World and Nation

Founder of Libertarian Party, David Nolan ’65 is dead at 66

David Nolan ’65, 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, Ariz. He was 66.

Mark Hinkle, chairman of the party’s national committee, said 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, expectedly enough, 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. 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 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.

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

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

David Fraser Nolan was born on Nov. 23, 1943, in Washington and grew up in Maryland. He was influenced by the individualist fiction of Robert A. Heinlein and the novels of Ayn Rand. He went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the idea of being an uncompromising architect like Howard Roark, the hero of Rand’s “Fountainhead.”

After switching his major to political science, his involvement in conservative politics deepened. He was a founding member of MIT Students for Goldwater in 1964, promoting the Republican presidential candidacy of Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, and helped it become the largest chapter in New England.