Left Right Center…What does it mean? Not what you think

“…there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong…”  H.L. Mencken


The building in the picture is the Palais Bourbon, Paris, France where the National Assembly meets.  The National Assembly is the national legislature of France, mostly fulfilling legislative functions similar to our House of Representatives or the British House of Commons.


Above is the current seating chart of the National Assembly.  This seating arrangement reflects a long tradition going back to the French Revolution where the socialist or liberal parties sat on the left and the monarchist or authoritarian parties sat on the right.  Note also that in France, the socialist parties were portrayed in red in sympathy with socialism and blue for the monarchists.

Why am I posting this?  I’ll dust off my old Political Science hat here for a moment to express some annoyance with political journalism these days.  The supposedly convenient shorthand has gotten out of hand to the point of being misleading.  I read that such and such modern American politician is far right or right wing and I wonder, what does that mean?  Is she hanging out the windows of the Palais Bourbon?  It’s just a seating chart.

I recently finished reading Frederick Brown’s  The Embrace of Unreason.  It is about the growth of the fascist politics in pre-World War II France.  Brown mostly focuses on two literary and political figures, Maurice Barrés and Pierre Drieu de la Rochelle among others.  Both were heavily influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche.  Both were Anti-Semites, and Drieu, who lived until the end of World War II, became part of the Vichy regime that collaborated with the Nazi’s.  Not all of the right in France were Nazi sympathizers.  There were those who sought to restore the Monarchy and to reestablish Roman Catholicism as the Church of France.

Brown also discusses  Jacques Doriot, who as a talented young man rose through the Communist movement to speak to Communist International conferences, and to meet with Stalin and Trotsky.  By 1936, disillusioned with Communism, he founded the PPF, a French party with a National Socialist program.  It was not uncommon in Germany for Communists to switch from left to right and become Nazi’s.  There was little difference.

Now it is either ignorant or dishonest to compare contemporary American politicians who favor abolishing cabinet departments of the Federal Government or cutting taxes to pre World War II French politicians such as Drieu, who actually sat on the right in the National Assembly.  American politicians who favor less government are comparable to members of the inaptly named Radical Party, who sat on the left as part of the Popular Front in the 1920’s and 30’s.  The Radical Party was anything but Radical; they wanted to return to 18th century ideas of the dignity of the individual.

Finally, how did the Republicans become red and the Democrats blue when the rest of the world has it the other way around.  Some commentators credit the late Tim Russert on NBC of commentaries about red states and blue states.  My guess is that it was a decision based on a technical issue associated with broadcasting color television called Chromakey.  When you see weather maps or data charts, they are usually projected onto a screen that has either a green or blue background.  If the weather person wears green clothes, he or she disappears into the map.  Too much blue on a map would create similar problems.  Just my guess.

Pictures and Charts are from Wikipedia.

About Richard Rollo

I am a retired Community College Instructor. I taught Political Science 1 American Government for 22 years in Southern California. I am originally from Northern Minnesota. My earliest years were spent in the living quarters of a rural Duluth Winnipeg & Pacific Railway Depot. Then my family joined the great 1950's migration to Southern California where I joined up with fellow baby boomers in overcrowded schools.
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