The Muddy Waters of the Nolan Chart - The Objective Standard

In response to my articles about the left-right political spectrum and the liberal right, readers have asked about my view of the Nolan chart. So I’ll say a few words about that here.

The Nolan chart (created by libertarian David Nolan in 1969) is a diagram with four corners—labeled libertarian, conservative, authoritarian, and liberal—that attempts to show political positions with regard to two axes: personal freedom and economic freedom. Its alleged value is that it presents political positions in a way that captures more data than does the left-right spectrum and thus makes room for “nuance.”

The actual effect of the Nolan chart, however, is to muddy political waters in myriad ways. Consider a few.

The Nolan chart treats the realm of politics as non-binary when, in fact, it is binary.

Politics is about freedom and force. Freedom is the condition in which a person is free to act on his judgment. Force is the opposite: To the extent that force is used against a person, he cannot act on his judgment; he is forced to act against it.

In terms of essentials, politics is either-or: Either you are (fully) free to speak your mind about controversial issues—even when doing so offends others—or you are not. Either you and your doctor are (fully) free to contract by mutual consent to mutual benefit—or you’re not. Either you and your lover are free to marry—or you’re not. Either you and a potential employer or employee are free to negotiate wages in accordance with your respective judgment—or you’re not.

The Nolan chart presents the basic alternatives in politics as non-binary and “nuanced.” But the alternatives are in fact binary and, when presented properly, vivid. The Nolan chart does not clarify the basic alternatives; it obfuscates them. . . .

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