WARWICK – The just-concluded French presidential election seemed to suggest that the old left-right divisions are as potent as they have ever been – and certainly in their birthplace. But are they?
The modern political spectrum is an artifact of the seating arrangements at the French National Assembly after the revolution of 1789. To the right of the Assembly’s president sat the supporters of King and Church, while to the left sat their opponents, whose only point of agreement was the need for institutional reform. The distinction capitalized on long-standing cultural associations of right- and left-handedness with, respectively, trust and suspicion – in this case, of the status quo.