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Does the Nolan Chart help or hinder the cause of liberty?

By Sam Wells
web posted March 5, 2012

Nolan ChartOne of my criticisms of how the libertarian movement has gone astray is the use of the famous (or infamous) Nolan chart often trotted out with a little opinion quiz as a recruiting gimmick by many Libertarian Party activists.  Whenever I voice some of my objections to the misleading graph among libertarians, they generally make me feel like I am raining on their parade or pissing on their shoes.  The depiction of the left-right spectrum portrayed in the Nolan chart and its underlying assumptions is mistaken on multiple levels.  I will only mention a couple here -- but I have long disagreed with the assumptions behind the axes and the freedoms they are supposed to represent.  Is libertarianism just a collection of positions on a dozen or so issues, some arbitrarily called "economic" and others considered "social" or "civil"!  Contrary to the public image often conveyed, libertarianism is not an illogical mish-mash of supposed "left-wing" and "right-wing" attitudes.  That approach is not merely superficial but wrongheaded.  Liberty is indivisible -- it is like one solid ball, with adult self ownership and private property as its core.  Notice that "economic liberty" is never defined as distinct from "social" or "civil" liberty.  The difference is just assumed.  Why would, for example, legalizing prostitution be more of a "social liberty" than an "economic liberty"?  Does it not involve the transfer of money?  So this portrayal amounts to soft squishy goo rather than a reflection of hard reality.  If a model is supposed to reflect the real world, the two-dimensional "libertarian" chart and its questionnaire fail in that regard. 

It is also assumed that "conservatives" -- those on the right of the spectrum -- are opposed to "social" freedoms as much as or more than those on the left are opposed to "social" freedoms and "economic" liberties.  This strongly implies that the Right in America is at least as statist as the left.   There is no attempt to weight the importance of the freedoms or positions of left and right.   Drawinng a false equality between left and right in this way the chart distorts the truth that in the real world those on the left are far more statist than those on the right.  If we empirically look at the voting records of conservative Republicans versus Democrats, there is a jarring contrast in difference between those voting patterns in both "economic" liberties and "social" freedoms. 

The Nolan chart ignores the fact that those on the left are fundamentally opposed to liberty down to their basic premises while most of those on the right just need to be more consistent to theirs.  While conservatives typically would try to persuade people to do what they consider to be the right thing on "social" issues in their personal lives, they do not typically press for legislation to impose their views on others -- even though many on the Left would have us think so.  It is, for example, highly unlikely that elective abortions could ever be outlawed in this country; that is a false fear.   But it has been those on the Far Left that have in fact succeeded in imposing their views and schemes by the force of legislation and court decrees on the rest of us -- from the income tax, the Federal Reserve, and to all manner of "environmentalist" regulations to stifle energy and industry in America and dictating how much and what kind of vitamins we may buy or consume.   The danger to liberty has always come from the Left.   It is the cat's-paw of oligopolies and monopolies.
The Far Left is fundamentally opposed to private property and maintains that all resources and all goods must come under social control which means government control which means control by a monopolistic few who control the government; no competing alternatives allowed.  Without private property rights no other genuine rights are possible. 

Those on the American Right do not have to be persuaded on basic premises as far as politics is concerned.  They already support private property and constitutional limits on the scope of government, or claim they do.   They usually apply those principles sensibly if they perceive real dangers to the security of our liberties.  They recognize what the founders knew, that freedom is not for everybody.  It is not for those criminals who initiate violence on the person or property of others.  Liberty under law is for peaceful adult citizens, not illegal aliens, criminal trespassers, murderers, thieves, or irrational terrorists who wage war against liberty and progress.  The prime purpose of government is to protect peaceful adult citizens from criminals and foreign threats.  The purpose of government is not so much to govern peaceful people (who can govern themselves) as it is to govern those who would disturb the peace by violating rights by initiating violence or fraud. 

What is needed for a more free society is for the American Right to better organize for total victory in the White House and Senate as well as in the House of Representatives so that there will be no need to compromise with the statist Left.  If we are going to begin to roll back the decades-long accumulations of creeping collectivism that have been imposed on our society we are unlikely to succeed as long as the Left controls any branch of government. ESR

© 2012 Sam Wells





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