David F. Nolan, 66

Co-founder of national Libertarian Party

David F. Nolan's belief in limited government helped lead to his co-founding the Libertarian Party with friends in 1971.
David F. Nolan's belief in limited government helped lead to his co-founding the Libertarian Party with friends in 1971. (John Miller)
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By Emma Brown Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 24, 2010

David F. Nolan, whose fierce belief in limited government, personal freedom and the free-market economy led him to band with a handful of like-minded friends to found the national Libertarian Party in 1971, has died. He was 66.

According to Mark Hinkle, chairman of the party's national committee, Mr. Nolan apparently had a stroke or heart attack while driving in Tucson on Nov. 20. He was found in his car and taken to a Tucson hospital, where he was pronounced dead early Nov. 21, Hinkle said.

The Libertarian Party has often been called the Party of Principle for its strict adherence to its ideals, even at the risk of alienating voters. It has advocated for limiting government in every sense, and its positions have included legalizing prostitution and drugs, removing restrictions on abortion and gay marriage, and ending U.S. involvement in foreign wars.

"The government's job is to protect you," Mr. Nolan told an interviewer in 2006. "Beyond that it's up to you."

No candidate has ever won national office under the Libertarian Party banner, but Mr. Nolan said he saw the party less as a major vote-getter than a way to inject libertarian ideas into the national political discussion.

"This very mania for 'winning now' is one of the factors that makes both of our present major political parties unlikely vehicles for libertarianism," he wrote in 1971. He added that "a third party, in contrast, can take a long-range approach - running candidates with no intention of immediate victory."

Although some libertarian philosophies have been relegated to the fringes, others - such as cutting taxes and slashing government spending - have become cornerstone ideas for Republican and, in the 2010 midterm election, tea party candidates.

"Our message has been co-opted," said Wes Benedict, executive director of the Libertarian National Committee.

The impetus for the new party was a national address by President Richard M. Nixon on Aug. 15, 1971. U.S. currency would no longer be pegged to the gold standard, Nixon announced, and the federal government would institute new wage and price controls to curb inflation.

Mr. Nolan, who had campaigned to repeal the federal income tax, considered himself a Republican until he watched Nixon's speech from his home in Colorado, surrounded by a group of friends. They saw the president's moves as an unconstitutional overreach of power.

"We heard the announcement that he made, and we looked at each other and said . . . 'If there was ever any doubt as to whether we need a party that stands for real limited government and individual freedom, then this should settle it for us.' "

Less than four months later, Mr. Nolan and seven others voted to form the national Libertarian Party. Its ideals were succinctly articulated by Mr. Nolan in a diagram known as the Nolan Chart, first published in 1971 in the Individualist magazine.

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