The Nolan Chart presenting "the world's smallest political quiz", and its oversimplification of individual liberty

Libertarians often present their worldview to novices with an illustration called the 'Nolan Chart', developed by David Nolan in the late 1960s.  In the 1990s, it was often presented as a format for the world's smallest political quiz.

caption: where Libertarianism fits the Political Spectri, on the Nolan Chart, with detailed oral explanations of the different areas

Our general experience in the US has been to view “conservative” as economically free but socially restrictive (in the purest “religious right” form, wanting to restrict sex to heterosexual marriage and wanting people to follow strict rules by biological sex).  “Liberal” has been the inverse:  considerable regulation of economic activity with an ample social safety net, to the point of near socialism (as in Scandinavia).   Libertarianism promotes both social and economic freedom, and authoritarianism restrict both, leaving wealth and freedom to those lucky enough to inherit it (that used to be feudalism).

The chart also presents Centrism as having aspects of both, generally respecting individual rights but sometimes requiring 'personal sacrifices' (as Wikipedia notes) for a common good, for example lockdowns during a pandemic or (maybe male only) conscription during war.

The chart, as presented, doesn’t show that under authoritarianism,  communism, for example, pretends to have the interest of all peoples in its forced (Marxist) expropriation of wealth, and indeed often fails to do so.   Fascism may be closer to Nolan's conception:  authority has a motivation in that one’s own peoples (nation, tribe, race, religion, etc) must take care of its own with an authoritarian structure, in a zero-sum game world where enemies are real and not all tribes will survive the challenges of the future. But fascism often also allows certain economic freedoms within a framework of statist capitalism.

More important to me is that personal freedom incorporates both social and economic components that are much more intermixed than the chart shows.

For example, although throughout my life I have tended (as a gay man) to experience 'upward affiliation' with attachments I desire (sometimes this leads to the countermand, 'do not idolize'), I often find that independent activities that are not dependent on the group approval of others provide support for my own self-concept. This includes personal mobility (I drive alone on many trips, which is not green behavior), and express my own views at length online in blogs and branded websites, without requiring that it be paid for (not trying to "play ball" by selling volumes of things) and without the approval of a social or political group that I am presumed to have to belong to. These are usually perceived as more like economic freedoms but they tied to social freedoms.

I don’t bond with people in groups very well and don't accept the idea of a group identity based on need or oppression.  That sounds conservative in a way, but in another way it is not.  Conservatism traditionally used to assume that everyone fit into a family – tribe structure and would bond with others according to traditional gender roles, and raise children and learn to take care of others in an expanded social structure (more what the Left wants) through having and raising one’s own family first and being socialized to “get it up” for lifetime in the context of strict monogamy. The Left points out people are born with different propensities (explained by genetics) and cannot all be expected to reach out to others just from a family or tribal structure.  The Left and Right may come together somewhat with the idea that to shine individually, people should 'Pay their dues” first and that leads to ideas like social credit.

I had to make screenshots of the charts to make them show up well.  Here are the Wikipedia attribution/permission credits.


This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.


By Seyed mohammad ali Hosseinifard - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

(Posted:  Friday, July 15, 2022 at 12:30 PM EDT)