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Brownstone Institute

These Amendments Would Open the Door to a Dangerous Global Health Bureaucracy


22 minute read

From the Brownstone Institute


One of the most extraordinary and disturbing aspects of the proposed amendments to IHR is the removal of an important clause requiring that the implementation of the regulations be “with full respect for the dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons.”

In its place, the new clause reads that the implementation of the regulations shall be “based on the principles of equity, inclusivity, coherence and in accordance with their (the?) common but differentiated responsibilities of the States Parties, taking into consideration their social and economic development.” It is hard to know how any sane and responsible adult could justify removing “dignity, human rights, and fundamental freedoms” from International Health Regulations.

The Covid pandemic gave the World Health Organization and its partners unprecedented visibility and a tremendous amount of “soft” power to shape public health law and policies across the world. Over the past year or so, the WHO has been pushing hard to consolidate and expand its power to declare and manage public health emergencies on a global scale.

The primary instruments for this consolidation are a WHO Pandemic Accord and a series of far-reaching amendments to existing International Health Regulations (IHR). The target date for finalizing both the IHR Amendments and the new Pandemic Accord is May 2024.

The net effect of the proposed text for the pandemic accord and the proposed amendments to the International Health Regulations, would be to create a legal and financial basis for the emergence of an elaborate, internationally coordinated bio-surveillance regime and significantly strengthen the authority of the World Health Organization to direct and coordinate the international response to global and regional public health threats.

It is not entirely clear why the WHO decided to negotiate a separate pandemic treaty that overlaps in significant ways with the proposed IHR amendments. In any case, most of the far-reaching changes to global health regulations are already contained within the IHR amendments, so that is what we will focus on here.

Even if the WHO failed to get a new pandemic treaty passed, the proposed amendments to International Health Regulations would be sufficient by themselves to confer unprecedented power on the WHO to direct international health and vaccination policies in circumstances deemed by the WHO to be a “public health emergency of international concern.”

The WHO wants the IHR amendments to be finalized on time for next year’s World Health Assembly, scheduled for 27 May – 1 June 2024. Assuming the amendments are approved by a simple majority of the delegates, they will be considered fully ratified 12 months after that, unless heads of State formally reject them within the designated opt-out period, which has been reduced from 18 to 10 months.

If ratified, they will come into effect two years after their announcement at the May 2024 World Health Assembly (i.e., around June 2026), as stipulated in the annex to Amendments to the International Health Regulations (2005) agreed to on 28th May 2022.

In other words, revisions to the International Health Regulations will pass by default rather than by formal acceptance by heads of State. The silence of heads of State will be construed as consent. This makes it all the easier for the revised IHR to pass without proper legislative scrutiny and without a public debate in the States that are subject to the new legal framework.

To get a flavour of how these changes in international law are likely to impact the policies of governments and citizens’ lives more broadly, it is sufficient to review a selection of the proposed amendments. While we do not know which of the amendments will survive the negotiation process, the direction of travel is alarming.

Taken together, these amendments to International Health Regulations would push us in the direction of a global public health bureaucracy with limited democratic accountability, glaring conflicts of interest, and significant potential for systematic harm to the health and liberties of citizens.

The amendments discussed below are drawn from a 46-page document hosted on the WHO webpage entitled “Article-by-Article Compilation of Proposed Amendments to the International Health Regulations (2005) submitted in accordance with decision WHA75(9) (2022).” Because these changes are being negotiated largely outside the frame of national electoral politics, the average citizens is barely aware of them.

Should these amendments come into force, States will be bound by international law, in the event of a public health emergency (as defined by WHO) to follow the playbook of health policies determined by the WHO and its “emergency committee” of “experts,” leaving far less scope for national parliaments and governments to set policies that diverge from WHO recommendations.

Insofar as national States formally consent to the IHR amendments, their sovereignty would remain intact, from a legal perspective. But insofar as they are binding themselves to dance to the tune of political actors outside the scope of national politics, they would clearly lose their freedom to set their own policies in this domain, and health policy “gurus,” instead of representing their fellow citizens, would represent a global health regime transcending national politics and operating above national law.

Under a globally coordinated public health regime, activated by an international public health emergency declared by the WHO, citizens would be vulnerable to errors committed by WHO-nominated “experts” sitting in Geneva or New York, errors which could replicate themselves through a global health system with little resistance from national governments.

Citizens have a right to know that the amended regulations as they stand would give unprecedented power to a WHO-led global health regime and, by implication, its most influential financial and political stakeholders like the World Economic Forum, the World Bank, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, all of which are largely beyond the reach of national voters and legislators.

There are dozens of proposed amendments to the 2005 International Health Regulations. Here, I will highlight eight changes that are of special concern because of their implications for the independence of national health regimes and for the rights of citizens:

States Bind Themselves to Follow WHO’s Advice as “The Guidance and Coordinating Authority” During an International Public Health Emergency

One of the amendments to IHR (International Health Regulations) reads, “States Parties recognize WHO as the guidance and coordinating authority of international public health response during public health Emergency of International Concern and undertake to follow WHO’s recommendations in their international public health responses.” Like many other treaty “undertakings,” the means for other parties to IHR to enforce this “undertaking” are limited.

Nevertheless, States party to the new regulations would be legally binding themselves to adhere to WHO recommendations and may lose credibility or suffer politically for failing to follow through on their international treaty commitments. This may seem “toothless” to some, but the reality is that this sort of “soft power” is what drives a good deal of compliance with international law.

Removal of “Non-Binding” Language

In the previous version of Article 1, WHO “recommendations” were defined as “non-binding advice.” In the new version, they are defined simply as “advice.” The only reasonable interpretation of this change is that the author wished to remove the impression that States were at liberty to disregard WHO recommendations. Insofar as signatories do “undertake to follow WHO’s recommendations in their international public health responses,” it would indeed appear that such “advice” becomes legally “binding” under the new regulations, making it legally difficult for States to dissent from WHO recommendations.

Removal of Reference to “Dignity, Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms”

One of the most extraordinary and disturbing aspects of the proposed amendments to IHR is the removal of an important clause requiring that the implementation of the regulations be “with full respect for the dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons.”

In its place, the new clause reads that the implementation of the regulations shall be “based on the principles of equity, inclusivity, coherence and in accordance with their (the?) common but differentiated responsibilities of the States Parties, taking into consideration their social and economic development.” It is hard to know how any sane and responsible adult could justify removing “dignity, human rights, and fundamental freedoms” from International Health Regulations.

Expansion of Scope of International Health Regulations

In the revised version of Article 2, the scope of IHR includes not only public health risks, but “all risks with a potential to impact public health.” Under this amendment, International Health Regulations, and their main coordinating body, the WHO, would be concerned not only with public health risks, but with every conceivable societal risk that might “impact” public health. Workplace stress? Vaccine hesitancy? Disinformation? Misinformation? Availability of pharmaceutical products? Low GDP? The basis for WHO intervention and guidance could be expanded indefinitely.

Consolidation of a Global Health Bureaucracy

Each State should nominate a “National IHR Focal Point” for “the implementation of health measures under these regulations.” These “focal points” could avail of WHO “capacity building” and “technical assistance.” IHR Focal Points, presumably manned by unelected bureaucrats and “experts,” would be essentially nodes in a new WHO-led global health bureaucracy.

Other important aspects of this new global health bureaucracy would be the WHO’s role in developing global “allocation plans for health products” (including vaccines), the WHO’s role as an information hub for expanded disease surveillance and research units across the world, and the WHO’s role as a a lead player in an international network of actors devoted to combatting “false and unreliable information” about public health events and anti-epidemic measures.

Expansion of WHO Emergency Powers

Under the revised regulations, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, “based on the opinion/advice of the Emergency Committee,” may designate an event as “having the potential to develop into a public health emergency of international concern, (and) communicate this and the recommended measures to State parties…” The introduction of the concept of a “potential” public health emergency, along with the idea of an “intermediate” emergency, also to be found among the proposed amendments, gives the WHO much wider leeway to set in motion emergency protocols and recommendations. For who knows what a “potential” or “intermediate” emergency amounts to?

Entrenchment and Legitimation of an International Bio-Surveillance Regime

The old Article 23, “Health Measures on arrival and departure,” authorizes States to require that travellers produce certain medical credentials prior to travel, including “a non-invasive medical examination which is the least intrusive examination that could achieve the public health objective.” In the new version of Article 23, travellers may be required to produce “documents containing information…on a laboratory test for a pathogen and/or information on vaccination against a disease.”

These documents may include WHO-validated digital health certificates. Essentially, this reaffirms and legally validates the vaccine passport regime that imposed prohibitive testing costs on unvaccinated citizens in 2021-23, and resulted in thousands and probably tens of thousands of people vaccinating just for the convenience of travelling, rather than based on health considerations.

Global Initiatives for Combating “False and Unreliable Information”

Both WHO and States bound by IHR, under the revised draft of IHR, “shall collaborate” in “countering the dissemination of false and unreliable information about public health events, preventive and anti-epidemic measures and activities in the media, social networks, and other ways of disseminating such information.” Clearly the misinformation/disinformation amendments entail a propaganda and censorship regime.

There is no other plausible way to interpret “countering the dissemination of false and unreliable information,” and this is exactly how anti-disinformation measures have been interpreted since the Covid pandemic was announced in 2020 – measures, it may be added, that suppressed sound scientific contributions concerning vaccine risks, lab origins of the novel coronavirus, and efficacy of community masking.

The joint effect of these and other proposed changes to International Health Regulations would be to enthrone the WHO and its director-general at the head of an elaborate global health bureaucracy beholden to the special interests of WHO patrons, a bureaucracy that would be operated largely with the cooperation of State officials and agencies implementing “advice” and “recommendations” issued by the WHO, which State parties have legally undertaken to follow.

While it is true that international treaties cannot be coercively enforced, this does not mean that international law is inconsequential. Under the newly amended regulations, a highly centralized public health bureaucracy would be propped up by lavish funding mechanisms and protected by international law. A bureaucracy of this sort would inevitably become entrenched and intertwined with national bureaucracies, and would become an important element of the policymaking architecture of pandemic planning and responses.

Though national States could, theoretically, bypass this bureaucracy and renege on their legal undertakings under IHR, taking a different path to that recommended by WHO, this would be rather strange, given that they themselves would have both approved and financed the regime they are boycotting.

In the face of opposition from one or more signatory States, the WHO and its partners could pressure such a State into complying with its edicts by shaming it into upholding its legal commitments, or else other States may reprimand “renegade” states for putting international health in jeopardy, and apply political, financial and diplomatic pressure to secure compliance. Thus, while IHR would operate upon State officials in a softer way than national, police-backed regulations, it would certainly not be powerless or politically inconsequential.

The impact of the new global health bureaucracy on the lives of ordinary citizens may be quite dramatic: it would erect a global censorship regime legitimated by international law, making challenges to officially sanctioned information harder than ever; and it would make international public health responses even more slavishly dependent on WHO directives than they were before, discouraging independent, dissenting responses such as that of Sweden during the Covid pandemic.

Last but not least, the new global health bureaucracy would put the fate of ordinary citizens – our national and international mobility, our right to informed consent to medication, our bodily integrity, and ultimately, our health – in the hands of public health officials acting in lockstep with WHO “recommendations.”

Apart from the fact that policy diversification and experimentation is essential to a robust healthcare system, and is crushed by a highly centralized response to health emergencies, the WHO is already riddled with internal conflicts of interest and a track record of catastrophically unsound judgments, making them singularly unqualified to reliably identify a global health emergency or coordinate the response to it.

To start with, the WHO’s income stream depends on individuals like Bill Gates who have significant financial stakes in the pharmaceutical industry. How can we possibly expect the WHO to make impartial, disinterested recommendations about, say, the safety and efficacy of vaccines, when its own donors are financially invested in the success of specific pharmaceutical products, including vaccines?

Secondly, to allow the WHO to declare an international public health emergency is to create an obvious perverse incentive: given that a large part of the raison d’être of a WHO-led global health bureaucracy is to prevent, monitor, and respond to public health emergencies, and the activation of the WHO’s emergency powers depends on the presence of an actual or potential “public health emergency of international concern,” the WHO’s Director-General has an obvious professional and institutional interest in declaring potential or actual public health emergencies.

Third, the WHO wasted no time in praising China’s brutal and ultimately unsuccessful lockdownscontinues to support the censorship of their critics, repeatedly recommended community masking in the absence of plausible evidence of efficacy, failed to warn the public in a timely manner about the serious risks of mRNA vaccines, and has entered into a partnership with the European Union to extend the discriminatory and coercive Covid vaccine certificate system globally. These are certainly not people I would trust as custodians of my bodily integrity, health, informed consent, or mobility.

Republished from the author’s Substack


  • David Thunder

    David Thunder is a researcher and lecturer at the University of Navarra’s Institute for Culture and Society in Pamplona, Spain, and a recipient of the prestigious Ramón y Cajal research grant (2017-2021, extended through 2023), awarded by the Spanish government to support outstanding research activities. Prior to his appointment to the University of Navarra, he held several research and teaching positions in the United States, including visiting assistant professor at Bucknell and Villanova, and Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Princeton University’s James Madison Program. Dr Thunder earned his BA and MA in philosophy at University College Dublin, and his Ph.D. in political science at the University of Notre Dame.

Brownstone Institute

A Coup Without Firing a Shot

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From the Brownstone Institute

BY Jeffrey A. TuckerJEFFREY A. TUCKER  

We all have a different starting place and journey but each of us has the following in common. We’ve realized that official sources, the ones we’ve trusted in the past, are not going to make any sense of the above for us. We have to seek out alternatives and put the story together ourselves. And this we must do because the only other choice is to accept that all of the above consists of a random series of disconnected and pointless events, which is surely not true.

The last few years can be tracked at two levels: the physical reality around us and the realm of the intellectual, mental, and psychological.

The first level has presented a chaotic narrative of the previously unthinkable. A killer virus that turned out to be what many people said it was in February 2020: a bad flu with a known demographic risk best treated with known therapeutics. But that template and the ensuing campaign of fear and emergency rule gave rise to astonishing changes in our lives.

Social functioning was wholly upended as schools, businesses, churches, and travel were ended by force. The entire population of the world was told to mask up, despite vast evidence that doing so achieved nothing in terms of stopping a respiratory virus.

That was followed by a breathtaking propaganda campaign for a shot that failed to live up to its promise. The cure for the disease itself caused tremendous damage to health including death, a subject about which everyone cared intensely before the shot and then strangely forgot about after.

Protests against the goings-on were met with media smears, shutdowns, and even the cancellation of bank accounts. However, and simultaneously, other forms of protest were encouraged, insofar as they were motivated by a more proper political agenda against structural injustices in the old system of law and order. That was a strange confluence of events, to say the least.

In the midst of this, which was wild enough, came new forms of surveillance, censorship, corporate consolidation, an explosion of government spending and power, rampant and global inflation, and hot wars from long-running border conflicts in two crucial regions.

The old Declarations of rules on the Internet put free speech as a first principle. Today, the hosting website of the most famous one, signed by Amnesty International and the ACLU, is gone, almost as if it never existed. In 2022, it came to be replaced by a White House Declaration on the Future of the Internet, that extols stakeholder control as the central principle.

All the while, once-trusted sources of information – media, academia, think tanks – have steadfastly refused to report and respond in truthful ways, leading to a further loss of public trust not just in government and politics but also in everything else, including corporate tech and all the higher order sectors of the culture.

Also part of this has been a political crisis in many nations, including the use of sketchy election strategies justified by epidemiologic emergency: the only safe way to vote (said the CDC) is absentee via the mails. Here we find one of many overlapping parallels to a scenario hardly ever imagined: infectious disease deployed as a cover for political manipulation.

Crucially and ominously, all of these mind-blowing developments took place in roughly similar ways the world over, and with the same language and model. Everywhere people were told “We are all in this together,” and that social distancing, masking, and vaxxing was the correct way out. Media was also censored everywhere, while anti-lockdown protestors (or even those who simply wanted to worship together in peace) were treated not as dissidents to be tolerated but irresponsible spreaders of disease.

Can we really pretend that all of this is normal, much less justified? The exhortation we receive daily is that we can and must.

Really? At what point did you realize that you had to start thinking for yourself?

We all have a different starting place and journey but each of us has the following in common. We’ve realized that official sources, the ones we’ve trusted in the past, are not going to make any sense of the above for us. We have to seek out alternatives and put the story together ourselves. And this we must do because the only other choice is to accept that all of the above consists of a random series of disconnected and pointless events, which is surely not true.

That leads to the second layer of comprehension; the intellectual, mental, and psychological. Here is where we find the real drama and incalculable difficulties.

At the dawn of lockdowns, what appeared to be a primitive public health error seemed to be taking place. It seemed like some scientists at the top, who gained an implausible amount of influence over government policy, had forgotten about natural immunity and were under the impression that it was good for health to stay home, be personally isolated, avoid exercise, and eat only takeout food. Surely such preposterous advice would be revealed soon as the nonsense it was.

How in the world could they be so stupid? How did they gain so much influence, not just nationally but all over the world? Did the whole of humanity suddenly forget about all known science in every field from virology to economics to psychology?

As time went on, more and more anomalies appeared that made that judgment seem naïve. As it turns out, what was actually taking place had something to do with a move on the part of security and intelligence services. It was they who were given rule-making authority on March 13, 2020, and that’s why so much of what we needed to know was and is considered classified.

There were early initial reports that the virus itself might have been leaked from a US-backed lab in Wuhan, which introduces the entire subject of the US bioweapons program. This is a very deep rabbit hole itself, thoroughly exposed in Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s The Wuhan Cover-Up. There was a reason that topic was censored: it was all true. And as it turns out, the vaccine itself was able to bypass the normal approval process by slipping through under the cover of emergency. In effect, it came pre-approved by the military.

As the evidence continues to roll in, more and more rabbit holes appear, thousands of them. Each has a name: Pharma, CCP, WHO, Big Tech, Big Media, CBDCs, WEF, Deep State, Great Reset, Censorship, FTX, CISA, EVs, Climate Change, DEI, BlackRock, and many more besides. Each of these subject areas has threads or thousands of them, each connecting to more and to each other. At this point, it is simply not possible for a single person to follow it all.

To those of us who have been steeped in following the revelations day by day, and trying to keep up with putting them together into a coherent model of what happened to us, and what is still going on, the ominous reality is that the traditional understanding of rights, liberties, law, business, media, and science were dramatically overthrown in the course of just a few months and years.

Nothing operates today as it did in 2019. It’s not just that functioning broke. It was broken and then replaced. And the surreptitious coup d’état with no shots fired is still ongoing, even if that is not the headline.

Of this fact, many of us today are certain. But how common is this knowledge? Is it a vague intuition held by many members of the public or is it known in more detail? There are no reliable polls. We are left to guess. If any of us in 2019 believed we had our finger on the pulse of the national mood or public opinion generally, we certainly do not anymore.

Nor do we have access to the inner workings of government at the highest levels, much less the conversations going on among the winners of our age, the well-connected ruling elites who seemed to have gamed the entire system for their own benefit.

It’s so much easier to regard the whole thing as a giant confusion or accident on grounds that only cranks and crazies believe in conspiracy theories. The trouble with that outlook is that it posits something even more implausible; that something this gigantic, far-reaching, and dramatic could have happened with no real intentionality or purpose or that it all fell together as a huge accident.

Brownstone Institute has published more than 2,000 articles and 10 books exploring all over the above topics. Other venues and friends are out there helping us with this research and discovery, issue by issue. Even so, a great deal of responsibility falls on this one institution, the main work of which is providing support for dissident and displaced voices, which is implausible since it was only founded three years ago. We are deeply grateful for our supporters and would welcome you to join them.

As for the intellectuals we once revered for their curiosity and wisdom, most seem to have gone into hiding, either unable to adapt to the new realities or just unwilling to risk their careers by exploring hard topics. It’s understandable but still tragic. Most are happy to pretend like nothing happened or celebrate the change as nothing but progress. As for journalists, the New York Times publishes daily commentaries dismissing the Constitution as a dated anachronism that has to go and no one thinks much about it.

There is a lot to sort out. So much has changed so quickly. No sooner than the dust seems to be settling from one upheaval, there is another and then another. Keeping up with it all causes a level of psychological brain scramble on a scale we’ve never previously experienced.

It’s easier to wait for the historians to tell the next generation what happened. But maybe, just maybe, by stepping up and telling the story as we see it in real time, we can make a difference in stopping this madness and restoring some sane and normal freedom back to the world.


  • Jeffrey A. Tucker

    Jeffrey Tucker is Founder, Author, and President at Brownstone Institute. He is also Senior Economics Columnist for Epoch Times, author of 10 books, including Life After Lockdown, and many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.

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Brownstone Institute

Is the Overton Window Real, Imagined, or Constructed?

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From the Brownstone Institute

BY Jeffrey A. TuckerJEFFREY A. TUCKER 

Ideas move from Unthinkable to Radical to Acceptable to Sensible to Popular to become Policy.

The concept of the Overton window caught on in professional culture, particularly those seeking to nudge public opinion, because it taps into a certain sense that we all know is there. There are things you can say and things you cannot say, not because there are speech controls (though there are) but because holding certain views makes you anathema and dismissable. This leads to less influence and effectiveness.

The Overton window is a way of mapping sayable opinions. The goal of advocacy is to stay within the window while moving it just ever so much. For example, if you are writing about monetary policy, you should say that the Fed should not immediately reduce rates for fear of igniting inflation. You can really think that the Fed should be abolished but saying that is inconsistent with the demands of polite society.

That’s only one example of a million.

To notice and comply with the Overton window is not the same as merely favoring incremental change over dramatic reform. There is not and should never be an issue with marginal change. That’s not what is at stake.

To be aware of the Overton window, and fit within it, means to curate your own advocacy. You should do so in a way that is designed to comply with a structure of opinion that is pre-existing as a kind of template we are all given. It means to craft a strategy specifically designed to game the system, which is said to operate according to acceptable and unacceptable opinionizing.

In every area of social, economic, and political life, we find a form of compliance with strategic considerations seemingly dictated by this Window. There is no sense in spouting off opinions that offend or trigger people because they will just dismiss you as not credible. But if you keep your eye on the Window – as if you can know it, see it, manage it – you might succeed in expanding it a bit here and there and thereby achieve your goals eventually.

The mission here is always to let considerations of strategy run alongside – perhaps even ultimately prevail in the short run – over issues of principle and truth, all in the interest of being not merely right but also effective. Everyone in the business of affecting public opinion does this, all in compliance with the perception of the existence of this Window.

Tellingly, the whole idea grows out of think tank culture, which puts a premium on effectiveness and metrics as a means of institutional funding. The concept was named for Joseph Overton, who worked at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan. He found that it was useless in his work to advocate for positions that he could not recruit politicians to say from the legislative floor or on the campaign trail. By crafting policy ideas that fit within the prevailing media and political culture, however, he saw some successes about which he and his team could brag to the donor base.

This experience led him to a more general theory that was later codified by his colleague Joseph Lehman, and then elaborated upon by Joshua Treviño, who postulated degrees of acceptability. Ideas move from Unthinkable to Radical to Acceptable to Sensible to Popular to become Policy. A wise intellectual shepherd will manage this transition carefully from one stage to the next until victory and then take on a new issue.

The core intuition here is rather obvious. It probably achieves little in life to go around screaming some radical slogan about what all politicians should do if there is no practical means to achieve it and zero chance of it happening. But writing well-thought-out position papers with citations backed by large books by Ivy League authors and pushing for changes on the margin that keep politicians out of trouble with the media might move the Window slightly and eventually enough to make a difference.

Beyond that example, which surely does tap into some evidence in this or that case, how true is this analysis?

First, the theory of the Overton window presumes a smooth connection between public opinion and political outcomes. During most of my life, that seemed to be the case or, at least, we imagined it to be the case. Today this is gravely in question. Politicians do things daily and hourly that are opposed by their constituents – fund foreign aid and wars for example – but they do it anyway due to well-organized pressure groups that operate outside public awareness. That’s true many times over with the administrative and deep layers of the state.

In most countries, states and elites that run them operate without the consent of the governed. No one likes the surveillance and censorial state but they are growing regardless, and nothing about shifts in public opinion seem to make any difference. It’s surely true that there comes a point when state managers pull back on their schemes for fear of public backlash but when that happens or where, or when and how, wholly depends on the circumstances of time and place.

Second, the Overton window presumes there is something organic about the way the Window is shaped and moves. That is probably not entirely true either. Revelations of our own time show just how involved are major state actors in media and tech, even to the point of dictating the structure and parameters of opinions held in the public, all in the interest of controlling the culture of belief in the population.

I had read Manufacturing Consent (Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman; full text here) when it came out in 1988 and found it compelling. It was entirely believable that deep ruling class interests were more involved than we know about what we are supposed to think about foreign-policy matters and national emergencies, and, further, entirely plausible that major media outlets would reflect these views as a matter of seeking to fit in and ride the wave of change.

What I had not understood was just how far-reaching this effort to manufacture consent is in real life. What illustrates this perfectly has been media and censorship over the pandemic years in which nearly all official channels of opinion have very strictly reflected and enforced the cranky views of a tiny elite. Honestly, how many actual people in the US were behind the lockdowns policy in terms of theory and action? Probably fewer than 1,000. Probably closer to 100.

But thanks to the work of the Censorship Industrial Complex, an industry built of dozens of agencies and thousands of third-party cutouts including universities, we were led to believe that lockdowns and closures were just the way things are done. Vast amounts of the propaganda we endured was top down and wholly manufactured.

Third, the lockdown experience demonstrates that there is nothing necessarily slow and evolutionary about the movement of the Window. In February 2020, mainstream public health was warning against travel restrictions, quarantines, business closures, and the stigmatization of the sick. A mere 30 days later, all these policies became acceptable and even mandatory belief. Not even Orwell imagined such a dramatic and sudden shift was possible!

The Window didn’t just move. It dramatically shifted from one side of the room to the other, with all the top players against saying the right thing at the right time, and then finding themselves in the awkward position of having to publicly contradict what they had said only weeks earlier. The excuse was that “the science changed” but that is completely untrue and an obvious cover for what was really just a craven attempt to chase what the powerful were saying and doing.

It was the same with the vaccine, which major media voices opposed so long as Trump was president and then favored once the election was declared for Biden. Are we really supposed to believe that this massive switch came about because of some mystical window shift or does the change have a more direct explanation?

Fourth, the entire model is wildly presumptuous. It is built by intuition, not data, of course. And it presumes that we can know the parameters of its existence and manage how it is gradually manipulated over time. None of this is true. In the end, an agenda based on acting on this supposed Window involves deferring to the intuitions of some manager who decides that this or that statement or agenda is “good optics” or “bad optics,” to deploy the fashionable language of our time.

The right response to all such claims is: you don’t know that. You are only pretending to know but you don’t actually know. What your seemingly perfect discernment of strategy is really about concerns your own personal taste for the fight, for controversy, for argument, and your willingness to stand up publicly for a principle you believe will very likely run counter to elite priorities. That’s perfectly fine, but don’t mask your taste for public engagement in the garb of fake management theory.

It’s precisely for this reason that so many intellectuals and institutions stayed completely silent during lockdowns when everyone was being treated so brutally by public health. Many people knew the truth – that everyone would get this bug, most would shake it off just fine, and then it would become endemic – but were simply afraid to say it. Cite the Overton window all you want but what is really at issue is one’s willingness to exercise moral courage.

The relationship between public opinion, cultural feeling, and state policy has always been complex, opaque, and beyond the capacity of empirical methods to model. It’s for this reason that there is such a vast literature on social change.

We live in times in which most of what we thought we knew about the strategies for social and political change have been blown up. That’s simply because the normal world we knew only five years ago – or thought we knew – no longer exists. Everything is broken, including whatever imaginings we had about the existence of this Overton window.

What to do about it? I would suggest a simple answer. Forget the model, which might be completely misconstrued in any case. Just say what is true, with sincerity, without malice, without convoluted hopes of manipulating others. It’s a time for truth, which earns trust. Only that will blow the window wide open and finally demolish it forever.


  • Jeffrey A. Tucker

    Jeffrey Tucker is Founder, Author, and President at Brownstone Institute. He is also Senior Economics Columnist for Epoch Times, author of 10 books, including Life After Lockdown, and many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.

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