Nolan Chart

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The Nolan Chart is a political diagram popularized by main Libertarian founderDavid Nolan. He created it to illustrate the claim that libertarianism stands for both economic freedom and personal freedom (as he defined the terms), in graphic contrast to left-wing "liberalism", which, according to Nolan, advocates only personal freedom, and right-wing "conservatism", which, according to Nolan, advocates only economic freedom.


While its exact origins appear to be unclear, the chart and its concept are commonly attributed to David Nolan. A similar chart appeared in Floodgates of Anarchy by Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer (1st Edition published in 1970). Its two axes are: one from individualism to totalitarianism, the other from capitalism to collectivism. Its corners are capitalist individualism, anarchism, state communism and fascism.

David Nolan first published the current version of the chart in an article called "The Case for a Libertarian Political Party" in the August 1971 issue of The Individualist, the monthly magazine of the Society for Individual Liberty (SIL). In December of 1971, he helped to start the group that would become the Libertarian Party. [1], [2]

Anarchist Review published a different version where the economic axis has a subtler meaning: degree of hierarchy in economic decision-making. At the anarchist end, there is no hierarchy, or just one level. At the capitalist end, hierarchies allow some to utilize the work of others. This version stretches various sorts of liberals from the corner of "left radicalism" to the corner of "free marketeers". Somewhat outside the square lies the anarchist position, next to the corner of left radicalism. State communism and fascism are the two other corners, and conservatism lies towards centrism next to fascism.


Differing from the traditional left/right distinction and other political taxonomies, the Nolan Chart in its original form has two dimensions, with a horizontal x-axis labeled "economic freedom" and a vertical y-axis labeled "personal freedom". It resembles a square divided into four quadrants, with each sample in the population assigned to one of the quadrants.

The upper left quadrant represents the political Left — favoring government that taxes more and spends more for activities such as welfare, healthcare, education, Social Security and funding for the arts and that encourages more barriers on trade and business regulations (which David Nolan labeled "low economic freedom"), but supporting personal freedoms such as abortion, homosexuality and illegality of the conscription (which he labeled "high personal freedom"). At the bottom right is its converse, the political Right, whose coordinates place it as supporting high economic freedom and low personal freedom. Those on the Right want lower taxes and fewer social programs but support regulation by the government of cultural issues and personal behavior. The Nolan Chart places David Nolan's own ideology, libertarianism, at the top right, corresponding with high freedom in both economic and social matters. The fourth quadrant at the bottom left represents the antithesis of libertarianism. David Nolan originally called this philosophy populism, but many later renditions of the chart have used the label authoritarianism or totalitarianism instead. Some critics have argued that this was an attempt to popularize the image of libertarianism as the "opposite" of ideologies with a rather negative public image, thus putting libertarianism itself in a good light. Communitarianism also exists within the fourth quadrant.


Many variations of the Nolan Chart have been developed, with some rotating the chart area 45 degrees in a rhomboid form to allow representation of left/liberal and right/conservative along a single axis in the manner they are typically charted. Many use different labels to describe the various types of government that would be placed in the quadrants. The original use by the Libertarian Party was represented by the Libersign and was the Party's first official logo.

Uses of the Chart

The advocates and writers of these quizzes are most often libertarian, and a common remark by them about their tests is that people who are libertarians inside and didn't know it will discover their true political leanings. The detractors of the Nolan Chart are most often people who accuse people with libertarian beliefs of using it to further their agenda and gain converts to their party and political movement. One specific accusation is that libertarian "recruiters" try to convince people that, because they hold several libertarian positions, they should consider making all their positions libertarian in order to achieve consistency in advocating "liberty".

The Libertarian Party frequently uses the chart along with the World's Smallest Political Quiz as a public outreach tool.

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