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Wrong TurningsHow the Left Got Lost$
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Geoffrey M. Hodgson

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226505749

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226505916.001.0001

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The French Revolution and the Original Left

The French Revolution and the Original Left

(p.30) Chapter 2 The French Revolution and the Original Left
Wrong Turnings

Geoffrey M. Hodgson

University of Chicago Press

This chapter explains how the original terms Left and Right emerged in the French Revolution in 1789-1792. The Left and Right were divided primarily on the question of the legitimate source of authority for government, and secondarily on the question of universal and equal human rights. The Right defended religion and aristocratic birth as sources of authority. The Left rejected these, and sought somehow to root authority in the will of the people. The Left leaders of the French Revolution advocated an individualistic, property-owning, market economy, just as the English Levellers had done in the 1640s and the American revolutionaries in the 1770s. This chapter also contests the Marxist notion that 1789 was a ‘bourgeois revolution’. It was not primarily a victory of capitalists over feudal aristocrats.

Keywords:   French Revolution, Left politics, Right politics, individualism, legitimation of political authority, The Enlightenment, bourgeois revolutions

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