Nolan Chart Political Compass

Having some debate with (apparently / claimed) “Libertarian” colleagues about the relationship to a “Liberal Democrat” position. Obviously quite different things, but what exactly? Are we talking the same language?

The Nolan Chart has been around since Hans Eysenck described it in 1954. David Nolan published his standard diamond representation in 1971, but he has partisan US Libertarian motives from the start, so his position is top, front and centre in his presentation.

Despite Eysenck developing the idea in a UK context, almost all development since Nolan has a US focus. (The people I’m in debate with are neither UK nor US, just to complicate matters. Basically I’m not believing they’re as Libertarian as they claim – a matter of perspective of lived experience vs ideals.)

The so-called “Simplified Nolan Chart” at least has “Left” where the UK experience would expect it, what the US would call Liberal (though confusingly in this square version the left<>right axis is not horizontal):

Like all 2D diagrams of the human world – thank Boston Consulting Group for their “2×2 BCG Grid” meme – there are many other dimensions and some developments have attempted 3D and more, with or without time. The best developed version I’ve found in web-searches is from “Atheist Republic” who clearly, as well as being pointedly atheist, are aligned with US republicanism, but so far as I can tell it only exists on their social-media pages and I can’t see who to credit for its creation. (The even weirder thing about this version – although the real-world positions map very well imho – is that it is flipped, with Libertarianism towards the bottom and Authoritarianism / Totalitarianism at the top. Doesn’t affect the ability to map, but may reflect political bias on whoever created it. It is in fact very close to the simplified version – apart from the flip – but with the “extreme” variants peppered around it.)

Where would the different political ideologies lie on the political compass test? - Quora

Whether good or bad, this version also maps Liberalism onto Centrism, which at least fits UK experience. The confusion with Left / Liberal is just one part of the modern shift that – unless you are one of the more extreme positions – Left<>Right is no longer really dominant and the question is more one of Freedom<>Authority.

Easy to see a Nolan-diamond un-flipped version of the above?

Anyway …

a holding post to be developed into a longer conversation.


Post Notes:

Thought … maybe the Cynefin idea (Complicated<>Complex) might free us from the BCG 2×2 Grid?

Oh wow, the new “Libertarians” that this dialogue was intended for are now promoting Ayn Rand as their hero. Looking more like extreme US Right Libertarianism by the day!:

7 thoughts on “Nolan Chart Political Compass”

  1. The terms “left” and “right” don’t imply political or economic doctrines except by association. What they seem to mark is a degree of trust in strangers or outsiders. People on the left tend to be more trusting of all humans, while those on the right reserve their trust for tribes or clans or in-groups. Concepts like “economic freedom” and “political freedom” don’t map perfectly across this distinction. Thus conservatives can be on the side of economic freedom, while among them we find protectionists; while liberals can be on the side of economic control, while among them we find enthusiasts for international cooperation. Or again, conservatives can be on the side of personal freedom, and still oppose the social practices of out-groups; while liberals can be on the side of government policy, while tolerating personal behaviours of all sorts.

  2. Hi AJ,
    Yes, I think left and right only mean anything in their extreme forms these days (be interested to know what you mean “by association?)

    I think you might be right about trust being central, although in a way it’s where the freedom vs authority balance comes from isn’t it – which people / contexts you trust people to make their own choices and which you feel the need for imposed rules, and where you draw the lines differently at national / tribal boundaries.

  3. When I say “by association,” I mean that communiism or fascism, for example, are economic or political systems involving specific doctrines, while “left” and “right” imply no particular system; systems are hung on them by association.

    Freedom and authority can apply differently for in-groups and out-groups. In-groups set a social expectation for normalized behaviours which inherently don’t need to be controlled, and which therefore can comfortably claim the attribute of “personal freedom.” Out-groups are interpreted as mis-applying the same freedoms, requiring the assertion of authority; thus fascism. Freedom and authority can’t be mapped to left and right without considering this extra social dimension. Therefore left and right can’t be reduced to them.

  4. Ah yeah, OK. Left and right only ever meant the direction, a “leaning” of a given system, not specific systems. Right more conservative of established authority, left opposed to that and spreading benefits (social & economic liberties and power) to a wider population. But they’re not specific “isms”.

    In fact distinguishing between isms and properties of (good) systems is part of the dialogue I was trying to start.

    And yes, the freedom and authority axis is about not just how much, but who you trust enough to share it with … “tribally” as we’ve both said.

  5. British Liberalism may be “centrist” in your view rather than leftist, but that is only because the british media portrays it as such, part of the typical leftist “moving the middle” aka the Overton Window, which you would expect when the British media was for decades government controlled, and the BBC remains that way and is the dominant media source there. Such a government dominated media establishment would never fairly cover any political agenda that advocated privatization, any more than you’d expect it from the Soviet Pravda/Tass propaganda outlets. The only free press in the UK was the newspapers and tabloids, and they still had to bend the knee for access.
    Conversely, the US was for decades a combination of PBS/Public Radio funded by the state, and corporate television, with a very diverse ownership of newspapers and radio stations. Newspapers and radio eventually conglomerated but laws against one company owning more than one in any market helped limit monopoly of media to some extent. The internet has flowered a huge diversification of news media, which the corporate and government press combat by labeling independent sources “fake news” and “misinformation” which is really just confession through projection.
    Anyways, the british political landscape does not cover the entirety of the Nolan Chart. Furthermore, until recent years, British Liberals tended to be soft-core libertarians compared to Labor and Conservatives, which, on a single axis chart, would make them centrist. Liberals have become neo-liberal corporatists, embracing oligopolies and social welfare systems to externalize the labor costs of the plutocratic oligopolists onto the middle class and petty bourgeoisie small business owners. They’ve gone from soft-core libertarians to soft-core fascio-socialist.

  6. Interesting thoughts, thanks.

    This post was meant to be the start of a conversation, not a definitive statement.
    Sadly, other priorities have taken over the discourse since then, but I need to come back to it.

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