In Dune, Thufir Hawat counsels the Baron to "abandon your dear nephew Rabban", so the Baron stops sending him troops and supplies. This gives the Fremen the opportunity to overwhelm Rabban's forces on Arrakis and isolate him in Arrakeen, provoking a crisis that eventually leads to the showdown with the Padishah Emperor.

What I don't understand is why Hawat said this. He didn't known the Fremen were led by Paul. He wanted revenge against the Harkonnens but I don't know if that advice figured into his scheming. I don't really get the angle about recruiting the Fremen to fight for the Baron and if that was a part of his plan as well.

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    Book, movie, TV series?
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 10:50
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    @Mr-Lister: the book, of course. If you even had to ask that you're not a real fan ;-)
    – smci
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 14:58
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    @smci One glance at my bookcase would convince you otherwise.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 15:33
  • What TV series? Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 20:00
  • FYI: The tactic of using a brutal and unpopular subordinate to further brutalise a subjugated populace before installing a popular and (relatively) merciful replacement is straight out of The Prince. Machievelli writes of this as a way to simultaneously reform a rebellious conquest and remove too-ambitious underlings. Rabban was a fool and so of little actual value to the Baron, an easy sacrifice and the Harkonnens are said to be a large family.
    – bp.
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 5:24

3 Answers 3


The Baron's original plan was to put Pityr De Vries (it's been some time since I read Dune, so apologies if I got that name wrong) in charge of Arrakis, as he'd do an excellent job of squeezing all possible revenue from the planet. Remember that Vladimir Harkonnen's long-term plan was to marry off Feyd-Rautha to Princess Irulan, thus ensuring the Imperial throne for his nephew; he needed the great wealth of Arrakis for the necessary bribes and other expenses that would be incurred in organising such a marriage, particularly given that every other family in the Landsraad would want Irulan's hand for their own sons and nephews. When De Vries got himself killed by Duke Leto, Baron Harkonnen was forced to turn to his elder nephew, Glossu (Beast) Rabban. Rabban was less-talented than De Vries, so the Baron explicitly instructed him to be very brutal in squeezing every last drop of wealth from the planet and its populace.

This is where the situation becomes more complicated. In his attack on House Atreides, the Baron was fortunate enough to capture Thufir Hawat, the Atreides' Mentat. Hawat was walking the very fine line of desiring personal revenge against the Harkonnens, whilst simultaneously relying on them for his personal survival. He had to offer the Baron plans that seemed workable, while at the same time potentially destroying the Harkonnens. He thus came up with a plan to pit House Harkonnen against House Corrino, the two Houses responsible for the fall of House Atreides, against one another.

His plan was simple; House Corrino had maintained the Imperium for 10,000 years, largely through the military might of the Sardaukar. Whether through espionage or logical deduction, House Atreides had discovered that the Sardaukar were in fact prisoners, or the descendants of prisoners, condemned to life on the Emperor's private prison planet, Salusa Secundus.

As Arrakis and Salusa Secundus shared many similarities, Hawat proposed that the Baron use the Fremen as a substitute for the Sardaukar, thus creating a private army capable of fighting the Sardaukar toe-to-toe. Rabban would treat the Fremen extremely harshly, earning their enmity. Baron Harkonnen would remove Rabban from his position, begin treating the Fremen favourably, and portray himself as their saviour. This would cause the Fremen to grant the Baron their loyalty, and enable him to turn them against the Padishah Emperor; the Baron could then seize the throne for himself. After hearing Hawat's plan, and feeling somewhat chagrinned that he had already mentioned the possibility of using Arrakis as a prison-planet to an Imperial envoy, Baron Harkonnen proposed that Feyd-Rautha be installed as the Fremen's deliverer rather than himself, as he was planning to retire soon.

The possibilities of this plan for the Baron are obvious; he gets his own private army on top of Arrakis' obvious wealth, thus enabling him to directly challenge the Emperor for power. Combined with the possibility of marrying his nephew to the Imperial heiress, the odds of his hand-picked successor becoming Padishah Emperor - and thus the Baron being the true ruler of the Imperium - would increase greatly. The risk of angering the Emperor enough to bring the full weight of the Sardaukar down on himself, as it had been on Leto earlier, was worth the risk.

The possibilities for Hawat are equally appealing; he's setting up House Corrino and House Harkonnen to kill each other. If the Shaddam IV gets wind of the Baron's scheme, he will crush House Harkonnen just as he did House Atreides earlier. AFter all, the reason the Emperor brought about House Atreides' downfall was because Leto I, Lady Jessica, Thufir Hawat, Gurney Halleck, and Duncan Idaho had, between them and with their combined skills, managed to create a small military force hat was, in Hawat's own words, "within a hair's breadth as good as Sardaukar." Any attempt by another House, especially one as powerful as House Harkonnen, to do the same, would bring swift reprisal.

Even more to Hawat's favour would be if Baron Harkonnen actually succeeded in his scheme, at least partly. If the Padishah Emperor found out abut Baron Harkonnen's plan too late to stop it, there existed the very real chance that House Harkonnen and House Corrino might cripple each other in a bloody, brutal conflict to the death. Forget the laws of kanly; with their personal survival at stake, both Vladimir and Shaddam would pull out all the stops, including the use of atomics. Hawat might actually succeed in destroying both Houses responsible for the destruction of House Atreides.

So to answer your question, no, the angle about recruiting Fremen was not part of the Baron's plan from the beginning. You'll recognise that the plan Hawat came up with for the Baron to use was actually the same plan the Lady Jessica came up with for Paul. This was a coincidence; Hawat's goal was to get the Baron, and hopefully the Emperor, to destroy themselves, by playing a very high-risk game, whereas Jessica and Paul had already lost their House; they no longer had anything to lose, and they were already amongst the Fremen. Vladimir did plan on having Rabban treat the people of Arrakis terribly from the beginning, but the reasoning changed when Hawat clued him in on the possibilities of the Fremen. Hawat may also have anticipated that the Emperor would come to Arrakis himself - as he did - to ensure that the Baron's plan didn't work, and that the vengeful Fremen would kill them both. That would suit Hawat just fine as well. He was only interested in living long enough to gain vengeance by that point; the manner of his vengeance didn't matter.

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    Thanks, very comprehensive answer. Now I only wonder why the Baron didn't comprehend that Hawat was setting him up for disaster, given that he asked himself how this advice fit into Hawat's own desire for revenge. I think in that case, however, the Baron would have ignored the warning signs because this opportunity was just too good to pass up, and greed and arrogance would have clouded his judgment.
    – Kaiser
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 15:11
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    It's "Piter De Vries", incidentally. Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 15:14
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    @Kaiser: Adding to this from a more general point of view: The Baron has a fable for schemes that are have a relevant chance of losing everything and even higher chances of taking significant damage (due to sacrificing allies etc.). For Hawat’s revenge to succeed, only one of the Baron’s plans has to spectacularly fail. So Hawat’s advice aims at increasing the risks the Baron is taking without being too obvious. With other words: The Baron is walking dangerously close to a cliff anyway; Hawat cannot make the Baron walk directly over the cliff, but he can advise him to walk even closer to it.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 18:26
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    In addition - Baron's spice stores (the ones for "rainy day") were largely destroyed by Atreides' raid on Giedi Prime and he paid for the invasion completely (including for transport of Sardaukars), he had to start recouping costs. So Rabban was ordered to maximize profit, and oppress local population (however latter's reasoning was not given to Beast), until said population was to be relieved by Feyd-Rautha and he will earn their admiration for his deliverance. Also, Baron was not stupid and knew that Hawat was a double-edged sword, so it would be unlikely Thufir's plan would succeed.
    – AcePL
    Commented Jun 7, 2019 at 15:16

This was always part of the plan, if I recall correctly. Rabban was given Arrakis in the full knowledge that he would indulge in brutal excess. The Harkonnen long term plan was to place Feyd in control of Arakkis, and Rabban's one job was to make Feyd look good by comparison. The idea being that Feyd would have an easier time ruling the planet because he wasn't anything like as bad as Rabban. Hawat's counsel was thus that sufficient time had passed for the purposes of endearing the populace favourably to Feyd and that without Harkonnen support he would fail, leaving Feyd free to take Arakkis for himself. Perhaps Hawat foresaw that the consequences went beyond the Harkonnen plan and kept quiet about those possibilities. Perhaps the Baron wasn't interested in counsel of caution.


Also was the fact that after he (Baron) mentioned using Arrakis as a prison planet to Fenring, Hawat recognized the jig was up. Fenring would report this offhand comment to the Emperor, who would bring down his wrath upon House Harkonnen in order to prevent the creation of a fighting force that could challenge the Sardaukar. Hawat's advice to The Baron to avoid this wrath? Abandon Rabban and make sure House Corrino knows you are doing it.

  • That's correct. The Baron couldn't afford to have Shaddam IV do to him as he did to Leto I; if that meant abandoning his nephew to allay Fenring and Shaddam's suspicions, so be it. Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 0:42
  • No, I think abandoning Rabban has nothing to do with not angering the Emperor. Abandoning Rabban while at the same time ordering him to more efficiently squeeze Arrakis' resources is a way to go forward with the plan of presenting Feyd-Rautha as a savior, and also of turning the Fremen into more savage warriors. Rabban's main purpose was to make Feyd-Rautha look good, which this measure would help accomplish.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Apr 6, 2014 at 16:15
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    @AndresF.: "It is better to kill two birds with one stone." Abandoning Rabban accomplished multiple goals at once. Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 1:41
  • A-ha, that completes the scheme. I still didn't feel there was quite enough justification for the Baron to proceed with such a risky move as to abandon Rabban, but the fear of incurring the Emperor's wrath would do it. Herbert knew he had to address the issue of how exactly the planet-bound Fremen, even being supersoldiers, were able to overpower a Great House with a limitless supply of manpower. He was very clever in the plot device he came up with.
    – Kaiser
    Commented May 4, 2014 at 15:18

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