Libertarianism loses pioneer David Nolan

D avid F. Nolan, 66, founder of the Libertarian Party and developer of a method of analyzing political attitudes superior to the old linear left-right spectrum, died Sunday near his home in Tucson.

He will be missed and his contributions to the cause of human liberty will not be forgotten.

Nolan grew up in Maryland and attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was a classmate of Robert Poole, co-founder of Reason magazine and the Reason Foundation. Influenced by science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein, he was an active libertarian in college. After college he moved to Denver where he went into advertising. In 1971, sitting with friends and watching Richard Nixon announce wage and price controls, he declared, “We need another party,” and started the Committee to Form a Libertarian Party. The party in 1972 ran University of Southern California philosophy professor John Hospers for president.

Unsatisfied with the old left-right spectrum for describing political attitudes, Nolan refined what became known as the Nolan Chart, a grid on which attitudes toward personal freedom and economic freedom are charted, yielding a square in which liberal, conservative, statist, centrist and libertarian tendencies are identified. His work on the chart earned him a spot in “2,000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 20th Century,” published by the Biography Center in Cambridge, England.

With his wife Elizabeth, Nolan became a touchstone for those who appreciate smart and principled discussion. Most recently he ran as the Libertarian Party candidate for U.S. Senate from Arizona, against John McCain, pulling 4.7 percent of the vote.

His death was unexpected. Our prayers and condolences go out to Elizabeth, his family and friends.