Study their behaviors. Observe their territorial boundaries. Leave their habitat as you found it. Report any signs of intelligence.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Nolan Space Is Contingent

Nolan Space wasn't created by the 10 questions chosen for the WSPQ or any other quiz.  Nolan Space is created by the objective facts that 1) the policy suites denoted by "Left" and "Right" are the dominant polarity in current and late-20th-century American politics, and 2) the main clusters of dissent from those suites (libertarian and populist) are defined by their disagreement with Left and Right over two sets of issues (viz., personal liberty vs. legislated morality, and economic liberty vs. legislated economic equality/security).
There is indeed nothing Platonic or a priori about the contingent affinities charted by Nolan Space.  If relatively few Americans were populist we might talk instead of a David Nolan Triangle.  If very few Americans were libertarian we might instead talk of a David Duke Triangle.  Or if neither, then the conventional Left/Right 1-D spectrum would finally be apt.  Or if the main kinds of systematic and consistent dissent from Left and Right were over franchise issues (animal rights, fetal rights, immigration, humanitarian intervention) and/or over technophobia/technophilia, we could have a 2-D or 3-D space where none of the axes were defined distinctly by economic liberty or personal liberty and instead the left-right axis invoked both.
At I've collected polling data from Gallup, Zogby, Rasmussen , the Pew Research Center, the American National Election Studies, and the University of Michigan’s Center for Political Studies.  All these data sources validate the Nolan Chart's model of the American electorate.  Studies using linear regression have confirmed the model for other Western countries, e..g. "Looking at Left and Right the Right Way: Multiple Dimensions and Electoral Outcomes" (Fesnic, 2004)  The model doesn't apply globally, though, as suggested in this look at data from the World Values Survey: "Social Modernization and the End of Ideology Debate: Patterns of Ideological Polarization" (Dalton, 2005).
It was a crystallizing moment of my political/intellectual life when I first laid eyes on David Nolan's chart -- the invention/promotion of which will likely secure his place in history even more firmly than for founding the LP.  I instantly and irrevocably recognized that I wasn't just an enlightened/tolerant Republican, and that I could never settle for being an economics-literate Democrat.  I instantly realized that I would always be a libertarian, and politics just became a question of finding the party whose sweet spot -- or at least circle of tolerance -- was most inclusive of the spot I occupied in Nolan space.
An even stronger epiphany was c. 2001 when I first saw in a macroeconomics textbook the standard 4-cell table that defines public goods, club goods (aka natural monopolies), common goods, and private goods.  (I reproduce the table at   That table forever shrank the space of possible political theories that I could ever advocate.  (The feeling was sort of like hearing for the first time in fifth grade about Special Relativity, and realizing that all the sci-fi about FTL travel and communication were in effect syntax errors if you want to think of this universe as Euclidean.  I'd love to say that there was a promote-able reproducible epiphany involved in my becoming geolibertarian, but that took several years.)


jonjayray said...

It is indeed true that a Left/Right continuum does not fit all the data or all people but an authoritarian/libertarian dimension fits nobody but a tiny minority -- see:

Brian Holtz said...

I don't see any hard data in that article, so I'll have to look for it later in your references. You seem to be focusing on the motive for the policy preference, rather than the policy preference itself. And it doesn't sound like you're disagreeing very much when you write "it is perfectly possible for people to be conservative on religious and moral matters but at the same time to be socialistically inclined on economic matters".

I look forward to seeing if you have any actual data that I can add to