David Nolan is famous among libertarians for two major achievements. He’s a co-founder of the Libertarian Party — in fact, that party was formed in his own living room in 1971.
In 1970, he created a new map of the political world that has all but replaced the old-fashioned left-right linear model. A Google search for the phrase “Nolan Chart” recently turned up 33,700 references!
This groundbreaking achievement earned Mr. Nolan a listing in 2,000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 20th Century, published by the International Biographical Centre, Cambridge, England.
The “Nolan Chart” is the basis for the Advocates for Self-Government’s world-famous World’s Smallest Political Quiz which has been taken millions of times online, is referred to in over a dozen leading textbooks, and has been used in hundreds of classrooms around the world.
In addition, Nolan has a long history of important political activism and leadership, dating back to the early days of the modern libertarian movement. He’s played countless roles as a libertarian leader and grassroots activist since the mid-1960′s, and is the author of “The Essence of Liberty.”
He got a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked for four decades in advertising, marketing and publishing.
David Nolan played a big role in the Libertarian Party as both a member and a candidate.
The following profile of David Nolan appeared in The Liberator, published by the Advocates for Self-Government:
Nolan: Innovator for Liberty
by James W. Harris
Rare indeed is the person who hatches an idea that changes the thinking of millions of people.
Meet a man who’s birthed two such breakthrough ideas: David F. Nolan.
Dave is a well-known figure to Advocates and other libertarians. He’s the man who, after all, came up with the watershed insight — the “Nolan Chart” — that is the basis for the World’s Smallest Political Quiz.
Dave is also renowned as one of the Founding Fathers of America’s largest and most successful third party, the Libertarian Party. In fact, that party was born in Dave’s own Colorado living room 25 years ago.
Talk about having an impact!
Belly of the Beast
Ironically, for one who would come to oppose so much of the modern state, Dave was born in the heart of Big Government USA — Washington D.C.. He grew up in nearby Maryland suburbs. He describes himself as having been a born libertarian — “I think I was just born with that streak in me.”
As a youth he was an avid reader of science fiction, which led him to the writings of libertarian Robert Heinlein, the first major influence on his political thinking. Later, encountering Ayn Rand’s writings helped cement his innate libertarianism.
In the early ’60′s Dave entered M.I.T., first as an architectural student, then switching to major in political science. It was in 1963 that Dave first became politically active, and his political odyssey would parallel the growth of the modern libertarian movement to a remarkable degree.
In the early ’60′s there was virtually no libertarian movement as we know it today. Republican Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, with its emphasis on limited government (aided by the fiery rhetoric of his libertarian speechwriter Karl Hess), was a natural draw for nascent libertarians looking to change the world. Dave was one of many libertarians attracted to that campaign.
He became a founding member of M.I.T. Students for Goldwater. Largely due to his efforts, the chapter rapidly grew to become the largest Youth for Goldwater chapter in New England. In recognition of this achievement Dave was appointed Vice-Chair of Massachusetts Youth for Goldwater.
Dave also became involved with the Liberty Amendment Committee, an organization working to repeal the federal income tax and get the federal government out of all activities not specifically authorized by the U.S. Constitution.
Dave was named National Youth Coordinator for the Liberty Amendment Committee, and — again demonstrating a flair for nuts-and-bolts political organizing — he built a network of more than 600 youthful supporters for the Amendment.
(Interesting sidenote: it was during his activities with the Liberty Amendment Committee that Dave first met Harry Browne — who was then editor of the Committee’s bi-monthly publication, Freedom Magazine.)
In late 1968, the Liberty Amendment Youth Council was dissolved. Dave turned over a copy of the organization’s membership list to another young libertarian he’d met, Jarret Wollstein, who used it to launch the Society for Rational Individualism (SRI), one of the first modern libertarian organizations in America. SRI quickly evolved into the Society for Individual Liberty (SIL), for years one of the most important organizations in the liberty movement. In 1989, SIL merged with Libertarian International and Groundswell-USA to become the International Society for Individual Liberty that we know today.
During the 1960s, Dave was also active in the Young Americans for Freedom and the Young Republicans. But as the presidency of Richard Nixon unfolded, horrors like the Vietnam War, crackdowns on civil liberties, and increasing restrictions on economic freedom convinced Dave that the GOP held no real hope for true lovers of freedom. In 1971, he wrote a breakthrough article for SIL’s monthly magazine, The Individualist, entitled “The Case for a Libertarian Political Party.”
The same month that article appeared — August, 1971 — Richard Nixon went on television to announce that he was demonetizing the dollar and imposing a “freeze” on wages and prices in the United States — a move Dave denounced as “economic fascism.”
Disgusted, Dave and a group of his friends in Colorado decided to explore the idea of forming a new political party, one dedicated to the consistent defense of individual liberty. Over the next four months, they contacted other libertarians around the country, and on December 11, 1971 — in Dave Nolan’s living room — the Libertarian Party was born.
The Quiz Is Conceived
During this same time period, Dave gave a lot of thought as to just how his own politics, and those of other libertarians he met, differed from conservatives and liberals. Much of his political work was with conservatives. Yet on issues of personal freedom, and opposition to the Vietnam War, he found himself frequently allied with liberals.
“I kept scratching my head and wondering why people like us agreed with conservatives on a lot of things, but obviously had fundamental disagreements with conservatives on a lot of other issues. And why were there areas where we could see that liberals made sense — especially opposition to war and draft?”
Dave realized, “We’re not really with either group.” So, he wondered: “What’s the root of this tension, this difference?”
It was obvious to him that the standard left-right divisions of politics didn’t make sense. Then his dual academic specialties — architecture and political science — pushed him to a unique insight.
“Having an engineering/architectural background, and wanting to look at things in a quantified analytical manner, and being used to things like graphs and charts, I began to doodle around with the idea of trying to reduce the political universe to a graphical depiction.
“I thought, ‘Maybe we can delineate this on some kind of map, using a two-axis graph.’ As far as I could determine, no one had ever taken that kind of engineering/analytical/graphical approach to the world of political beliefs.”
Dave played with the concept until he designed what would later be known as “the Nolan Chart” — the famous two-axis political grid that is embodied in the Advocates’ Diamond Chart today.
In the summer of 1970 he wrote an article on this new political map. “Classifying and Analyzing Political-Economic Systems” appeared in the January 1971 issue of SIL’s newsletter The Individualist.
That article touched off a flurry of discussion over the next couple of years, with people making suggestions for changes and improvements, discussing the usefulness of the chart, criticizing it, praising it, and so on. It was clear he had hit on something special.
But then, Dave says, “the discussion died down… the idea didn’t completely disappear, but it drifted into a kind of semi-obscurity for several years.”
Marshall to the Rescue!
That obscurity ended abruptly when Advocates Founder Marshall Fritz — searching for new, effective ways to communicate libertarian ideas — became excited by the chart’s possibilities in the early 1980′s. Marshall spearheaded the effort that led to the Nolan Chart being transformed into what is today The World’s Smallest Political Quiz.
“Marshall essential resurrected the Chart,” Dave says. “Marshall saw its value as a recruiting and promotional and mind-changing tool more clearly than anybody else ever had, perhaps even more than I had.
Marshall dusted it off, refined it, fine-tuned it, and started promoting it. And thanks to Marshall’s efforts, it took off.”
During the past decade, the Quiz has reached millions of people. Nearly 3 million paper copies alone have been printed. It’s appeared in different languages, has been incorporated into textbooks and classrooms, and is available to the whole world via the Internet. It’s come a long way!
Why Does the Quiz Work?
Asked the reason for the Quiz’s appeal, Dave speculates. “I’ve observed that, in some way, when you first take the Quiz, it performs a sort of irreversible change in your brain — once you’ve seen the map of the two-dimensional grid rather than the old straight line, you can’t go back to the straight line. You can’t unlearn that process. So the Quiz does something fundamental to change the thinking process, in a very small way — it flips a switch that can’t go back.”
The integrity of the quiz is another reason for its success, he says. “You can take the Quiz as a raving socialist, come out a socialist, and still realize that this is a better view of the political world than the one you’ve been using.”
Whatever the reasons, there’s no doubting the effectiveness of the little tool.
“In a space of 25 years, to have in this country and, increasingly, throughout the world, a new model come in and make significant inroads — that’s pretty fast,” he notes. “In another generation the old left-right model perhaps will be gone.”
Dave is still active in both organizations that he played such crucial early roles in. He’s a strong supporter of the Advocates and serves on the informal advisory board that reviews significant proposed changes to the Quiz.
He’s served the Libertarian Party in countless ways. He was the party’s first National Chair and the first editor of their newspaper. He has chaired the National Platform Committee three times, and has also chaired the Judicial Committee “for longer than anyone can remember.” He is one of only two people who has attended every LP National Convention to date — the other is 1980 presidential candidate Ed Clark — and he says he plans to continue doing so “at least until Ed misses one.”
Both organizations have recognized his achievements. In 1989, the Advocates gave Dave a plaque honoring his pathbreaking insight. And at the Libertarian Party national convention, Dave was the first winner of the Thomas Jefferson award, given by party members for “outstanding lifetime achievement in the cause of liberty.”
Dave is pleased by the rapidly-growing acceptance of libertarian ideas, and that makes him optimistic about the future of liberty.
“We’re definitely picking up a lot of velocity, and that’s the cumulative effect of all the work that all of us have done.” He points to the Advocates list of “64 Libertarian Organizations” (published in the previous Liberator) and notes jokingly, “There are more organizations on that list than there were libertarians 25 years ago. That’s an indication of the huge degree of acceptance of our ideas.
“I think we’re going to see a major turning point in the very near future, the first decade of the next century. The struggle between the forces of control and the forces of liberty is rapidly moving towards a climax, but I think that we’re gaining ground rapidly enough that we’re going to win.”
When that victory comes, Dave Nolan will rank high among those whose names are celebrated for helping bring about a rebirth of liberty in America.
Nolan on the Advocates
“The Advocates is a great organization which I highly recommend to people who want to support libertarian organizations outside the Libertarian Party. Along with the LP, you are reaching people one-one-one better than anyone else. You’re tilling the soil, sowing the seeds that other organizations in the libertarian movement are reaping the benefits from.”
November 21, 2010: We are deeply saddened to learn of Dave’s untimely death today. He leaves a HUGE legacy, and he was a dear friend to the Advocates.