There is a new author in the United Kingdom’s A-Level Politics reading list: Ayn Rand.
During her time, the Russian-American novelist, most famous for her two best-selling works The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, espoused the idea of individualist morality, where unapologetic self-interest is a virtue and an individual’s rights trumps other moral and political principles in society.
A favourite of US President Donald Trump as well as US conservatives, the “objectivist” author will now join the ranks of other thinkers of conservatism included in the syllabus, such as Thomas Hobbes, Edmund Burke, Michael Oakeshott and Robert Nozick.
“Students will get to grapple with a diverse worldview and build up their own respective intellectual muscles through this new curriculum,” says Yaron Brook, chairman of the non-profit The Ayn Rand Institute.
According to Quartz, the institute has been pushing for the conservative tome to be incorporated into the A-Levels curriculum for a while.
A-Level, short for the General Certificate of Education Advanced Level, is a two-year course taught to secondary and pre-university students, which can be used as a school-leaving qualification in university applications.
For the Politics paper, students are required to learn the core ideas of conservatism and how they impact views on human nature, state, society and economy, as well as the tension within the movement, especially between traditional conservatism and the New Right.
Conservatism is a dominant political philosophy of the post-Enlightenment era – a generic term for a “right-wing viewpoint occupying the political spectrum between liberalism and fascism” – that focuses on the existing order of society, and opposes efforts to change it.
Rand’s inclusion in the course comes in the wake of rising right-wing populism in the US and UK, spurred by events such as Brexit and the actions of the Trump administration.
British secondary students will now be exposed to Rand’s controversial philosophy of anti-government, unrestrained selfishness and remorseless capitalism.
The Times’ literary editor Robbie Millen says of Rand’s books: “There is no psychological insight in Atlas Shrugged (1957) or The Fountainhead (1943). Nor is there wit, elegant phrasing or clever plotting.”
“There is, however, a torrent of words — the books weigh in at 1,184 and 752 pages — and philosophising. This explains the novels’ influence on the American right. They appeal to people who like their views in bold black and white.”
And this seems to include college students.
Academic Allan Bloom says of students and the books that influenced them: “There is always a girl who mentions The Fountainhead . . . which, with its sub-Nietzschean assertiveness, excites somewhat eccentric youngsters to a new way of life.”