Ragnar Danneskjöld

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Ragnar Danneskjöld (born 1980), in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, was a philosopher who became a privateer. Alone he defied the might of the United States Navy and of all the People's Navies of the world to be, as he famously said, "the friend of the friendless."

Spoiler warning
This article contains important plot information


Ragnar Danneskjöld was born in Norway, the last son of one of its first families. His father was a Catholic bishop. When he was sixteen, his father sent him to study at the Patrick Henry University, in Cleveland, Ohio[1] (not to be confused with the real-life Patrick Henry College in Chesapeake, Virginia).

Ragnar Danneskjöld studied physics and philosophy—a highly unusual double major. What at PHU, he made two lasting friendships that would change his life forever, though he did not know it at the time. One of these friends was Francisco Domingo Carlos Andres Sebastián d'Anconia, who also was an aristocrat of sorts, though Latin American rather than European. The other was John Galt, who was anything but aristocratic, and came to PHU with barely a penny to his name. These disparities in background and circumstances did not matter to any of these three. All three shared a love of the natural world, how it actually worked, and how one should function within it.

When they graduated, each made a different plan. Francisco d'Anconia planned to take over his father's great copper company, D'Anconia Copper SA of Argentina. John Galt at first earned his master's degree in physics and began work on his [[Doctor of Philosophy][ degree, until events impelled him to leave university life and go to work as a commercial engineer and inventor. Ragnar earned his master's degree in philosophy and stayed on to earn his doctorate.

Of the two Chairmen who shaped his life, Hugh Akston, Chairman of Philosophy, stayed true to the ideals that attracted Ragnar and the others to him. Robert Stadler, Chairman of Physics, did not. Stadler's decision, in 2004, to endorse the establishment of a State Science Institute, impelled John to leave. If Dr. Akston discussed John's rather acrimonious break with Stadler with Ragnar, neither man said anything about it to any other character.

Though each of the three began to implement his respective plan, all three would receive a rude interruption.

The Strike

In March of 2007, six years after the three received their bachelor's degrees and when Ragnar was on the cusp of becoming a PhD himself, Ragnar received a summons from John Galt to meet him, not at his home in Starnesville, Wisconsin, but in a garret apartment in a run-down brownstone in New York City. Francisco d'Anconia received a similar summons. John Galt then told his two friends what had happened to him.

Galt had gone to work for the Twentieth Century Motor Company in Starnesville, named after Gerald "Jed" Starnes, the company's founder. There he had built the prototype of the first-ever practical electrostatic motor. But Gerald Starnes had died, and his three children inaugurated a plan to have everyone at the factory work according to his ability, but be paid according to his need. Ragnar probably recognized that principle at once, from The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx.

John Galt had refused to work under such a plan. He not only quit the factory, but also announced to the three heirs that he would "stop the motor of the world." He began, of course, by wrecking his prototype and carrying away with him those portions of his notes that would enable any future investigator to duplicate his work. And now he was asking his two friends to join him in what he called the strike of the men of the mind, and recruit others to do the same. The rules were simple: anyone having savings to retire on, would do so; the rest would take the lowest jobs that they could find, so that they would not give society the benefit of their talents.

The next morning, Francisco accepted John's strike call. Ragnar accepted that afternoon. Francisco set out to implement his own strike plan: to assume the guise of a playboy, while systematically destroying D'Anconia Copper. Ragnar and John traveled to Cleveland, where Ragnar told Dr. Akston that he was quitting his graduate studies, and why. Before the evening was over, Dr. Akston not only accepted Ragnar's decision but vowed then and there to hand in his own resignation, and for the same reason.

Ragnar found the overall strike plan elegant and logical—but incomplete. In truth, Ragnar was infuriated with what John Galt had told him. Or perhaps the business plan of the Starnes children struck Ragnar as a prize example of a much larger social and political problem. This problem had long filled him with righteous indignation, and now this indignation boiled over. As Ragnar saw it, society was guilty of armed robbery—and if that society would not police itself, then the men of the mind must not only withdraw from it, but make war against it to reclaim what was rightfully theirs. Ragnar decided then and there to fight that war and carry it directly to what all three called "the looters."

The Privateer

Ragnar Danneskjöld's solution came from the heritage and tradition of his Viking forebears. How he acquired or captured a ship and outfitted it as a ship of war, or recruited and trained a crew to navigate and fight that ship, the novel never makes clear. From the descriptions given of his activities, Ragnar had a fast ship that nevertheless carried guns capable of bombarding either another ship or a shore target at long range. Ragnar also had at his disposal at least one aircraft: a cargo carrier with which Ragnar would later transport large quantities of the gold he collected in his activities. The novel provides confusing clues as to whether or not this aircraft launched from and landed aboard his ship. Ragnar does boast at one point of "defying the law of gravitation," but that is a specific reference to his carrying a record load of gold, more in fact than the aircraft was rated to carry.

Given an index date of 2016, the most likely sequence of events is this: Ragnar set out at once to assemble a crew of demobilized Navy officers, petty officers, and seamen. These men told him that the US Navy planned to retire one of its most famous and largest aircraft carriers: USS Ronald Reagan CVN-76. Ragnar had other plans: he hijacked the ship at sea.

And so he became a privateer, and in fact became known as the scourge of the high seas (chiefly the Atlantic Ocean and occasionally the Caribbean Sea). He was careful never to kill a member of another ship's crew if he could avoid it; if he ever had to sink another vessel, he would put the crew adrift in lifeboats. One such sailor described Danneskjöld's face as terrible to behold, because it showed no feeling whatsoever. It did not even show hatred; it was cold and hard. It was the face of one who, having a job to do, did it and did not waste time emoting about it.

He never directly attacked any naval vessel, unless said vessel attacked him first. He never attacked any private vessel, nor seized private property. With one exception: at Francisco d'Anconia's specific request, he attacked D'Anconia Copper ships and sank them with their loads. This was in keeping with Francisco's own strike plan to destroy D'Anconia Copper systematically, so that no one would benefit from his talents or those of his father and grandfather and ancestors.

Ragnar's actual targets were what he called the "loot carriers." These were "humanitarian" cargoes paid for with taxpayers' money and sent by order of the Bureau of Global Relief. This was the best method available to Ragnar to recover the substance that was taken from men of the mind by force. Eventually, not a single such cargo could ever sail from an American port to any of several "People's States" throughout the world and hope to reach its destination. Ragnar Danneskjold was always waiting, and always found his targets. From the description given of some of his other activities, one may infer that he had an espionage network unrivaled for effectiveness and avoidance of compromise.

Ragnar would take these cargoes to various smugglers throughout Europe (whether he ever penetrated the Straits of Gibraltar with one of his prizes, the novel never says) and sell them. He also found a market for some of his plunder in the United States—a black market, which eventually became the only market available. He always demanded payment in gold. He would never accept any fiat currency, be it Federal Reserve notes or the scrip of any People's State.

He began his career in privateering very early into the strike. In 2009 (perhaps in the wintertime), he fought his first sea battle and received a wound—the novel never says what kind of wound, or where he fought the battle in which he got it. Ragnar recovered fully from it and never thought of it again, unless John Galt reminded him of it. Ragnar thought of his wound as a necessary lesson that an amateur must learn before he can call himself a true professional. He quite often told John, Francisco, and (later on) the others who joined the great strike to quit worrying about him. He ruefully observed that they never listened—with, perhaps, one major exception.

Of the early battles he lost, or the crewmen who died in his early career, the novel says next to nothing. By the last year of the strike, Ragnar easily captured every prize he set his sights upon, and had lowered his casualty rate to zero.

Galt's Gulch

At first, Ragnar had no plan for making restitution to John Galt and his fellow strikers, except to hide the gold he acquired in a secure cove until John Galt declared the strike over. But the defection of Michael "Midas" Mulligan changed that. In 2011, Midas Mulligan, after losing a lawsuit brought by an unsuccessful loan applicant, liquidated his Chicago bank and converted nearly all his liquid assets into food and livestock. His major non-liquid asset turned out to be the twice-deserted town of Ouray, Colorado, together with several miles of the Uncompaghre River valley in which it rested. Mulligan intended a permanent retirement to this valley, so he built a house there.

Every June, Ragnar had gone ashore to meet with John, Francisco, Dr. Akston, William Hastings (John's old boss at the Twentieth Century) after he joined, and composer Richard Halley. Now, instead of meeting at a random location, they met in Ouray, which John now called Mulligan's Valley after its new owner. Ragnar was intrigued with the security arrangements that John had installed there: a refractor-ray system to project a false image of the valley to any overflying pilot (such overflights were rare, because the world had abandoned airline travel by then), and a powerhouse, using his electrostatic motor, to power it. That powerhouse provided power to spare for the old electrical grid, which was still in place. John encouraged Ragnar to build a house in the valley. Ragnar did build a house, on the valley floor, fronting the river.

That fall, Judge Narragansett, the trial judge who had found in his favor only to be reversed on appeal, came to rent some land from Mulligan. Narragansett built a house and started a chicken and dairy farm. Richard Halley likewise took a leasehold, built a house, and planted an orchard. These two became the first permanent residents of the valley. (William Hastings visited the valley one more time, the following year, and never came again. Ragnar learned later that he had died.)

In 2012, Midas Mulligan re-established his bank one of the old town buildings, which he renovated. By now the permanent residents had given the retreat another name: Galt's Gulch. Ragnar now brought all the gold he had thus far acquired to the valley and deposited it in the Mulligan Bank. He then opened accounts with the Mulligan Bank in the names of all the strikers, and in the names of those persons still on the outside whom John Galt and Francisco d'Anconia were laboring the hardest to recruit. He then asked his spies to ferret out those people's income tax returns, with the intention of refunding, in full and in gold, the income taxes that these persons paid.


The establishment of Galt's Gulch complicated Ragnar's life in another way, though a pleasant one. In the late summer of 2014, the motion picture actress Kay Ludlow left the industry on the outside. Kay Ludlow had built a reputation for playing strong women, and grew disgusted when she kept getting scripts that cast her as a villainess.

Kay Ludlow still lived outside, but in seclusion, as actresses could still do in those days. But she accepted Midas Mulligan's invitation to come to the Gulch every June for a vacation—or more accurately, a reunion. And so, in 2015, Kay Ludlow was in the Gulch when Ragnar flew there on his annual gold-delivery mission.

The two fell instantly in love. To Kay, Ragnar was the male lead she had always dreamed of playing opposite, sprung to life with all the dash and gusto she could wish for, and with a convincing manifesto of justice for good measure. To Ragnar, Kay was the one woman who could fully appreciate him and his mission. They were married in a civil ceremony, with Judge Narragansett presiding, at the end of the month.

The next day, Ragnar headed back out to sea. For the next four years, they would have only one month out of the eleven together—but they both decided that it was worth it.

Two years later came the destruction of Colorado. With that event, the Gulch gained a regular population large enough to support certain businesses that can thrive only in thriving communities. Kay Ludlow now sold her house on the outside, converted the proceeds to gold (probably at an unfavorable exchange rate, but better than nothing), came to the Gulch permanently, and moved into Ragnar's house. She opened a cafeteria in the Gulch and would operate it until the strike ended. Ragnar now at least knew that his wife was safe, and could even keep his house while he was away at sea.

Henry Rearden

The year 2019 saw an event that would drive him to take the greatest risk of his career, a risk that even he must have recognized as foolhardy. The Bureau of Economic Planning and Natural Resources had issued Directive 10-289, by which all persons were to remain attached to their jobs and all intellectual property was to be surrendered to the government. From his spy network, Ragnar learned that Henry Rearden had been forced, by blackmail, to surrender his right to the new copper and iron alloy, called Rearden Metal, that he had invented. He also learned that a rival firm, Associated Steel, headed by Orren Boyle, would attempt to make Rearden Metal at one of its factories on the coast of Maine.

Ragnar stood off from the coast and addressed Orren Boyle's workforce over a powerful and probably directional megaphone. (He probably used an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle to carry that megaphone.) Ragnar simply identified himself and ordered them to evacuate the facility within ten minutes. Then he leveled the factory, and all of its blast furnaces. The novel says that he supposedly used his ship's guns; the stronger inference is that he sent attack planes from the Air Wing that he had captured along with his ship to accomplish this mission.

The foolhardy part was what he did next. Somehow he infiltrated the Delaware River, had himself taken ashore near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and accosted Henry Rearden as he was walking home along a lonely road—all without having the authorities detect him or his ship. He had been in Delaware Bay once before, capturing a large cargo ship carrying relief supplies intended for the People's State of France, on December 9, 2016. The United States Coast Guard had engaged him then, but he had beaten them and escaped with his prize. The news media never printed or spoke a word about this battle. But to go ashore under such circumstances, and in that location, was an act for which he probably would have disciplined any officer under him.

He handed Rearden a gold ingot, probably one Troy pound in weight, and described it as "a small repayment on a very large debt," that being "the money that was taken from you by force." Rearden was shocked to hear Ragnar identify himself by name, and even more shocked to hear Ragnar's description of his activities. Rearden told Ragnar that if he now was to be defended only by a "pirate," then he did not wish to be defended any longer.

Then a highway-patrol cruiser pulled up to the two men. The lead officer asked Rearden whether he was in any danger, and Rearden said no. Then the officer asked who Ragnar was, and Rearden referred to him as his bodyguard. In short, Henry Rearden could have handed Ragnar over to the authorities, but did not.

Ragnar thanked Rearden for this consideration, and predicted that he and Rearden would meet again, and that sooner than Rearden might think. Then he returned to his ship and put back out to sea, again escaping detection.

Dagny Taggart

Two weeks later, Ragnar again flew to Galt's Gulch, with the largest cargo of gold he would ever carry. The Bureau of Global Relief had been very active in sending "relief cargoes" to various People's States, but of course none of them reached their intended ports. It was in this context that Ragnar boasted of having "defied the law of gravitation." Quite simply, that cargo was far larger than his aircraft was rated to carry.

He called on his friend John Galt, and then discovered Dagny Taggart staying in John's house. Dagny puzzled him by saying that she was still a scab, and had not committed to joining the strike. She in fact was in the Gulch after a mishap: she had tried to follow one of John Galt's recruitment flights and had had her engine shorted out by the refractor-ray screen that provided the Gulch with its concealment.

He described his activities to her as well, and perhaps sensed that she did not approve of them. He also started to tell John about his exciting encounter with Henry Rearden, but John did not allow him to continue. He would learn only later why John Galt did not want Ragnar to speak about Henry Rearden in Dagny Taggart's presence just then.

The emancipation of Henry Rearden

Ragnar continued his privateering activities throughout that summer and into the fall. His last mission to sink one of Francisco d'Anconia's cargoes probably came in the end of August, because on September 2 the People's States of Chile and Argentina tried to nationalize D'Anconia Copper, but Francisco destroyed every remaining asset that the company had on that date.

Two months later, Ragnar received word that Henry Rearden had at last agreed to quit and join the strike, and that a large number of Rearden's regular employees followed him to the Gulch. Ragnar completed one more search-and-seizure mission, to acquire enough gold to recompense Rearden for the last quarterly installment of "federal income tax withheld" that he had ever paid, in mid-October. Then he steered his ship to one of Norway's many fjords and there put it into "mothballs." He put his crew aboard the several aircraft that he must have kept there, and flew them all to the Gulch, with orders to build houses in the valley and settle down.

There Ragnar met Henry Rearden once again, and reminded him that he had hoped that the two would meet under more pleasant circumstances than the last time. Ragnar was furious to learn of Rearden's head injury. He probably made a sardonic remark to John Galt about Galt's habit of worrying unnecessarily about his, Ragnar's welfare. In Rearden he now had proof positive that he and his crew had been safer aboard their ship than they could have been anywhere else in the outside world.

Galt was holding a special fall edition of his famous lecture series in physics. Ragnar gave him an ominous piece of intelligence that his spies had picked up: that Mr. Thompson was going to give a "report on the world crisis" on November 22. John Galt told him that on that day, Mr. Thompson would not be delivering any speeches. John Galt would.

The rescue of John Galt

On November 22, John Galt made his famous three-hour speech to the world. Ragnar did not learn, until after the strike was settled, the full extent of the spontaneous strike activity that John Galt's speech inspired. The reason: none of those spontaneous strikers tried to reach Galt's Gulch. Instead, they set up their own communities in forested or other "wilderness" regions, where even the United States Army feared to challenge or even investigate them.

John Galt returned to New York on the day after, though Ragnar (and Francisco, and Midas Mulligan) tried to talk him out of it. (Henry Rearden seemed to know why John Galt was taking such a risk, but he was not telling.)

On or about February 22, the American authorities arrested John Galt. For Ragnar, the only thing worse than the supreme irony of that arrest was the fact of the arrest itself. Ragnar had spent twelve years telling John Galt not to worry about him—and now John Galt himself was in captivity, and in the danger attendant upon that condition.

Dagny Taggart was somehow involved in the arrest. If Ragnar actually believed that Dagny Taggart had betrayed John Galt to the other side, his disappointment would be short-lived. Francisco d'Anconia definitely knew the truth of the matter—that John had encouraged Dagny to pretend to have sold him out in order to protect herself.

Ragnar had no shortage of recruits to rescue John Galt. Every man in the valley pledged to follow Ragnar to the ends of the earth to get back the one man who had inspired them all. So Ragnar organized the Galt's Gulch Air and Land Militia. He used every available aircraft, and enrolled half the men in the valley, that being all that the planes could carry. He assigned Henry Rearden as his aide-de-camp and Francisco as his chief of intelligence. (To his supreme annoyance, Hugh Akston insisted on enrolling, and Ragnar could not dissuade him. In the end, Ragnar assigned him as Ellis Wyatt's aide and asked Wyatt to keep Akston on a short leash for his own protection.)

He deployed his men first to Manhattan Island, at several stations near the Wayne-Falkland Hotel, where the authorities held Galt for questioning. He did not wish to storm the Wayne-Falkland; he was not at all confident that he could rescue John Galt before the authorities killed him out of spite. Francisco gave Dagny Taggart a direct telephone number to him, that she was to call when, as, and if she had information that John Galt was in danger of losing his life. So Ragnar gave his orders to his officers and men, and waited.

He did not have to wait long. Dagny called in, after the abortive presentation of the obviously factitious "John Galt Plan for Peace and Prosperity," and then joined the strike herself, swearing the Oath of the Men of the Mind before Francisco:

I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

Dagny's message had been dire: the authorities were taking John Galt to the secret installation of "Project F" of the State Science Institute, located in New Hampshire, for "enhanced interrogation." (This installation might have been on or near the United States Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Lyme, New Hampshire.) But Dagny had another, worse piece of intelligence: the Taggart Bridge, the last bridge across the Mississippi River, was now "out." Project X had taken it out.

Ragnar ordered his militia to decamp from Manhattan immediately, any way they could, and proceed at once to the New Hampshire objective. He himself flew Dagny, Francisco, and Rearden, aboard Francisco's aircraft, to New Hampshire. His plan was for the four of them to try to rescue Galt by themselves. Ragnar placed Ellis Wyatt in command of the militia forces, with orders to surround the Institute and wait for a signal, either to evacuate or to storm the Institute.

The facility turned out to be very poorly guarded. It had four guards outside; Dagny killed one while Ragnar and the others bound the other three, leaving them where they were. From another guard immediately inside, they learned that the garrison had only nine other members, all in one room, and a final member at the door to the torture room. Ragnar climbed a tree and waited opposite the one window of the building, while the other three, by a combination of bluff and bravado, entered the main laboratory on the upper floor. Ragnar nearly broke discipline when the chief of the guards wounded Hank Rearden, but Francisco d'Anconia, and then Dagny Taggart, entered the laboratory and thus gained the advantage. When the chief guard gunned down one of his own men, Ragnar swung from a branch, crashed through the window, and shot the nearest guard within reach. He then had only to announce his name before four guards dropped their weapons, and the fifth guard shot his chief dead.

Finally the four rushed down a stairwell and broke through to the torture room, where they found Galt, bound spread-eagle to a mattress but unharmed. Quickly they freed him, and then Ragnar took time to demolish the torture apparatus. The rescue party then took John outside to their plane, and took off. Ragnar then ordered everyone else to decamp, take off, and fly back to the Gulch.

En route, they overflew New York City, just as its lights went out. Now Ragnar remembered what Galt had told him and Francisco, twelve years before: that when the lights of New York went out, they would know that their job was done.

Ragnar arrived first at the Gulch, either because he had one of the best aircraft that the Gulch had, or on account of his skill as a pilot. On that day, Kay Ludlow's cafeteria did the best breakfast business in its history.

The return

This marked the end of Ragnar's privateering activities. With John Galt set free, the American government and economy abruptly degenerated into anarchy and chaos. The one project that could have threatened a continuation of the United States government (Project X) was destroyed when the project's nominal inventor struggled with another factional leader who had seized control of it, and in the process triggered the destruction of the project and everything within a hundred miles of it.

Ragnar planned eventually to strip his ship of most of its armament and convert it into a passenger liner. He himself looked forward to following the career he had intended to pursue before John Galt had called him to go on strike: to teach philosophy.

However, he would likely be called upon, once again, to act instead of teach. From the anarchy that followed the final collapse of the American government, came a loosely organized republic consisting mainly of regional militias, all of which had organized themselves after John Galt's three-hour speech. This republic would inevitably attempt a restoration of Constitutional government, but would also need to prosecute certain politicians and collaborators. Ragnar might well have received an appointment as either attorney general or as a special prosecutor—or perhaps as Adjutant-in-chief of the Amalgamation of State and Territorial Militias. He would hesitate to accept any permanent post with the United States Army, or any permanent standing army.

Spoilers end here.


In his own words, Ragnar Danneskjold is simply carrying out a philosophical imperative. Because he pursues this imperative without regard to the good or bad opinions of others, he is an anti-villain rather than a true hero. He also is Ayn Rand's idea of a larger-than-life champion of justice. In fact, Rand specifically intended that Ragnar be the avenger, the one who strikes back at unjust people who are getting away with that injustice.[1]

Rand did provide a vital clue to Ragnar as an allegorical literary type. In his introduction of himself to Henry Rearden, Ragnar mentions Robin Hood, the legendary Saxon gentleman who stole from the rich allies of Prince John and shared his loot with the poor peasant farmers who labored under John's oppressive rule. Ragnar complains that the legend has been distorted. Robin Hood took money from a government that had robbed people and gave that money back to its victims. But as the legend survives, he simply stole from the rich because they were rich, and gave to the poor because they were poor. Ragnar decides to reverse the process, but in fact he is acting in a manner that recalls the original legend. Thus he seizes certain goods paid for by exorbitant taxes, and shares those goods, or at least the gold that he sells them for, with the payers of those taxes. If he then appears to "steal from the poor and give to the rich," that is only because the taxes in his day are progressive, whereas the taxes in the days of the original Robin Hood were regressive.

Ragnar Danneskjold's privateering activities illustrate another common libertarian theme: that "taxation is theft." In other essays published in The Objectivist and other magazines and newsletters that she published from time to time, Ayn Rand actually proposed that taxation be placed on a voluntary basis, and suggested that a government-run lottery might be one workable method of voluntary taxation.

Ragnar Danneskjold is a type of another sort of person whom Miss Rand did not describe in any great detail: a militiaman. In fact, his rescue of John Galt from the State Science Institute is a prize example of militia in action. The armed forest camps that the spontaneous "strikers" set up after John Galt makes his famous speech are another militia example.


The spectacle of a twentieth-century pirate struck many critics as preposterous at the time of the writing of this novel. To be sure, the novel provided few clues to how Ragnar Danneskjold was able to recruit and train a crew and then take possession of what effectively was a ship of war. The following discussion will consider each issue separately.

Recruitment and training

The first and foremost consideration is where Ragnar Danneskjold could have found his crew. The novel never says that Ragnar Danneskjold ever moved in the sort of circle that would bring him into contact with sailors, machinists, water tenders, boatswains, coxswains, and all the other specialists that a ship's crew requires. To complicate this issue further, Ragnar Danneskjold commanded a ship of war, so that he also needed gunners, which are not normally part of a merchant crew and are typically found only in naval services.

But in considering how Ragnar could find such a crew, one must not consider Ragnar in a vacuum. He did, after all, have a very close associate who knew exactly what he intended and indeed sympathized: Francisco d'Anconia. As head of D'Anconia Copper SA, Francisco had his own merchant marine, and thus knew where to recruit merchantman crews and have them trained. He therefore would be able to determine who, among the many men who sailed his ships, was willing not only to join John Galt's famous strike but also to join the only thing similar to a militant arm that the strike had. That out of thousands, or tens of thousands, of employees, Francisco d'Anconia would be able to select enough men to crew one large ship on the most secretive of missions and cruises, cannot be placed beyond the realm of possibility.

The recruitment of gunners and other naval specialists would be more difficult. But one must also consider the geo-political situation in which the novel must have taken place, in which all the nation-states of the world had become "People's States," i.e. Communist countries, with the single exception of the United States of America. And the United States might have downsized its Navy, a policy that would turn out to be disastrous (see below). Therefore, Francisco might well have been able to recruit all the specialists that Ragnar would need from the ranks of:

  1. Defectors from the various People's State Navies, and
  2. Demobilized seamen and petty officers from the United States Navy.

Finding officers would be the most difficult of all, but perhaps Ragnar did have enough good friends in his native Norway whom he could recruit for that purpose. He would, of course, need an executive officer and first lieutenant (either of whom could act as a navigator), a gunnery officer, a chief engineer, a communications officer, and an assistant for each. Any officer he could not find, presumably Francisco could find for him.

The motion picture introduced another complication: the once-mighty United States is downsizing everything. As if anticipating the "Automatic Super-committee Triggers" now (November 2011) in the news, the movie Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 strongly hints that the Navy is much smaller than it now is. This would help Danneskjold in two ways:

  1. It would make the laws of the sea unenforceable, so that he could operate with near-impunity.
  2. It would create a tremendous void in employment opportunities for a very large pool of sea specialists and even pilots and flight-deck specialists (see below). Such a pool would be quite large enough for a Ragnar Danneskjold to recruit a crew large enough to sail and "fight" an aircraft carrier and a carrier air wing.

Acquisition and refit of a ship

The description of Ragnar Danneskjold's vessel, as mentioned, was sorely lacking. One can infer the type of vessel that Ragnar commanded only from his activities. His ship would have to be fast but also heavily armed. With regard to this last: armaments sufficient to stop another ship and take it as a prize are of one type. But armaments capable of shore bombardment are quite another. In one memorable episode, Ragnar Danneskjold fires shells at a factory and leaves not a brick standing, according to the accounts of the men who witness it. The minimum armament that could accomplish such an operation is that of a destroyer, or better still a cruiser.

The quickest method by which Ragnar Danneskjold could acquire such a ship would be to steal it from either the Brooklyn Navy Yard or the San Francisco Navy Yard. He could accomplish this most easily in the case of a ship brought into one of those yards for decommissioning. But he would have to accomplish this seizure before any of the armaments were removed from it. More to the point, he would have to train his crew specifically to seize a ship out of dock, a highly specialized mission that he would never have to run again.

Far more likely, he could rely on Francisco d'Anconia to commission a ship, ostensibly for his merchant marine, and then refit that ship as a ship of war. As easily as Ragnar would later find smugglers to buy his spoils, he or Francisco might find arms dealers seeking to profit from the demobilization of the world's navies through the sale of ship's armaments that had been ordered destroyed. The most formidable obstacle to such an operation would be security, and specifically how Francisco d'Anconia could hide this activity from other D'Anconia Copper employees, government officials, and the public. But this might not be much more difficult than the concealment of a deliberate campaign of financial and physical sabotage that Francisco d'Anconia carried out against his own company for twelve years.

The motion picture adaptation, Atlas Shrugged, Part 1, suggests a third scenario: that in a frenzied "international good-will gesture" disguised as a fiscal austerity measure, the United States government nearly scrapped the Navy, taking it back to the number of ships that prevailed before the First World War.[2] The Navy has four methods of getting rid of an obsolete ship:

  1. Sell it to a city or a local foundation as a tourist attraction, after stripping it of its armament. The battleships USS Texas and USS New Jersey, the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, the submarine USS Requin, and the minesweeper USS Inaugural are five examples of ships that the Navy has disposed of in this manner. (So also is the War of 1812-era wooden sailing frigate USS Constitution.)
  2. Place it in "mothballs." USS New Jersey spent several years in "mothballs," before President Ronald Reagan re-activated her. New Jersey now rides at anchor in the harbor of Camden, New Jersey. (See above.)
  3. Take it apart for scrap metal.
  4. Scuttle it to form an artificial reef.

Under any of these four circumstances, Ragnar Danneskjold could have hijacked the ship, either in harbor or at sea. Usually a ship slated for such disposal sails for the last time with a skeleton crew, one far less able to defend her from piratical seizure. The attitude of the current administration suggests strongly that it might actually desire to dispose of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier by one of the methods above, probably the mothballing. And then a modern-day Ragnar Danneskjold could actually acquire it and thus truly be the Terror of the Atlantic.

Danneskjold could also acquire a Boeing 727 or MD-80, or a 737. In the dystopian future of the film, the airlines all fold and scrap their aircraft. (Or Danneskjold could steal one from the Aircraft Graveyard near Pima, Arizona.) Of all the heavy aircraft built, those three are most likely to be able to take off from, or land on, the deck of a modern American aircraft carrier.

Of course, the thing that makes an aircraft carrier fearsome is its carrier air wing. Again, in the dystopia of America of 2016, the Navy would not only lose ships but planes, too—and hundreds of qualified pilots would have no obvious means of employment. Conceivably, Ragnar Danneskjold could recruit enough pilots, and a flight-deck echelon, to acquire and maintain a serviceable carrier air wing. He would need an E-2C Hawkeye (the "Baby AWACS" that is the main radar of any modern aircraft carrier), at least one jet fighter squadron, and a small squadron of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, in order to defend and "fight" the ship and to do all the things that the novel says he did. And he could retrofit each of those aircraft with a quantum motor or a new jet engine using quantum technology to enable it to make a "cold start" and give it extra range in flight.


Ragnar Danneskjold would face two logistical challenges: refueling and rearmament. Fueling need not have been an issue, if Danneskjold decided to ask John Galt to help him by converting the existing ship's engines to an electrostatic powerplant.

If Danneskjold acquired jet aircraft, fueling might be an issue—but if he acquired a nuclear carrier (see above), he could convert the jets to burn hydrogen and use the reactor, or an electrostatic or quantum power system, to provide power to electrolyze seawater to extract the hydrogen. And because at least some of his aircraft would be turboprops, he would retrofit those with electrostatic (or quantum) motors and thus have, for example, an E-2C Hawkeye with unlimited range. (Perhaps John Galt could design a new quantum-assisted hydrogen-burning turbofan with which Ragnar could retrofit a squadron of F/A-18 jet fighter-attackers, thus giving them extra range or even a boost in speed.)

Ammunition would be a much more difficult challenge. The descriptions given of the industries in Galt's Gulch did not include an armaments industry. But the "black market" in armaments and ammunition, even for warships of destroyer size, exists today and, by all accounts, is thriving. Furthermore, corruption was a constant problem in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and other member nations of the Warsaw Pact, so perhaps Ragnar could keep himself in ammunition as easily as he could find men to buy his spoils (and pay in gold).

The scenario in the motion picture version suggests that Ragnar would try to acquire ordnance, that is, bombs and missiles. Even that would not be impossible, but it would be very difficult.

Intelligence and counterintelligence

Ragnar never revealed the nature of his spy system, or how he could determine not only how much income tax any given striker or prospect had been assessed, but even what amount of tax he paid on income derived from particular sources. This last became relevant as Ragnar considered the case of Dagny Taggart, who derived some of her income as a straight salary but derived other income from stock dividends. Ragnar considered the latter source of income tainted on account of James Taggart's policies as President of the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad, and therefore determined not to refund the income tax paid on those stock dividends. More to the point, Ragnar never revealed how he could search for, track, and locate any government "relief ship, subsidy ship, loan ship, gift ship," or other ship carrying a "humanitarian" cargo to one People's State or another.

Much of what Ragnar knew was, no doubt, public knowledge. The American news media would naturally trumpet the sending of any such cargo as a "nice gesture." In addition, the detailed intelligence could have come from Francisco d'Anconia's associates. Francisco definitely alerted Ragnar whenever he was shipping a load of copper, because he wanted Ragnar to send that cargo to the bottom of the sea. Perhaps Francisco provided a much more comprehensive intelligence product than merely the locations and schedules of his own shipments.

Eluding detection and capture

That Ragnar Danneskjold, or any other pirate, could elude the United States Navy for twelve years might seem incredible. But if the novel's action was supposed to take place during the years 1945-57 (as seems likely from various internal clues), this would be entirely plausible. The United States Navy would not become a force powerful enough to suppress piracy on the high seas on its own until during and after the Second World War. And in the alternate history of the novel, there might have been no Second World War. The only armed conflict after the First World War might have been between Germany and Russia, in which Russia would overthrow Germany early and turn it into a People's State. Indeed, all of the nation-states of the world except the United States had become People's States of This-or-that, and the United States supported those People's States with the handouts that became Ragnar Danneskjold's chief targets.[3] In this scenario, no nation would have any incentive to maintain a standing Navy. Thus if the United States Navy could not deal effectively with Ragnar Danneskjold, that was probably because the liberal clique in Washington, DC had downsized it almost to total disbanding, a thing that many liberal commentators would in fact like to do today.

In fact, the motion picture adaptation takes place in an era in which those same liberal cliques have raided the defense budget to pay for their various programs. The same severe downsizing of the Navy that would allow Ragnar Danneskjold to seize a ship from the Navy (see above), would also allow him to elude detection. Even the Global Positioning System might not work in this scenario, though the film does not make that clear.

Modern-day piracy

Piracy on the high seas does exist and in fact has seen a resurgence today, chiefly in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia. In fact, piracy has always existed, and very few navies, even superpower navies, have been able to deal with it effectively. Pompey the Great dealt with it by literally stationing troops in every cove or other inlet in the Mediterranean Sea, and then sweeping the sea clean from the Straits of Gibraltar all the way to ancient Judea and Syria. During the Age of Exploration, piracy was the favored means of surrogate warfare, and most pirates operated, if cynically, under privateering licenses. This is probably why today "letters of marque and reprisal," i.e. privateering licenses, are forbidden in international law.

In the nightmare economic retrogression scenario in Atlas Shrugged, Part 1, piracy would explode. A Ragnar Danneskjold would be quite at home in that environment.

Privateering v. piracy

Ragnar Danneskjold's activities are more properly described as privateering rather than piracy. Pirates typically seize ships and cargoes, and hold people for ransom, for their own gain. Privateers almost always operate in the service of some cause larger than themselves. All that a privateer is, is either a ship of war owned, outfitted, and maintained privately rather than at government expense, or the commander or other officer of such vessel, or a member of its crew.


Thus Ragnar Danneskjold's career and activities are in fact more feasible than one might suppose from a superficial scan of the text of Atlas Shrugged. Whether someone like Ragnar Danneskjold would be able in the actual geo-political context today to engage in such privateering is another question altogether. Remarkably, the current motion picture adaptation suggests that a modern-day Ragnar Danneskjold would be well able to begin, and engage in, just such a privateering career, if present political and economic trends continue.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "History of Atlas Shrugged," The Ayn Rand Institute, n.d. Accessed May 5, 2009. <http://atlasshrugged.com/book/history.html>
  2. See, for example, Letter from Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, to Senator John McCain, R-AZ, 14 November 2011. From CrocoDoc, via Fox News Channel. Retrieved 26 November 2011.
  3. Also, in this version of history, the basic Russian world-domination imperative did not operate. Never in any scene in Atlas Shrugged did a Soviet agent, overt or covert, appear.