Left wing is a misleading term

Before I start I would like to make three things clear:

  1. My criticism of the phrase “left-wing” is not an endorsement of right wing groups.
  2. Nor is it an accusation of deliberate deceit.
  3. I renamed this article repeatedly and am still not happy with it.

While I acknowledge that societies politics are often divided into two coalitions I have seen too many different ways of distinguishing them to believe that any particular division is universal. For the purposes of this article I am dealing with the definition of “left-wing” that I have most often met in conversation:

The left wing are the opposition to the establishment!

This though leaves three important questions unanswered.

1 – What is the establishment?

The original left wing were the opponents of Monarchy and Catholicism during the French Revolution. Many modern governments however are strictly secular democracies. Why then should a a party in the France of 2016 describe its self in the terms of two centuries earlier?

2 – What is the opposition?

There is no inherent reason why opposition groups should be allied and indeed they may have more quarrel with each other than the ruling powers. To take an extreme example two groups that want to overthrow modern governments are revolutionary communist and anarcho-capitalist. However both of them would prefer to live under an orthodox democracy than the society that the other wants to build. Should their shared distaste for the establishment put them on the same side of a political spectrum?

3 – What happens next?

For a movement to have any purpose it must aim to become the new establishment. Should it succeed would it be considered right-wing? If you wish to always be in opposition then you wish to be either ineffective or destroy for destructions sake.


It is becoming increasingly apparent that the “left” / “right” axis is becoming a hindrance as there are no fixed definitions within it and both have contradictory connotations from different eras. Therefore to have a productive conversation on the future of society I believe that people ought to state exactly what they are for, against and who they are allied with.

By Ryan McCoskrie

I am a nerd trapped in the country side of North Canterbury, New Zealand trying to get an IT-related career off of the ground. Legal disclaimer: Ryan McCoskrie is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com I'm also signed up with Fishpond but they aren't as strict about this stuff.

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