Phi Kappa Sigma

David Nolan ’65

NEW YORK — David Nolan, whose opposition to the Vietnam War and President Richard M. Nixon’s wage and price controls impelled him in 1971 to join with a few friends to found the Libertarian Party to fight against government power, died Sunday in Tucson. He was 66.

Mark Hinkle, chairman of the party’s national committee, said Mr. Nolan appeared to have had a heart attack or stroke while driving his car. He lived in Tucson.

Though its membership has always been relatively small, the Libertarian Party became a forceful voice for limiting government regulation of Americans’ economic and political lives. It has argued for curbs on police power, lifting abortion restrictions, open immigration, and an end to foreign wars.

In the recent elections, long-held Libertarian positions were echoed in the firestorm of concern about deficits and government spending expressed most loudly by Republicans and Tea Party advocates. But Libertarians’ dovish views on military involvement and liberal attitudes about abortion veer sharply from those of conservatives. This week, as could be expected, Libertarians campaigned against airport pat-downs.

The party’s mix of conservative and liberal positions reflects an underlying belief that almost all government power is inherently coercive. Mr. Nolan came up with a well-known graph, called the Nolan Chart, to explain this phenomenon.

The graph has two axes: one labeled economic freedom and the other called personal freedom. Under Mr. Nolan’s scheme, Libertarians dwell in the corner of the graph where both kinds of freedom are greatest. His hope was to persuade people to think of politics as a debate between libertarian and authoritarian positions rather than as one between the traditional left and right.

The Libertarians grew to become commonly regarded as the nation’s most enduring political party after the Democrats and Republicans; several times the party put a presidential candidate on the ballot in all 50 states.

Mr. Nolan had no illusions that the Libertarians would become powerful in raw votes. But he hoped the party’s participation in elections would expose Americans to libertarian views as a means to effect change.

In this month’s election, he ran for the US Senate seat in Arizona held by John McCain, a Republican, who easily won reelection. Mr. Nolan earlier ran unsuccessfully for an Arizona congressional seat, again to draw attention to the Libertarian agenda.

“Most Americans think about politics when it comes to the dog race of elections,” Brian Doherty, senior editor of Reason magazine, a libertarian journal, said yesterday. “Electoral politics is the central context in which Americans think about politics.”

Though it is often said that the Libertarian Party was born in Mr. Nolan’s living room in Westminster, Colo., on Dec. 11, 1971, in fact it began on that date at the home of another incipient Libertarian in Colorado Springs. But the emotional surge that led eight people that day to proclaim a new national political party had begun in Mr. Nolan’s living room months earlier.

On Aug. 15, 1971, Mr. Nolan and four associates were meeting in his home when Nixon appeared on television to announce wage and price controls, a step the libertarians considered unconstitutional in peacetime. They also strongly criticized Nixon’s announcement in the same speech that he was taking the United States off the gold standard.