The “Overton Window” and Secession


In a recent article in the London Review of Books, the writer John Lanchester discussed a concept known as “the Overton Window” (bear with me, this does have something to do with secession):

The ‘Overton window’ is a term from political science meaning the acceptable range of political thought in a culture at a given moment. It was the creation of Joseph Overton, a think-tank intellectual based in Michigan, who died in 2003 at 43 after a solo plane accident. His crucial insight, one which both emerged from and was central to the work of the think tank Right, was that the window of acceptability can be moved. An idea can start far outside the political mainstream – flat taxes, abolish the IRS, more guns in schools, building a beautiful wall and making Mexico pay – but once it has been stated and argued for, framed and restated, it becomes thinkable. It crosses over from the fringe of right-wing think-tankery to journalistic fellow-travellers; then it crosses over to the fringe of electoral politics; then it becomes a thing people start seriously advocating as a possible policy. The window has moved, and rough beasts come slouching through it to be born.

As I read this yesterday afternoon, I was reminded (once again confirming Samuel Johnson’s insight that “men more frequently require to be reminded than informed”) of this: “Three out of Five Texans Support Secession if Hilary Becomes President.”

I have written about this potential scenario (see here) and am saddened to have my views confirmed. So, all the work over the years of individuals advocating the idea that secession was constitutional, or that the Civil War was about “states rights” and not slavery, or that secession was a good thing, have borne fruit.

Fortunately, Texas Governor Greg Abbot has said (see here) that “Texit” is not something he advocates. Good for Governor Abbot. But what amazes me is that the Governor of any state has to confirm this at all. And thus, to the detriment of the country, the “Overton Window” has shifted to the point where secession, over one-hundred-and-fifty-years after the Civil War, is once again an acceptable topic of discussion in American politics.