Libertarians mourn death of party co-founder David Nolan

David Nolan
David Nolan

Libertarians are mourning the sudden death of David Nolan, party co-founder and author of the Nolan Chart, billed as the World’s Smallest Political Quiz.

Nolan died Sunday, apparently of a heart attack while driving near his home in Tucson, Ariz., just days short of his 67 birthday. He had just completed a campaign for U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent John McCain.

“David’s importance to the liberty movement cannot be underestimated,” said state Libertarian Party chair Barbara Howe. “His sudden death is a shock to all of us in the libertarian community. I pledge to carry on the work David helped get started.”

“I am saddened by the news of David Nolan’s death,” said LP national chair Mark Hinkle. “He not only helped found the Libertarian Party, but remained active and helped to guide our party for the last forty years.”

“David was a champion of the libertarian wing of the Libertarian Party,” said R. Lee Wrights, a Winston-Salem native and editor of the online magazine Liberty for All. “Throughout his years of activism and leadership, he never wavered in proclaiming the libertarian message without equivocation, explanation or moderation. He never once apologized for his philosophy, our philosophy… the superiority of individual rights.”

“However painful David’s death may be, his untimely passing makes me even more committed and determined to restore and preserve the vision of the Libertarian Party he and a dedicated band of visionaries first articulated in his Denver living room so many years ago,” said Wrights, a potential candidate for the 2012 Libertarian presidential nomination. “I am determined that David’s vision will never die, that the Libertarian Party will never be afraid to challenge the State and always, always defend liberty loudly, boldly and without compromise.

Nolan describes himself as having been born a libertarian, even though he was born in Washington D.C. He grew up in the Maryland suburbs, reading the science fiction of Robert Heinlein and the novels of Ayan Rand.

In the 1964 presidential campaign, as an architectural student Nolan was a founder of the M.I.T. the Students for Goldwater. The Goldwater campaign attracted nascent libertarians, since there was then no formal libertarian organizations let alone a political party. Although Goldwater lost, Nolan was active in the formation and leadership of several libertarian groups spawned by the campaign, including Young Americans for Freedom and the Young Republicans.

During Richard Nixon’s presidency, the Vietnam war, crackdowns on civil liberties and increasing restrictions on economic freedom led Nolan and other libertarians to became increasingly convinced that the Republican Party held no promise for freedom lovers. The break came when Nixon announced he was taking the nation off the gold standard and imposed a freeze on wages and prices, which Nolan denounced as “economic fascism.”

In 1971, Nolan wrote an article for a libertarian magazine entitled “The Case for a Libertarian Political Party.” Now living in Denver, he and a group of his friends began to expand on that idea and contacted libertarians around the country. On December 11, 1971 the Libertarian Party was born in Nolan’s living room.

During this same period, Nolan was working on the other accomplishment for which he is famous, the Nolan Chart.

“I kept scratching my head and wondering why people like us agreed with conservatives on a lot of things, but obviously had fundamental disagreements with conservatives on a lot of other issues,” he said “And why were there areas where we could see that liberals made sense – especially opposition to war and draft?”

Combining his architectural training and his political activism, in 1970 Nolan drew a new map of the political world that has all but replaced the old-fashioned left-right linear model. Later, Marshall Fritz, founder of the Advocates for Self-Government, refined the Nolan chart into a diamond shape to produce what the now well-known and popular World’s Smallest Political Quiz. Millions of people have taken the quiz online, it is referred to in over a dozen leading textbooks, and has been used in hundreds of classrooms around the world.

Nolan is survived by his wife Elizabeth.

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