The Overton window

The Overton window has come up in discussions. Here is an Overton window that I have a very distant connection to.

I’ve just found out I have a distant connection to the Laurel Bank house (recently relocated) in Queenstown. It was owned in the 1920s by Harold (and Eileen) Overton (see ODT). Harold is the son of one of my grandmother’s great uncles, who was mayor of Queenstown from 1927-39. His brother drove my mother’s family from Palmerston to Queenstown when they emigrated there in 1929, not long before my mother was born.

The other Overton window

I make no claims to be related to this Overton window. From Wikipedia:

The Overton window is the range of ideas tolerated in public discourse, also known as the window of discourse. The term is named after political scientist Joseph P. Overton, who claimed that an idea’s political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within a range acceptable to the public, rather than on politicians’ individual preferences.[1][2]According to Overton, the window contains the range of policies that a politician can recommend without appearing too extreme to gain or keep public office in the current climate of public opinion.

 

Overton described a spectrum from “more free” to “less free” with regard to government intervention, oriented vertically on an axis, to avoid comparison with the left-right political spectrum. As the spectrum moves or expands, an idea at a given location may become more or less politically acceptable. Political commentator Joshua Treviño postulated that the degrees of acceptance of public ideas are roughly:

  • Unthinkable
  • Radical
  • Acceptable
  • Sensible
  • Popular
  • Policy

The Overton window is an approach to identifying which ideas define the domain of acceptability within a democracy’s possible governmental policies. Proponents of policies outside the window seek to convince or persuade the public in order to move and/or expand the window. Proponents of current policies, or similar ones, within the window seek to convince people that policies outside it should be deemed unacceptable.

After Overton’s death, others have examined the concept of adjusting the window by the deliberate promotion of ideas outside of it, or “outer fringe” ideas, with the intention of making less fringe ideas acceptable by comparison.

At a less extreme level a common political tactic is to deliberately ‘propose’ more radical policy so the intended policy seems acceptable or tolerable in comparison.

 

Leave a comment

13 Comments

  1. adamsmith1922

     /  8th March 2019

    Interestingly I have seen references to this more frequently in recent times, for example in respect of Trump normalising many things previously unacceptable and for example in the UK and the US the rise of Antisemitism; the oppression of free speech especially the playing of the Islamophobia card, whilst denying traditional Judaeo-Christian values.

    Reply
    • Duker

       /  8th March 2019

      When you mention them like that -‘traditional Judaeo-Christian values.- you are just trying to frame your own Overton Window. I could mention a whole raft of ideas that were once considered Christian- the Judaism part is just nonsense- but will have you spluttering in your coffee.( prohibitions on interest charging!) The modern world made its most significant steps when it cast off Christian values and of course Judaism has largely been anathema to Christian churches for nearly the last 2000 years.
      there was a US Supreme Court Justice who was virulently anti -semtic and he was on the Court up to WW2
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Clark_McReynolds
      I say humbug to your idea of traditional Judeo -Christian beliefs. Theres only one in reality- thats ONE god, and yes the Muslims have that belief too

      Reply
      • Duker

         /  8th March 2019

        Seems as though ‘Judeo-Christian’ term was invented by Orwell in the 1930s and is only used in US because of their constitutional ban on government supporting a particular religion, in this case Christianity, so they try to wrap the Christian creed up in some sort philosophy that pretends its 2000 or more yrs old, when all they have as evidence is the ’10 Commandments’ [Dont covet they neighbors ass etc !]

        Reply
  2. Alan Wilkinson

     /  8th March 2019

    The interesting question is how it is moving. My sense is that it is moving in the direction of increasing social freedom and decreasing economic freedom.

    Reply
    • Duker

       /  8th March 2019

      You mean the long time shift from those with economic power having any restrictions at all…like around the time of Dickens….minimum wage ….. etc

      Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  8th March 2019

        Probably. The time when a little island nation of shopkeepers created the British Empire on which the sun never set.

        Reply
        • Duker

           /  8th March 2019

          Royal Navy more like it . Cook wasnt a shopkeeper- there was a titanic struggle for hundreds of years mostly against Spanish, then French for that Supremacy, mostly for the most income producing bits ( Caribbean is a backwater now, but the huge range of previous colonies shows it once was like the Middle East for wealth, eg US Virgin islands were bought off Denmark)

          Reply
          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  8th March 2019

            Adam Smith was a Cook contemporary and originated the phrase. Eighteenth century liberalism laid the foundations for British wealth and power. Twentieth century socialism destroyed it.

            Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  8th March 2019

            Duker. the ‘nation of shopkeepers’ is a quote from Napoleon.

            Reply
            • Kitty Catkin

               /  8th March 2019

              And it was meant to be a put-down. I forget what the original French was, but it was a sneer.

            • Duker

               /  8th March 2019

              Yes Kitty , something like that … but wasnt it in the context of the British winning the battles and Napoleon was venting at his generals.
              Goring did much the same when the Mosquito bombers ( the wooden wonder) flew over Berlin….”how do they they do this , the plane is (partly) made in piano factories ! ”
              The German armaments had to be ‘just right’

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  8th March 2019

              Yah boo, they lost, we won.

              I can’t remember when Napoleon said it, just that he did..

  3. PartisanZ

     /  8th March 2019

    I dare say the Overton Window has been considerably enlarged by the internet and social media?

    Yesterday’s “radical” and even “unthinkable” are nowadays rather passe …

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s