It seem like it's completely arbitrary, so I'm curious what the reason for having one direction to mean one thing over another.

  • 2
    Well, here's the wiki answer: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Gilead
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 3:30
  • Be aware the terms also no longer mean quite what they originally meant, and they can have shades of meaning unique to each country, too.
    – staticsan
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 5:50
  • @staticsan - Oh definitely, and these nuances are interesting too! In Europe a liberal is an economic liberal rather than like in America being a social liberal. In Sweden there's blue has a right connotation and red is for the left, while in America the democrats are blue and republicans red. Being a socialist in my native Sweden is similar to being a liberal in America, while in America it carries a near Marxist meaning. Being on the left or right carries the same meaning (although our center is more to the left than in most parts of the world).
    – Kit Sunde
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 6:09
  • I like to think the terms keep their popularity due to affinities that abound and congregate in the Collective Unconscious, or simply in each person's unconscious, where the same affinities abide, eg, "Good fences make good neighbors." poetryfoundation.org/poems/44266/mending-wall Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 15:59

4 Answers 4


The French Revolutionary era was where the terms Left-wing politics and Right-wing politics first originated.

The reason for the terms to become used at all was the seating of the ancien régime of France at that time. The aristocrats sat on the right, and the commoners sat on the left. So these terms evolved to mean so that right-wing politics refer to politics for aristocratic and royal interests, while left-wing politics refer to republicanism, socialism, and civil liberties.


It has to do with the French Revolution, and how the various parties arrayed themselves in relation to the King at the National Convention. The less radical revolutionists, the Girondistes, who were more sympathetic than their opponents to the Royalist cause, arrayed themselves to his right, as is traditionally done for guests of honour. The Montagnards, who later evolved into the very radical Jacobin faction, arrayed themselves to the King's left.


It has to do with church relegating the bride to the left side or siniestra (sic. sinister, left) side of the pews during politically arranged marriages. This because monarchs were religiously sanctioned by the church to further the aims of establishing patriarchal order, which sought social control by controlling women, who they married etc. This arrangement also prevailed at royal courts where petitioners also seated themselves according to which side of the appeal they were one. The relegation of the brides family to the left side of the church during weddings, and the view of left handedness as being wrong is still prevalent in today's society.

  • 1
    Do you have any sources for this? Commented Oct 2, 2015 at 1:59
  • 1
    the Right side is the Correct side, per the Bible in a LARGE number of cases
    – user12711
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 15:37

In politics, the sociological dividing line between Right and Left can be traced back to two obsessions:

  • the first (the torment of the Right) is a phobia of elements perceived to be incompatible with commonly used models in society
  • the second (the bane of the Left) is intolerance of models that appear to be imposed by society.

In order to capture the meaning of these lines, we need to step back in time and recall the turmoil we experienced early in life as we began the process of blending into society when, as kids, we entered Planet School - or more precisely, Planet Classroom.

Right there in the classroom we’ve all had to deal with a “ problem kid ”: “bad Johnny”- the student with the disrespectful, smug attitude and less than decent grades, the kid in the back that stole your lunch money, the chronic late - comer who seemed to own a single tattered and over - doodled notebook, the bully you best avoided if you didn’t want to find yourself running home bruised and with a ripped school uniform. The hopeless case that once had the nerve to show his privates to the girl in the second row and who always came back from the boys’ room reeking of cigarette smoke.

No doubt that “bad Johnny” has raised concerns - more for some than for others - within the classroom/society. However, we can’t forget that other classmate of ours who is at the root of perhaps even more devastating issues - “ Peter goody – two – shoes ”. He came from a good family, he always sat in the front row, paid attention in class, gave a helping hand to less fortunate people, had good manners, dressed smartly, respected the teachers, sported perfect hairstyles and neatly organized books. The one who carefully put his school supplies away at the end of class, who always did his homework, who had the best grades- the one who came to school early each morning and couldn’t seem to wait to get started. He was a model to look up to, our term of comparison when we sensed we couldn’t be good enough in the world of social competition. In fact, Peter popped up - in more or less obvious ways - any time our parents scolded us or our teacher criticized us.

And it was “ Peter good – two – shoes ” who really bothered us - especially when we felt his weight bearing down on our heads - a behavioral model imposed upon us by society.

It is of the utmost importance to note that, for the purposes of this “treatise”, “ Peter goody - two –shoes ” should not be considered “good” in an absolute sense - but rather a model society sees in a positive light (not always rightfully so) and, more than that, tries to impose upon us. Similarly, “bad Johnny ” does not have to be the bad guy - rather just something society – often erroneously - considers negative.

You can see how Peter goody – two - shoes bothers people who are emotionally Left - wing, while an aversion to bad Johnny is the hallmark of Right - wingers.

Biasimo Inverso

  • 4
    This doesn't attempt to answer the question.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 1:24
  • Thanks for coming down so fearlessly to the chopping block of the anonymous downvote and sharing all that with me! Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 16:26

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.