David Nolan felt politically homeless. His friend Jill had a nice home on the political left, where she favored free speech and other personal freedoms. And his friend Harry had a comfortable home on the right-wing, where he strongly favored free enterprise.
But David agreed with both. Whenever a “lefty” was advocating more personal liberty in expression or lifestyle, David cheered. Whenever a “right-winger” proposed more economic freedom, he applauded.
David knew he wasn’t a middle-of-the-roader with no strong beliefs, and he was definitely not a communist or fascist, because they were against both free speech and free enterprise.
He realized, instead, that the map of politics denied him a home. So David “pulled a Copernicus.” He redrew the map itself.
Just as Copernicus changed the way we view the solar system, David Nolan’s Diamond Chart is changing the way we view the political system. Someday it will be known as “the chart heard around the world.”
The left-right political metaphor originated in the 1790s, when the French Assembly rearranged its seating to quell disturbances. They placed Republicans on the left and monarchists on the right, with soldiers in between to prevent debates from leading to bloodshed.
Today, in the United States and Great Britain, “left” refers to liberals and “right” to conservatives. But many observers see inherent weaknesses in the left-right approach.
Political science professors Kenneth Janda, Jeffrey Beny and Jerry Goldman, in their textbook “The Challenge of Democracy,” point out that most Americans “do not fit a one-dimensional liberal-conservative continuum. If that continuum is expanded along another dimension, respondents can be analyzed more meaningfully.”
Howard Fineman (in Newsweek, Oct. 15, 1985) condemns “brand-name confusion” and says the “liberal-conservative labels are meaningless.”
Jon Carriel, amateur political scientist, asks the question, “If Stalin is on the left, and Mussolini on the right, whom do you feel closer to?” The overwhelming response, he reports, is “neither one.”
Kevin Phillips, publisher of the American Political Report, calls the liberal-conservative dichotomy obsolete because it fails to describe the nuances and divisions of U.S. politics. In a Nov. 27, 1984, Wall Street Journal article, he calls for an overhaul of our political nomenclature, and recommends a book by two professors at the University of Central Florida, William Maddox and Stuart Lilie, “Beyond Liberal and Conservative” (Cato Institute, 1986).
On the other hand, publisher David Bender defends the usefulness of the traditional left-right in his book, “The Political Spectrum. Opposing Viewpoints” (Greenhaven Press, 1986).
A breakthrough came when David Nolan, a graduate in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, published “Classifying and Analyzing Politico-Economic Systems” in the January 1971 Individualist. The Nolan Chart shows the highlights of the chart he introduced in that article.
Nolan divided human action into two categories, economic and social, so his chart has two axes, one to measure the degree of freedom in economic affairs, the other to measure the degree of freedom in social affairs. Then he plotted the positions of various political groups to see how they related.
Maddox and Lilie suggest a matrix approach with four quadrants: liberal, conservative, populist and libertarian. Their research indicates 17 percent of Americans fit in the libertarian quadrant, with baby boomers more heavily libertarian (22 percent), as are college graduates (32 percent).
In an article in Fortune magazine (Aug. 5, 1985), Thomas Moore quotes Harvard Business School Professor D. Quinn Mills, who estimates in his book, “The New Competitors”, that 60 percent of the young managerial group can be considered libertarian.
Even so, most of these people don’t know where they fit on the political map because the overly simplistic left-right scale does not allow them a home.
In my work exposing people to libertarian ideas, I often use the Nolan Chart, but I’ve made several modifications as shown in the Diamond Chart. First, I’ve rotated Nolan’s chart 45 degrees so the traditional left-right is horizontal rather than diagonal. Second, I’ve renamed the quadrant where Stalin, Hitler and Lyndon LaRouche would lie as “authoritarian.” The word “populist” doesn’t do justice to their policies.
The best way to find out where you fit on the Diamond Chart is to take the “World’s Smallest Political Quiz.” You decide your reaction to 10 statements of political action: five on personal liberties and five on economic liberties. Then use your score to plot your position on the Diamond Chart.
If you scored “libertarian,” and were surprised, you may wonder if the quiz is biased. A quick way to demonstrate that it is not biased is to answer the questions for your congressman, senator or presidential candidate. They will not come out libertarian.
In his 1971 article, David Nolan used his chart to predict a major shift in the dominant axis of American politics. He says that “the primary political development of the next few decades is going to be a shift in the position of the mainstream line itself.”
He sees the baby boomers causing a shift in the mainStream polarization from a left vs. right orientation to high self-government vs. low self-government.
Howard Fineman seems to agree with Nolan. He writes that political issues are better understood by dividing the political world into two camps: those who “look to action by a central authority” and those who “believe government cures are worse than the disease.”
The Diamond Chart gives any observer of politics an improved measuring stick for evaluating local and national politicians. It is better than the old left-right approach for several reasons:
It places authoritarians such as Marxists and fascists next to each other, rather than at opposite poles.
It allows us to better understand attitude shifts, as with the baby boomers.
And, most important, it gives a home to 30 million Americans who have been politically homeless — the latent libertarians.
What’s the definition of ‘libertarianism’?
According to family physician Kenneth Bisson of Angola, Ind., “Libertarianism is what your mom taught you: ‘Behave yourself and don’t hit your sister.”‘
According to the Internal Revenue Service: “Libertarianism is a political philosophy. The basic premise of libertarianism is that each individual should be free to do as he or she pleases so long as he or she does not harm others.
“In the libertarian view, societies and governments infringe on individual liberties whenever they tax wealth, create penalties for victimless crimes, or otherwise attempt to control or regulate individual conduct which harms or benefits no one except the individual who engaged in it.”
According to libertarian spokesman Marshall Fritz: “Libertarianism is self-government. It combines the best of both worlds: The left leg of self-government is tolerance of others; the right leg is responsible economic behavior.
“The combination of both legs leads to social harmony and material abundance.”
What does your score mean?
The personal self-governor score measures your tolerance for people who have differing ideas of health, love, recreation, prayer and other activities that are not measured in dollars.
A high score shows you have tolerance for different people as long as they are peaceful and don’t force their ideas on others.
A low score shows you want your standards of morality, safety and health to be enforced by political government.
The economic self-governor score measures your personal responsibility as a producer and consumer, how you support your family and how you use your money.
A high score shows that you value responsibility and believe that free-market competition is better for people than central planning by government. You tolerate variation in economic success, as long as people who acquire wealth do so by honest production and trade, not by theft, cheating or political pull.
A low score shows that you believe a good society can happen only when your standards of wealth distribution are enforced by political government.
Marshall Fritz founded the Advocates for Self-Government, a non-profit, non-partisan libertarian advocacy and education center. He was also chairman, founder, and former president of the Alliance for the Separation of School and State.