The Divide

Political discourse often revolves around the left-right divide; I use these terms a lot myself. But it's prudent to keep in mind that this black and white division actually is an over-simplification of political reality. Therefore I'll briefly discuss the origin of this polarizing split in the middle of a complicated political spectrum.


Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images - source: Pixabay

For me the easiest and most obvious separation between the political left and right is to say that conservatives are on the right, and progressives are on the left. I also think that this explains a lot of the social and economical principles found on the opposing sides; on the left we find a focus on ideas like liberty, equality and progress, while on the right there's more focus on authority, hierarchy and tradition. If we define "progress" as a tendency to move away from existing power structures towards more egalitarian structures, it's easy to see how this opposes "tradition" and the tendency to keep intact existing power structures (hierarchies). And when we realize that these power structures are economically defined, we see how the political left is much more skeptical about capitalism, and more willing to give credence to alternative economical structures.

The left versus right paradigm originated in France where during the first stages of the French revolution the "National Constituent Assembly" was formed. It represented the common people of France and demanded that the king make economic reforms to insure that the people had food to eat. In these days, a large portion of the French population still supported the king. The main task of this National Constituent Assembly was to create the constitution. On November 11, 1789, the assembly had to vote on whether the constitution would grant the king an absolute veto, or just a partial veto. Those who were in favor of granting the king an absolute veto were asked to sit on the right of the president of the assembly, and those who only wanted the king to have a partial veto, which was the more progressive position, were asked to sit on his left. This was done, simply to make the counting easier (there were 1500 members total in the assembly), and had no symbolic significance at all. That was the start of this idea of change versus tradition.

I found a short video that explains all this; it's linked below. In the following months the assembly held on to this practice of sitting to the left or right, and I like the quote used in the video to illustrate this:

"We began to recognize each other; those who were loyal to religion and the king took up positions to the right of the chair, so as to avoid the shouts, oaths, and indecencies that enjoyed free reign in the opposing camp"

There you have it: progressives are, and always have been the ones to denounce and fight against the status quo. That's why I don't completely agree with the conclusion drawn in the video, namely that the left versus right division is useless, and why I will keep using these terms in the knowledge that most people will understand how this basic difference shows in all kinds of social, economical and ethical fields on both sides. Even if it's a gross simplification and it's possible for one person to hold opinions that align to both sides of the political spectrum.

Political Spectrums Explained — Why is there a left wing and right wing?

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