Nolan chart

From Academic Kids

Nolan's original chart
Nolan's original chart

The Nolan chart is a political diagram created by the Libertarian David 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. (Note that the term "liberalism" is used here in the American sense of the word; in most other parts of the world, the Nolan Chart's "left-wing" would correspond to social democracy or socialism.)

Missing image
Explanatory/contemporary version

Nolan claims to have developed the chart in 1970; he first published it 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 that year, he started the group that became the Libertarian Party. [1] (, [2] (

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. 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 choice in issues such as marijuana, homosexuality and the draft (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 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.

The Nolan Chart has also been rotated and visually represented in a few other ways, such as having conservatism and populism at the top and libertarianism and liberalism at the bottom. In another popular portrayal, the Nolan Chart takes a rhomboid form, with left representing liberalism, right representing conservatism, down representing authoritarianism, and up representing libertarianism.

The chart is inspiration for many political self-quizzes based on these four categories—liberal, libertarian, conservative and populist—of political thought, many of which have been written in computer code to be taken by visitors on the Internet. (For links to several charts using the same essential ideas but with different names or survey questions, see [3] (

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".

Critics of this diagram (and this kind of chart in general) claim that it represents at best a pseudoscientific illustration of a political point of view. The essential premise of the diagram is for many an oversimplified generalization, although admittedly not as much as the unidimensional left-right or liberal-conservative scales; economic freedom and personal freedom are often inextricable, and both left-wing (Bakunin) and right-wing philosophers draw the same connection. Corporate welfare for example is listed as a Liberal stance, yet it is a somewhat bipartisan issue, with Populist opposition from the Left. The policy of National ID cards is also used as a Liberal philosophy, however it is most strongly associated with anti-immigrationists, which tend to be on the Right. Critics insist that the libertarian claim (and associated chart) rests on either the utilitarian assumption that libertarianism is a workable alternative to older, more familiar political systems or on the moral argument that it would leave people with more freedom only in a narrowly libertarian sense of the word. This conception of freedom is perceived by some as tending toward anarchy. Others see it as driven by excessively self-centered or selfish motivation that actually detracts from social freedom. In essence, they claim the "chart" exists only to distance the term "libertarianism" from the older terms of anarchism and socialism, the latter of which draws polemic connections to communism, which itself draws polemic connections to totalitarianism.

A similar criticism of the chart is that the terms "authoritarianism" and "liberalism", as used to describe opposing stances on the y-axis of "personal freedom", do not easily apply to some prominent contemporary social issues (although these terms were not originally used by Nolan, they have become popular with followers of his chart system). For example, proponents of strict gun control are generally social liberals, who see fewer guns on the streets as promoting individual safety and thus individual liberty. At the same time, opponents of gun control see restrictions on certain firearms as an infringement on their personal liberties. Similar problems emerge from other social issues such as abortion, where the debate centers on whether the "right" to have an abortion is more or less important than the "rights" of the unborn child. In both of these examples, both sides tend to argue that their stance on the issue maximises total liberty. Thus the division between "liberal" and "authoritarian" is of little use on these issues, and the debate instead often divides people in terms of other exogenous factors such as their religious beliefs. This, some argue, leaves the effectiveness of the chart somewhat compromised.

Other critics argue that the libertarian definition of economic and personal "freedom" is incorrect or flawed, and that non-libertarian ideologies actually give people more freedom than libertarianism does. One such argument is that freedom from government intervention does not assure individual freedom within the private sector, and that government may preserve individual freedom against non-governmental powers. (This is the case Noam Chomsky makes when he refers to "private tyranny". [4] (, [5] ( Nolan's usage of "populism" shows that he rejects this argument.

A few of the people who oppose the use of the Nolan Chart are strong libertarians, Objectivists or other advocates of laissez-faire capitalism who believe that the political spectrum need be portrayed only through one dimension, but not the traditional Left/Right one. They propose an axis with totalitarianism/authoritarianism (statism) at one end, and libertarianism at the other end - something similar to the first diagonal of the Nolan Chart. They insist that all types of government intervention, in any areas, are the same.

See also

External links

fi:Nolanin kartta


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