What do we really mean when we talk about "the Left"?
If you’ve read the political writings here at Tree of Woe, you will know that I use the term “Left” and “Leftist” with some frequency. I prefer those terms to the more commonly-used “Democrat,” “liberal,” and “progressive.” But what do I actually mean when I say “Leftist”?
Defining the Term
The terms "Left-wing" and "Right-wing" have their origins in the French Revolution (1789-1799), and they originally referred to the seating arrangements in the French Estates-General and, later, the National Assembly.
Before the revolution, the Estates-General was convened by King Louis XVI to address the financial crisis in France. This representative assembly was divided into three estates: the First Estate (clergy), the Second Estate (nobility), and the Third Estate (commoners). During the meetings, representatives from each estate had to sit in specific areas. As tensions rose, the Third Estate broke away and formed the National Assembly, which was later joined by some members of the other two estates.
Inside the assembly, members took their seats according to their political stances. Those who supported the monarchy and sought to preserve the status quo typically sat to the right of the presiding officer (hence "Right-wing"), while those who were more revolutionary and sought radical changes tended to sit on the left (hence "Left-wing").
Over time, the terms "Left" and "Right" began to represent broader political philosophies beyond just the context of the French Revolution. The "Left" came to be associated with progressive, socialist, and revolutionary ideas, advocating for change, equality, and redistribution. Meanwhile, the "Right" became associated with conservatism, monarchy, tradition, and the preservation of existing social structures.
Today, according to Chat GPT:
"Leftism" refers to a broad spectrum of political ideologies that prioritize social equality and aim to diminish the impact of social hierarchies, whether they arise due to race, class, gender, or other factors. Leftists argue that such hierarchies contribute to social injustices and advocate for the reduction or elimination of these disparities.
Well, I disagree.