Origin and History of Left-right Political Spectrum

Historical Map for representative purposes only - no boundaries are claimed to be accurate by NYK Daily

The words (in the political sense) “right” and “left” emerged during the 1789 French Revolution when National Assembly members were split into two halves. The king’s supporters were placed at the president’s Right and the revolution’s supporters to his left.

One deputy, the Baron de Gauville, revealed: “We began to understand each other: those who were faithful to religion and the king took up positions to the right of the chair so as to avoid the oaths, shouts, and obscenities that enjoyed free rein in the opposing camp.”

When the National Assembly was succeeded in 1791 by a Legislative Assembly containing entirely new members, the split continued. 

“Innovators” sat on the left, “moderates” sat in the center, while the “conscientious guardians of the constitution” found themselves lying on the Right, where the supporters of the Ancien Régime had earlier gathered. When the following National Convention met in 1792, the seating arrangement remained. However, following the coup d ‘état of 2 June 1793 and the Girondins’ arrest, the assembly’s right side was deserted. Any remaining members who had sat there relocated to the center. However, following the Thermidorian Reaction of 1794, the far-left members were dismissed, and the order of seating was canceled. The new law included jurisdictions for the assembly that would “break up the party groups.” However, after the Restoration in 1814–1815, political organizations were again formed. The majority of loyal decided to sit on the Right. The “constitutionals” sat in the middle while independents remained on the left. The terms extreme Right and extreme left and center-right and center-left came to be used to describe the distinctions of different assembly sections’ ideology.

The terms “left” and “right” was not used to apply to political ideology per se, but only to seating in the assembly. After 1848, the main rival camps were the “democratic socialists” and the “reactionaries” who used white and red flags to identify their party affiliation. With the institution of the Third Republic in 1871, the terms were chosen by political parties: the Republican Left, the center-right, and the center-left (1871) and the Extreme Left (1876) and Radical Left (1881). The Radical Left’s beliefs were closer to the center-left than those called the Extreme Left.

Starting in the early twentieth century, the words “left” and “right” came to be associated with particular political philosophies and were used to represent citizens’ political opinions, gradually replacing the words “reds” and “the reaction.” Those on the Left often called themselves “democrats/republicans/communists,” while those on the Right often called themselves “conservatives/republicans”. Their opponents at first used the words Left and Right as slurs. By 1914, the Left half of the parliament in France was filled with Republican Socialists, Unified Socialists, and Socialist Radicals, while the parties that were called “Left” now sat on the right. The use of the terms Right and Left spread from France to other nations and came to be applied to many political parties worldwide, which often differed in their political beliefs.

There was an asymmetry in the use of the terms Right and Left by the opposing sides. The Right mostly rejected that the left-right spectrum was significant because they saw it as unnatural and damaging to unity. However, the left, trying to change society, propagated the distinction.

In British politics, the terms “right” and “left” came into everyday use for the first time in the late 1930s in disputes over the Spanish Civil War.

Historic Grouping of Ideologies

Usually, the left-wing is marked by a stress on “ideas such as equality, revolution, fraternity, freedom, internationalism, and reform.” Simultaneously, the right-wing is identified by emphasizing “notions such as nationalism, authority, duty, order, duty, and reaction”. 

Life is often regarded as communists, anarchists, socialists, left-libertarians, left-radicals, and social liberals. Rights are regarded as right-libertarians, conservatives, traditionalists, fascists, and reactionaries. 


France’s “left” and “right” identification trickled out to the rest of the world during the 1800s, but they weren’t popular in English-speaking nations until the early 20th century. The terms are now used to describe the contrary ends of the political spectrum, but their roots are still evident in many parliamentary seating arrangements. In the U.K., for instance, Labor and Conservative Party sit on opposite sides of the House of Commons.

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