The Right-Left Fallacy
Our habit of dividing political opinions into a spectrum of Right and Left has its origins in the seating arrangements of the 18th-century French parliament. There was and is an ancient tradition of putting honored guests at the right hand of the host, and Christian scripture relates the belief that the saved will stand at the right hand of God while the damned depart to the left. Whatever the reason, the parliament was divided into two sides: those that favored the nominal authority of the King sat on the right side of the legislative assembly, and those opposed to it sat on the left.
The tradition of naming political positions as ‘left’ or ‘right’ has something of a problem with it.
Consider the original division. There are three ways the groups can be said to be distinct:
One group favored the existing status quo, while the other wanted to depart from it.
One group favored authoritarianism and aristocracy, while the other rejected those systems of thought.
One group was in favor, the other was not.
There’s no logical reason any of those ways must be related to any of the others. When authoritarianism and aristocracy are out of favor, is a group that approves of them on the Right or Left? When rejection of those things is part of the dominant status quo, is rejecting them Right or Left? That depends on which of the three principles one uses to define the spectrum.
‘Conservatism’ is often said to be a Right-wing political position. But at present, it refers to an ideology that is out of favor and has been for some time – the status quo is against it. So conservatism isn’t conservative, in that it now represents a break from the past. It’s also out of political favor. So why is it Right? By the original system, it fits two of the three criteria for being Left – and depending on how you interpret modern Conservatism and Liberalism, it fits the third as well.
Referring to political positions in this manner creates inaccuracies and obscures meaning. Habits of speech that act as barriers to communication in this way ought to be avoided whenever possible.