Contrary to the prevalent views of today’s alleged scholars, history is not an unintelligible chaos ruled by chance and whim — historical trends can be predicted, and changed — men are not helpless, blind, doomed creatures carried to destruction by incomprehensible forces beyond their control.
There is only one power that determines the course of history, just as it determines the course of every individual life: the power of man’s rational faculty — the power of ideas. If you know a man’s convictions, you can predict his actions. If you understand the dominant philosophy of a society, you can predict its course. But convictions and philosophy are matters open to man’s choice.
There is no fatalistic, predetermined historical necessity. Atlas Shrugged is not a prophecy of our unavoidable destruction, but a manifesto of our power to avoid it, if we choose to change our course.
It is the philosophy of the mysticism-altruism-collectivism axis that has brought us to our present state and is carrying us toward a finale such as that of the society presented in Atlas Shrugged. It is only the philosophy of the reason-individualism-capitalism axis that can save us and carry us, instead, toward the Atlantis projected in the last two pages of my novel.
Just as a man’s actions are preceded and determined by some form of idea in his mind, so a society’s existential conditions are preceded and determined by the ascendancy of a certain philosophy among those whose job is to deal with ideas. The events of any given period of history are the result of the thinking of the preceding period. The nineteenth century — with its political freedom, science, industry, business, trade, all the necessary conditions of material progress — was the result and the last achievement of the intellectual power released by the Renaissance. The men engaged in those activities were still riding on the remnants of an Aristotelian influence in philosophy, particularly on an Aristotelian epistemology (more implicitly than explicitly).
History is made by minorities — or, more precisely, history is made by intellectual movements, which are created by minorities. Who belongs to these minorities? Anyone who is able and willing actively to concern himself with intellectual issues. Here, it is not quantity, but quality that counts (the quality — and consistency — of the ideas one is advocating).