Few Americans have heard of David Nolan, who died Sunday at the age of 66, but thanks to his efforts more of us know what it means to be a libertarian.

Does that really matter beyond a dedicated fringe who never got over Ayn Rand? Sure it does. Half of libertarianism - the small-government half - triumphed at the polls just this month.

But the other half gets overlooked, which is unfortunate. Libertarians generally want to live and let live, keeping government out of personal matters such as drugs, sexuality and abortion. And they typically oppose such military actions as the invasion of Iraq. They see themselves as neither liberal nor conservative, a position Nolan illustrated vividly with his famous graph showing economic freedom on one axis and personal freedom on the other. Libertarians want to maximize both.

The Libertarian Party that Nolan helped found in 1971 has carried the banner of these ideas into public consciousness, injecting a fresh perspective into policy debates, and for this we owe a debt of gratitude.

Libertarianism holds a special appeal for brainy individualists like Nolan, who don't need much of a social safety net, and this speaks to its inadequacies as a real-world governing philosophy. Yet it offers a useful critique of government meddling, and forces us to justify impositions (such as taxes, or conscription) that might otherwise go unchallenged. As an ideal, after all, live and let live makes a lot of sense. hN

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