10A081 David Nolan, RIP by Jim Davies, 11/22/2010    

On Saturday at the young age of 66, David Nolan died.

He changed the American political landscape in two ways: it was in his Boulder, CO living room in 1971 that the Libertarian Party was founded, and it was Nolan who created the widely-used and -respected Nolan Chart, which categorizes political opinions into two dimensions instead of the usual one (a left-right line.)

I met and dined with him during the 1989 Party convention in Philadelphia, and was impressed at his easy-going willingness to empathize with each side of an issue under debate. Nolan definitely supported a gradualist approach to promoting liberty; I doubt if he would have disagreed with much in the ZGBlog, but was willing to work within the political system to accomplish desirable change rather than stand outside and damn it. In that, I believe him mistaken; but cannot fault the patience and sincerity with which he made the attempt. The world will be a poorer place without his presence.

The idea that government can be slashed and eventually abolished by joining it is fundamentally flawed, but it's a view I held myself for many years so I can understand its appeal. Even Murray Rothbard, whose books are strongly recommended in the bookstore here, thought it worth a try and gave his utmost to the attempt. The Libertarian Party began well, guided mainly by the wisdom of those two men, and offered the radical alternative of smaller government in both economic and personal matters. Since the mid-1990s, the Party has in general compromised its principles more and more and is not, as I now see it, a viable way to dispose of government. Even if were possible to win an electoral majority, how could one force the losing minority to embrace the self-responsibility of freedom? - when one thinks about it clearly, the idea is absurd and contradictory. Universal re-education is the only way, as introduced in Zeroizing It, and David Nolan's LP contributed most by fostering such re-education.

His other key achievement was to design the Nolan Chart, and it has been immensely useful in showing a large number of individuals where they stand. Try it now here yourself, if you haven't already. It usually surprises people who do; I've invited passers-by to take the survey in country fairs and on the campus of Yale, and have seen the same result everywhere: between 30% and 40% of respondents end up in the "Libertarian Quadrant" at the top of the diamond. That has never translated into votes, and I think it never will; but it certainly gives a useful basis for the education that will turn the world upside down.

When America is finally rid of the curse of government, David Nolan will be remembered as a hero of liberty who helped bring it about.

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