"The State of The World" Number 17
Complete Index Of All Issues
Why Are Politicians Called Left Or Right?
Politicians today are commonly classified as "left" or "right." How did that come to be?
In the time leading up to the French Revolution of 1789, members of the French National Assembly changed their seating arrangement in the Parliament so that the supporters of King Louis XVI were grouped to the right of the speaker, while supporters of the revolution were to his left. It was, in effect (apart for reasons of personal safety in a very emotional time) a public declaration of those who were patriotic to the king in contrast to those who were not.
After the Revolution, the new Legislative Assembly resumed and continued the seating arrangement, but with the former rebels of the left then seated on the right because they were then the ones who sought to conserve the new regime that they created. On the left were those who sought to make "improvements" to the revolution. Also at that time began a new classification that also continues today - those who sat in the "center" - pragmatic or self-serving members who would vote to support either left or right, depending on the matter at hand.
That "left," "right," and "center" political terminology was adopted by numerous other nations from its origin in France in the 1700s and is familiar in most nations today.
As for who are "left" and "right," the terms "liberal" and "conservative" are relative. By definition, all revolutionaries are liberals (i.e. they didn't conserve what had been established), but they immediately become the conservatives (who want to conserve their way of leading a country) if they become the new government (see When Do Liberals Become Conservatives?).