This is interview #22 in JohnsonForAmerica.com’s “Important Voices” series, where we talk with key figures, such as elected officials, candidates, authors, commentators, and policy experts, about the issues of the day. A new interview is released every Monday and every Thursday, so check back often!
Our guest for today’s Important Voices interview is David Nolan. David was one of the people who played an integral role in founding the United States Libertarian Party. He subsequently served the party in a number of roles including National Chair, editor of the party newsletter, chairman of the By-laws Committee, chairman of the Judicial Committee, and Chairman of the Platform Committee. David originated the famous “Nolan chart,” which attempts to improve on the simple left versus right political taxonomy by separating the issues of economic freedom and social freedom and presenting them in the format of a plane.
Josiah Schmidt: How did you come to hold such a liberty-oriented philosophy?
David Nolan: Originally, from reading the works of liberty-oriented writers like Robert Heinlein, H.L. Mencken, and Ayn Rand. Then, by observing that the amount of freedom in a society correlates closely with its level of prosperity and happiness. See http://www.heritage.org/index/ranking.aspx
Josiah Schmidt: Could you tell us the story of how you helped start the US Libertarian Party?
David Nolan: I first became politically active in Barry Goldwater’s Presidential campaign (1963-64). After that, I stayed active in the Young Republicans until 1971, when Richard Nixon made it abundantly clear that the GOP was not the party of liberty. When Nixon went on TV in August, 1971 to announce wage and price controls, and to completely sever all connection between the dollar and a gold standard, a group of libertarian-minded people decided it was time to form a new party.
Josiah Schmidt: Explain to our readers what the Nolan Chart is, and how you came up with the idea.
David Nolan: The Nolan Chart is a two-dimensional “map” that shows the positions of various political/economic systems in terms of two variables: personal freedom and economic freedom. I came up with the idea in 1970 after realizing that a one-dimensional political spectrum (e.g. left vs. right) is woefully inadequate in its ability to show how different systems and ideologies compare to one another. The “World’s Smallest Political Quiz” is based on the Nolan Chart, and has been taken by about 15 million people to date. See http://www.theadvocates.org/quizp/index.html
Josiah Schmidt: Who do you think is the most underrated and underappreciated libertarian writer?
David Nolan: Interesting question. Probably someone we’ve never heard of, but among those we have heard of, I’d say Karl Hess, who wrote Barry Goldwater’s “extremism in the defense of liberty” speech and a ton of insightful essays on a multitude of topics. I knew Karl slightly, and he was a wonderful human being as well as a great writer. Since his death in 1994, his writings have faded from view to a large extent and that’s a shame.
Josiah Schmidt: What are your top three favorite books?
David Nolan: Tough question for a bibliophile like me! If we are talking about personal favorites, as opposed to “books everyone should read to better understand how the world works, or ought to” my top three would be: Alice in Wonderland / Through The Looking Glass (which I’ll count as one book), A Confederacy of Dunces, and Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. “Alice” is not only very witty, it has layer upon layer of meaning; it’s truly a literary masterpiece . “Confederacy” is one of the funniest books ever written; truly hilarious. And “I Am Legend” is a haunting, almost poetic evocation of alienation, of being “the last man on Earth.” It has been adapted into a movie three times, and none of the three movies is nearly as good as the book.
Josiah Schmidt: What is the significance of the burgeoning “Tea Party” movement, in your view?
David Nolan: It started out as a genuine, non-partisan grassroots movement of Americans fed up with overbearing, intrusive government. Now, however, it has been largely co-opted by Republican party hacks. Sarah Palin’s speech to the recent gathering in Nashville was stomach-turning.
Josiah Schmidt: What do you see as the future of libertarianism in America?
David Nolan: That’s very hard to prognosticate. Clearly, this country is in big trouble and “our” government is doing exactly the wrong things to create an economic recovery. And we are losing our civil liberties as fast, or faster, than we’re losing our economic freedoms. I’m afraid that pro-liberty ideas will be in a minority for a long time to come. Right now, I’d say the chances of the U.S. breaking up, with at least some areas becoming more libertarian (and some less so) is greater than the likelihood of the whole country “going libertarian.”
Josiah Schmidt: What countries do you think show the most promise for the liberty movement in the world today?
David Nolan: I’d say that the countries that are currently the most-free are the most likely to stay that way, or become even more free. Generally, the English-speaking countries (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland) have the strongest tradition of personal liberty and economic freedom. Switzerland has long been a bastion of freedom. Countries like Denmark and The Netherlands have some promise also.
Josiah Schmidt: What advice would you give to libertarians reading this interview?
David Nolan: Think for yourself. Don’t accept any pronouncement from any political leader or authority figure without thoroughly investigating their claims. Do they have the facts straight? Do their claims make sense? Whose interests are they serving?
Josiah Schmidt: Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
David Nolan: As I said earlier, I think the United States is in for a long stretch of fairly bad times. The consequences of bad policies (Federal Reserve funny-money, global interventionism, creeping police-state surveillance at home) are coming back to haunt us. Things are ugly, and likely to get uglier. So it’s important to develop an understanding of WHY we are in trouble, and how freedom is the solution to these problems. Stay principled, be outspoken, and support the people and organizations that are standing up for our liberties.
Josiah Schmidt: Thanks, David.