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The Nolan chart, with the traditional left-right policial spectrum on the dashed diagonal

The Nolan Chart is a political diagram popularized by the American libertarian David Nolan. He reasoned that virtually all human political action can be divided into two general categories: economic and personal. He developed the chart to illustrate the claim that libertarianism represents 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".



The chart and its concept are attributed commonly to David Nolan. A similar bi-dimensional chart appeared during 1970 in the publication The Floodgates of Anarchy[1] by Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer, with anarchism in the equivalent of the Nolan Chart's Left-Wing corner, fascism in the equivalent of the Right-Wing corner, "capitalist individualism" in the equivalent of the Libertarian corner and state communism in the equivalent of the Populist (Totalitarian) corner. In Radicals For Capitalism (p. 321), Brian Doherty traces the idea for the chart to an article by Maurice Bryson and William McDill in The Rampart Journal of Individualist Thought (Summer 1968) entitled "The Political Spectrum: A Bi-Dimensional Approach".

David Nolan first published the current version of the chart in an article named "Classifying and Analyzing Politico-Economic Systems" in the January 1971 issue of The Individualist, the monthly magazine of the Society for Individual Liberty (SIL). During December 1971, he helped to start the group that would become the Libertarian Party.[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, with each sample in the population assigned to one of the quadrants:

  • Top left — the political Left. Favoring government that taxes more and spends more for programs such as welfare, healthcare, education, Social Security and funding for the arts and that encourages more restrictions of trade and business regulations (which David Nolan labeled "low economic freedom"), but supporting personal freedoms such as abortion, homosexuality and illegality of the draft (which he labeled "high personal freedom").
  • Bottom right — the political Right. Those 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 such as abortion.
  • Top right — libertarianism. David Nolan's own ideology, corresponding with great freedom in both economic and social matters. Anarchism would be a more extreme form of ideaology in this quadrant.
  • Bottom left — the antithesis of libertarianism. David Nolan originally termed this philosophy populism, but many later renditions of the chart have used the label statism, authoritarianism or totalitarianism instead. Communitarianism is also represented by this quadrant.

See also


  1. ^ Sphere Books.
  2. ^ "David Nolan - Libertarian Celebrity". Advocates for Self Government. Retrieved 2008-09-09. 

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Nolan Chart

Nolan Charts

Nolan Chart (plural Nolan Charts)

  1. A two-dimensional chart that graphs the political spectrum, mapping cultural issues on one axis and economic issues on another axis to represent liberalism, libertarianism, conservatism and the opposite of libertarianism (populism, totalitarianism, authoritarianism or communitarianism)

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