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What is the meaning of the distinction between Left and Right in western political thought?

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U-Card- 010155961 Pol 106-What is the meaning of the distinction between Left and Right in western political thought? "The words droite and gauche (right and left) are the two most frequently used words in the French political vocabulary but they defy objective definition in every sense". When Pierce uses these terms in relation to French politics it is because they were "invented" in the assemblies after the French Revolution of 1789 and from that point on left and right have been central to political discourse. Since the French Revolution bequeathed these words based on the seating arrangements of the assemblies when the people of the 'third estate' sat on the left hand side of the king, because the nobility were seated on the right, the position of honour, the custom evolved so that the radical and egalitarian sat on the left. Left was used as a pejorative term at the time but has since been associated with radical political ideas and movements. A collection of ideologies, developed in response to the traumas of the 1770's rather than as a social movement or as an organised political force. Admittedly an embryonic two party system was developed in Britain from 1760's but Whig/Tory and Court/Crown divisions could not be characterised by terms left and right. ...read more.


"Man was born free, but he is everywhere in chains". Rousseau expressed that social inequality has come about because men have allowed their God-given right of freedom to be usurped. Rousseau expressed ideas of everyone being equal in his utopia in 'A Discourse on Inequality'. This idea of equality has been seen in left wing writing throughout history in particular Marx. These writers were around at times of political and social upheaval and change, radical ideas often come out at such times. Distinctions of left and right are an their highest at times of poor economic climate such as Germany in the 1930's or even Afghanistan today or African nations such as Zaire. People are more inclined to go with more extremist ideas when they are financially and socially downtrodden. "In all societies... two classes of people appear - a class that rules and a class that is ruled." Gaetano Mosca. This is the idea of the 'Classical Elite Theory' and could be seen as a right wing idea. Society is in fact controlled by a minority, an 'elite' who exercise power primarily for their own benefit. We can see this idea as being a necessary aspect of all societies and unfortunately means that theorist such as Marx ideas can eventually happen, revolution as the majority rebel and reject the power of the few. ...read more.


Left and right still exist in the extremes and by using the current case study of the elections in France to take place 2oth April we can see the demise of these terms in actual modern politics. In the first ballot in the French elections there can be a larger number of candidates with extremist ideas covered such as Communists and Nationalists. But in the second ballot with only two candidates we should see that they are both more moderate and similar in their policies and ideas. This is an example of how left and right exist in modern society and are clearly different but in practical politics and the main stream of modern political thought they have lessened their importance. Looking at the political thinkers we can see that history changes our perception of ideas and where they are on the political spectrum. Liberal ideas throughout history are now seen as left wing and right wing ideologies, as represented by economic theories are seen as more mainstream in our current political climate. The distinction between right and left may well exist between thinkers and philosophers but how much does it exist for politicians? "Politics and the fate of mankind are shaped by men without ideals and without greatness, Men who have greatness within them don't concern themselves with politics." (Albert Camus). ...read more.

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