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The End of the Left/Right Divide?

Many commentators on the French presidential election have pointed out that old ideological categories no longer fit contemporary politics in France – or, indeed, anywhere else. But while Emmanuel Macron prides himself on being neither right nor left, the distinction has never been merely socioeconomic.

NEW YORK – After the French Revolution of 1789, deputies in the National Assembly who supported the revolutionary gains sat on the left, while those who opposed them and hankered after the old order of monarchy and church congregated on the right. Hence the political terms “left” and “right.” Many commentators on the French presidential election have pointed out that these categories no longer fit contemporary politics in France – or, indeed, anywhere else. Emmanuel Macron prides himself on being neither right nor left.

Marine Le Pen, whose National Front is associated with the far right, disagrees: to her, Macron, who was a minister in a Socialist government, is a leftist. But, like Donald Trump, it was Le Pen who ran as the “voice of the people,” whereas Macron, like Hillary Clinton, was depicted as a puppet of bankers, cultural elites, and international plutocrats.

So what do left and right still mean, if anything at all?

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