Some Friday Feelgood: Why campaigners should take heart from Anthony Trollope, the Overton Window and Madiba

July 11, 2014

     By Duncan Green     

“Many who before regarded legislation on the subject as chimerical, will now fancy that it is only dangerous, or perhaps not more than difficult. And so in time it will come totrollope be looked on as among the things possible, then among the things probable;–and so at last it will be ranged in the list of those few measures which the country requires as being absolutely needed. That is the way in which public opinion is made.”

“It is no loss of time,” said Phineas, “to have taken the first great step in making it.”

“The first great step was taken long ago,” said Mr. Monk,–”taken by men who were looked upon as revolutionary demagogues, almost as traitors, because they took it. But it is a great thing to take any step that leads us onwards.”

— Anthony Trollope, Phineas Finn, 1868 (see left, peak beard definitely a Victorian thing)

So take heart all you ‘revolutionary demagogues’ demanding action on climate change, reining in the finance sector, redistribution, planetary boundaries, the care economy, limits to growth, international taxation, open data, or rights for any number of excluded/oppressed groups.

The Overton window, by the way, is a political theory that describes as a narrow “window” the range of ideas the public will accept. On this theory, an idea’s political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within that window rather than on politicians’ individual preferences. It is named for its originator, Joseph P. Overton. At any given moment, the “window” includes a range of policies considered politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too extreme to gain or keep public office.

Nelson Mandela put it rather more succinctly:

Mandela impossible is nothing

July 11, 2014
Duncan Green