The Overton Window was a term first used in the 1990s by Joseph Overton, a former Vice-President of the right-wing US Mackinac Center for Public Policy, whose founding principles stated that, “The free market is a powerful engine of economic prosperity. We look forward to the day when the myths and fears of free-market capitalism are dispelled.”
He argued that an idea’s political viability depends on whether it falls within the window. Ideas that fall outside the window are to be banished from public discourse since they are out of step with ‘public opinion’.
Notice I have used inverted commas around ‘public opinion’ and that is because that opinion is defined by those who have turned a window into a mirror. They have narcissistically placed their world view at the centre of acceptable thought. ‘Mirror mirror on the wall, whose ideas can I install? Mine of course.’
Chances are that you have never heard of Mr Overton or his window, but you can bet your bottom dollar that our corporate media have not only heard of this particular fenestra, but spend their lives staring through it and polishing the glass. They also stand guard over it and decide what is allowed into view.
And what is in view is all that is in step with the neo-liberal agenda for promoting policies based on austerity for the many and wealth for the few, racism and war. This last given the Orwellian term of ‘liberal interventionism’.
I’ve heard a BBC political commentator claim that the Overton Window keeps out extremes that are both wrong and unworkable. Read that as too left or right-wing but, wait, what about Nigel Farange frequent appearances on BBC Question Time. The window must always be allowed some latitude towards the Right.
There is nothing new about any of this. In the 1950s sociologists Lewis Coser and Ralf Dahrendorf criticised the dominant sociological theories which emphasized the consensual, conflict-free nature of societies. They talked about forces of power, interests, coercion, and conflict. By the time I was a sociology student in the 60s, even Dharendorf was conservative for us as we turned to Marx and the ‘Communist Manifesto’, published soon after the 1848 revolutions in Germany, Italy and France broke all the windows.
Speaking of which I have been reading about the current strikes in France – not much on the BBC or in The Guardian. Who cares? We now have a social media which has turned its back on allowable opinions. The window is now wide open and we can jump outside and change the view.