“Right” and “Left”

The terms “Right” and “Left,” as applied to political standing, originated in France in 1789.

That year, the French National Assembly was created as a parliamentary body to move control of issues, such as taxation, from the king to the citizenry.

The Bastille would be stormed that July. The French Revolution was about to explode into violence and terror.

France in 1789 consisted of three Estates. The First Estate consisted of the clergy and religious leaders. The Second Estate was made up of the nobility. The peasants and common people made up the Third Estate. The Third Estate comprised some 96% of France, yet they were easily the poorest and least influential of the Estates.

When Louis XVI locked the National Assembly out of their meeting place, they met on the tennis court at the Louvre. They swore not to disband until a constitution had been established.

When the full Assembly met, members of the Second Estate sat on the right side of the presiding officer while those of the Third Estate sat on the left. The Second Estate (the nobility) were more conservative in their views, wanting to maintain as much of the previous system as possible. The Third Estate understandably was more liberal, demanding more change and blind equality than an aristocratic system was capable of. Through the years “Right” has come to mean “conservative” and “Left” has come to mean “liberal.”

It’s that simple.

And, as much as some may want to believe it, “Right” doesn’t always mean “correct” in politics. Generally, both “left” and “right” end up meaning “wrong.”