The Early History of Conservatism

The modern right-wing has its roots in a particular historical event

Douglas Giles, PhD
12 min readNov 29, 2023

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An excerpt from my forthcoming book, Left Wing, Right Wing, People, and Power.

Burke, Edmund Burke, stirred but not shaken

The earliest uses of “Left” and “Right” in politics did not reflect political philosophies or ideologies. Instead, they indicated support for or opposition to a particular government. “Left” and “Right” as relative terms came from their first uses in the days of the French Revolution. In 1789 in the French Legislative Assembly, supporters of the king chose to group themselves sitting to the right of the assembly president, and opponents of the king sat opposite them on the left. The French newspapers of the time used the terms “the Left” and “the Right” to describe the opposing sides, and the usage spread throughout Europe.

Political groups in the 1790s used “Left” and “Right” to express common ground with one or the other side during the French Revolution. Before long, all political movements opposed to a sitting government were called “the Left,” with “the Right” referring to those who supported that government.

The French Legislative Assembly members who, in 1791, sat to the right of the assembly president were united by a common cause to maintain the position of the king, Louis XVI. On the one hand, their politics…

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Douglas Giles, PhD

Philosopher by trade & temperament, professor for 21 years, bringing philosophy out of its ivory tower and into everyday life. https://linktr.ee/dgilesphd