Deconstructing the “Left-Right” Spectrum: Part I
There are many historic, widespread implications of the ongoing “Patriot Spring” phenomenon – the rise of right-wing, nationalist, populist parties all over the globe. Some see it as the greatest reversal of dominant left-wing leadership, from socialism to its global counterpart, globalism. Others see it as the near-death of political correctness and all other such tedious rhetorical details being forced on us as fact. While these are all true assertions indeed, I am prepared to argue that there is an even greater, long-lasting implication that is about to result from this ongoing global trend.
The basic, long-standing “left-right” political spectrum that we’re all so used to, is almost surely coming to an end.
Now to be fair, this isn’t the first time that the entire concept of “left-right” has been brought into question. Some have even attempted to create their own variation of the “left-right” spectrum, such as Libertarian Party founder David Nolan and his “Nolan chart.”
But this particular advent of right-wing populism has truly thrown this entire spectrum into complete chaos, particularly in Europe and the United States. There are many, many different examples that can be used to explain in greater detail, and multiple aspects that need to be covered.
So…it is time for yet another series, consisting of multiple articles tackling this subject.
Part I: How it All Began
Very few people are familiar with the origin story of the “left vs. right” dichotomy. When I finally found out what it was, I, quite literally, laughed out loud.
Historically, the modern-day understanding of “left and right” originated with everyone’s favorite failed revolution: The French.
In a meeting of the French National Assembly in 1789, there was too much confusion in the room due to supporters of the monarchy and supporters of the revolution being mixed in with each other. Therefore, someone declared that all those loyal to the king, and thus wanted more power for the government and less for the people, would stand on the right. Conversely, those who supported the revolution, and thus wanted more power for the people and less for the government, would stand on the left.
And that’s all there is to it.
So just like that, everything that we thought we knew about the modern-day interpretation of “left” and “right” politics has been reduced to the simplest – if not the silliest – anticlimactic origin story of all time.
In its time, however, this basic usage of “left” and “right” actually fit relatively well with the corresponding terms such as “liberal” and “conservative.” Indeed, many of the Enlightenment thinkers who influenced both the American and French Revolutions – John Locke, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Adam Smith, among others – were “classic liberals.” They revolutionized the world of philosophy and supported basic individual freedoms, with their ideas ushering in the new era of Republican traditions that spread across Europe and the Americas.
Conversely, the word “conservative” also aligned fairly well with those on the “right” side of the political spectrum, according to the original French definition. Conservatism, of course, refers to the disposition of one who simply wishes to “conserve” things – in other words, to simply preserve a society, a culture, or a way of life exactly as it is. In those days, of course, this meant preserving the traditional forms of government that had existed for millennia – monarchies, aristocracies, empires, etc., etc. Of course, this indeed meant that those who wished to conserve these forms of government were, in fact, in favor of keeping power in the hands of government rather than giving it to the people.
Obviously, a lot has changed in the 227 years since the idea of the “left-right spectrum” of politics was born. If we go by that raw, original definition alone, then many things that we seem to think of as “left” in today’s world are actually “right” – and vice-versa.
Over the course of this series, you will witness the complete deconstruction of everything you thought you knew about “left” vs. “right.” Brace yourselves.
You can follow the author on Twitter: @EricLendrum26.