had earned unimaginable wealth, was living his values in the outdoors and on his ranch, and in the company of his equal until she was taken. It takes a living spirit to give meaning to material values, and Gable had lost a good chunk of that spirit.
Dorr continues, Former Tech. Sgt. Ralph Cowley recalled events after the 351st arrived at Polebrook, England, and began flying bombing missions over the Third Reich: “Records indicate that Gable flew five combat missions but Cowley and other veterans remember that he flew many more.”
Similarly, Francisco advised Henry Rearden, after Henry’s best friend disappeared and they were observing their grand achievements together,
If you want to see an abstract principle, such as moral action, in material form – there it is. Look at it Mr. Rearden. You have the capacity to judge, the courage to stand on the verdict of your mind, and the most ruthless consecration of doing what is right.
In Francisco’s case, he didn’t lose the love of his life, Dagny Taggart, in a tragic accident. He became the accident. While Gable went to war trying to regain Lombard’s spirit, Francisco ended the relationship to engage in war defending the human spirit. As he explained to Dagny,
It’s you that I’m fighting, not your brother James or Wesley Mouch. It’s you I have to defeat. I am out to end all the things that are most precious to you right now. Now you may hate me, from your stand, you should.
In addition to that, Gable didn’t blow up the bridges of his movie career, he postponed fame and fortune while helping produce war movies for Hollywood. Conversely, Francisco literally blew up copper mines, the value of his company’s stock, and described the goal to Dagny,
I shall destroy every last bit of it and every last penny of my fortune and every ounce of copper that could feed the looters. I shall leave it as Sebastian d’Anconia found it – then let them try to exist without me!
This is why d’Anconia adopted the alter ego of Clark Gable’s character in Gone With the Wind, Rhett Butler. However, the persona of a charming and cynical womanizer was merely an elaborate ruse. His affection for Dagny and his family’s good name were concrete, primary values. When Dagny asked about the strikers who had vanished, Francisco answered,
I was one of the first of them. Wasn’t it the worst of what I did to you? That I left you looking at the cheap playboy who was not the Francisco d’Anconia you had always known? I know what it did to you.
While Rhett Butler may have walked out of his marriage in search of charm and grace in another world, Francisco d’Anconia walked away from his relationship with Dagny to restore it in theirs. He was determined to preserve the charm and grace of Nathaniel Taggart’s, Henry Rearden’s, and Sebastian d’Anconia’s world – the virtues of reason, rational behavior, and productiveness. The objective of d’Anconia’s war was to expose the secret weapon used by their destroyers. As he tries to convince Rearden,
You have been called selfish for bearing responsibility for your own life. Have you asked, by what code? No, you have borne it all and kept silent. You bowed to their code and let them brand you as immoral. You have been paying blackmail for your virtues.
Like Clark Gable was devoted to preserving Carole Lombard’s sense of life and spirit after her passing, Francisco d’Anconia was devoted to Dagny’s during her lifetime. To save her from her only sin, the acceptance of unearned guilt, he sacrificed two very high values for a higher one – to help her find out for herself, as he did, that she was feeding the beast of her own destruction.