How Corbyn is Winning

Shlomo Maistre at Samizdata:

What we are witnessing in the United Kingdom’s Labour Party is one of the main ways in which the Overton Window is shifted leftwards, as it has been doing for centuries in the Western world.

According to Overton’s description, his 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.

Jeremy Corbyn is probably unelectable in today’s United Kingdom, but by controlling a major political party the Corbyn gang are presenting dissenting Labourites with a simple offer they can rarely refuse: get with the (leftwing) program (or face the consequences, which can vary). Ultimately those who do not accept said offer will almost certainly be eventually rendered irrelevant to the Labour Party.

Many (probably most) of President Obama’s policies would be considered politically unacceptable by the climate of public opinion that prevailed in the United States circa 1980, for instance.

Like the leftists who have preceded him, Corbyn will lose the battle but win the war. Time degrades all things, after all.

This is what democracy looks like: the Left is shifted left by leaders and the Right’s politicians compete to acquire the support of those the Left abandoned in the center.

Rinse. Repeat.


See also Libertarian Alliance Tactical Note 17:

extremism really does shift the middle ground. In the main pamphlet above, I was unable to give examples from my own experience. Since yesterday morning, I can. Someone from a shooting club called in, and said: “I want to take a middle view between the speakers.” He then argued against any change in the gun laws. Without me there, he could never have got away with that. He would have been denounced as a potential Thomas Hamilton, trying to save his penis extension.

I think that perhaps extreme views like those articulated by Sean Gabb are one thing, but there is also a role for slightly-less-extreme views in paving the road in that direction. Either way, libertarians are the group most qualified to move the window back in the other direction. We cannot trust conservatives to do it for us.



  1. Indeed, and any discrediting of statism is always welcome. We are facing a slime mould of statist ideas, morphing, coalescing and generally devouring freedom. Every time we point out the benefits and goodness of liberty, be it ID cards, censorship, taxation or whatever, we can help to shift the climate of opinion. We also have economic law on our side, whether we have time on our side is another matter.



  2. There might be one or two trustworthy conservatives around, Scruton can usually be relied on to say something cutting & verboten. but no, definitely no trustworthy Conservatives.
    Thank you for drawing my attention to Sean Gabb’s leaflet on debating gun control, highly amusing!



  3. On Dr Gabb it depends what one means by “extreme” – after all Barry Goldwater (from Harry Jaffa) was correct in saying “extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice”. And when Sean Gabb is in that mood he is fine – say on the traditional protections of the Common Law. When he is de facto backing enemies of “capitalism” he is not fine – not because they are “extreme” (although they are), but because they are wrong. Ditto when he is backing philosophical determinism – or the botch that is known as “compatibilism”.

    Again his view of history, on such matters is the World Wars or the Cold War, is not bad because it is “extreme” – it is bad because it is wrong.

    As for S.M. – well we have fallen out over his opposition to (indeed denial of the possibility of) the rule-of-law and fallen out over other matters.

    However, I think S.M. is correct on this matter of moving-the-debate – and so is Sean Gabb correct about this.

    When Mr Corbyn demands vastly more statism he drags the Conservative Party government (and the whole debate) to the left – for example last week’s Spending Review was awful (more government spending for almost everything), yet it looked O.K. in-comparison-to Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell. They are so leftist they have dragged everything to the left.

    Mr Cobyn (and Comrades) have made the debate about “shall we have socialism” – so the argument “government spending is already much too high” gets made “unthinkable” – or at least outside the normal debate.

    And people like Mr Osborne can say – I have to throw tax money about (on education, health, overseas aid, “infrastructure”, housing, Speenhamland “Tax Credits”, Uncle Tom Cobley and all….) to stave off Mr Corbyn, you do not want him to take power do you………………

    Mr Ed……..

    Economic Law only works if people react to its consequences in a positive way.

    If people do not make the free choice to work with Economic Law – then it does no good. People still fall when they jump off buildings – but they still have to CHOOSE to stop jumping off.

    “But Paul – de facto bankruptcy is certain”.

    I do not disagree – but political leaders who do not want (have not made the CHOICE to support) more freedom, will just react to an economic breakdown with totalitarianism.

    Even if they are just the Warlords (or Witchdoctors) of some pile of ruins.

    Someone like (say) Franklin Roosevelt would never react by having LESS government – even if the economy did collapse. They would just blame “the rich” (the “Economic Royalists”) for everything – and try and get people to believe them. The mark of the charlatan in public life has (since at least the time of Pericles – and, oh yes, he was a charlatan) is to blame “the rich” or (now) “big business” for everything. And as this works with the human emotion of ENVY – it is a very successful political tactic.

    Someone like Ted Cruz might react to an economic collapse by pushing for government spending cuts and so on.

    But only because he already believed this was the right thing to do BEFORE the economic collapse.

    Want to know what government spending someone would cut in an “emergency situation”?

    Ask them what government spending they would like to cut RIGHT NOW.

    If they do not have a list of suggestions for cutting government spending right now (say getting rid of the Federal Departments of Commerce, Education, Energy and Housing and Urban Development) they would, most likely, not cut government spending in an emergency situation either.

    Much less difficult to just blame everything on “the rich” and “big business” and get the starving-masses involved in a witch hunt against them.

    How to move things our way?

    Say propose an income tax of 10% – if that is your platform then people have to debate it (if only to say how mad it is), and even if you do not get the top rate of income tax reduced to 10% you do get the idea of INCREASING the top rate of income tax quietly out-of-mind.



  4. Simon Gibbs – thank you for digging my rant out of a comment section and giving it a wider platform. My ego swells with vanity.



    1. Shlomo, thanks for the Wikipedia link. Very interesting info, complete news to me. :>)

      And it seems to me to be exactly how the world works. Of course, it is helpful if actual reality pushes the window along in the desired direction, as when the results of teaching youngsters to handle guns are seen to be practically beneficial. (“Two-year-old repels home invader using AR-15.” ) Although it’s fairly tough still getting a lot of coverage for such events (or slightly more realistic ones).



      1. There is of course absolutely no trouble at all in gaining media coverage for stories along the lines of “Two-year-old shoots sibling using AR-15” as these cater to the power elites’ fantasies of a disarmed and unresisting populace. “If it saves just one kiddie…!”


  5. I should have pointed out that I was first introduced to the term “Overton Window” by Glenn Beck – who has stressed the concept on his show (radio and television) for many years.

    It is a good point – even in losing (in the short term) one may pull the debate over to one’s direction.

    However, I would give a word of warning.

    Never say anything that is not actually TRUE.

    Objective truth (in economics, history, morality and so on) matters, if one starts lying one discredits one’s own position (at least if one is found out).

    One does not “pull the debate in one’s direction” if one just lies (and gets caught at it) – one discredits one’s position and the “Overton Window” can snap away (making the “unthinkable” very thinkable indeed).

    The Iraq war was a good example of this.

    One could make a good case that the 2003 intervention would do more harm than good.

    But the Rothbardian approach (of people connected to the Institute that bears the name of the Ludwig Von Mises) was to just mindlessly attack the United States – America was the cause of the problems of the Middle East (and so on).

    I call this the “liar approach” – one tells wild lies (say claims that the Soviet Union did not want to destroy Finland in 1940 – and Rothbard did make such a claim, as my friend Tim Starr has pointed out), and then expects the “Overton Window” thing to operate.

    “I have made an extreme claim (Uncle Sam is always wrong) others will argue about this (say defend the Korean War) – thus forgetting to push for the 2003 war”.

    But it does NOT work that way.

    What happens is people (quite understandably) react by saying……

    “You are a liar, you even claim that the West was wrong in relation to World War One and World War Two – if you say we should not intervene in Iraq now that means we SHOULD intervene”.

    The reaction is actually logically wrong – just because someone lies about (say) the Korean War does not mean they are lying about the Iraq War of 2003 (a continuation of the Iraq war of 1991 for which there was never a real peace settlement), intervention in Iraq in 2003 could still be a bad idea (I thought it was a bad idea).

    However, the effort to use the “Overton Window” by making an extreme statement has BACKFIRED. And the “anti war” movement in 2003 did backfire by falling into the trap of “America is always wrong – boo-hiss America”.

    Not because the statement was “extreme” but because it was wrong. Obviously wrong – and it alienated people.

    Only make an “extreme” statement is you really mean it.

    For example if after you have suggested a 10% income tax and getting rid of a whole string of Federal government departments – be prepared for the possibility (slim though it may be) of people turning around and saying……

    “O.K. let us do that then”.

    If you are not prepared (do not even want) people to actually agree with your “extreme” statement (if you were just trying to “move the limits of acceptable debate”) then you deserve the backlash when people try your policy and find it does not work.

    So make sure the policy you suggest is what you really want – that it would actually work.



  6. This was Mr Ed’s point about Mr Corbyn and his “Social Justice” anti capitalist Comrades.

    The policies that Mr Corbyn suggests would not actually work – indeed they would make things worse.

    Yes, as I said, Mr Corbyn could blame “the rich” and “big business” for the failures (as charlatans always do) – but Mr Ed’s (hopeful) point was that most human beings would eventually see through this.

    That objective reality would trump the Overton Window.



    1. Paul, you are absolutely 1000% correct. It’s astonishing how many people don’t bother to check sources for verification and accuracy, or just let go with whatever verbiage suits their POV, Thus doing lots of the lefties’ work for them.

      Credibility is extremely important. Every time we make a slip that way, we give the Enemy free ammo.

      Also you put me in mind of something James A. Donald used to say: The librul attitude generally is, “No friends to the right of me, no enemies to the left of me,” which is why the “Overton Window” continually slides to the left.

      Your first comment was also spot on, by the way. And besides the usual worry that if elected Sen. Cruz won’t be able to carry through on his promises (which is what usually happens, the Sith being rather of an example to the contrary if one read him more or less correctly in the first place), it bothers me a lot that he voted to give the Incumbent fast-track authority in regard to the TPP. I can’t understand it. The first thing we should all be thinking of is how to keep It from legitimatizing any more seizures of authority.



  7. I concur both with the OP and Paul’s last comment. A useful combination.

    Continuing to get points out there, e.g. via the Telegraph, for example, is at least a start.



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