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[Easy Chair]

Unmusical Chairs

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It’s often forgotten that the idea of the political spectrum—of politics having a left and right—has a physical origin. It comes from the seating arrangements at the National Assembly of 1789, the first year of the French Revolution. The terms we still use are remnants of how men once arranged themselves in a room according to their political opinions.

The Baron de Gauville wrote at the time:

Those of us attached to their King and their Religion positioned ourselves to the right of the presiding member, in order to avoid the shouting and the indecent language coming from the other side.

He tried sitting elsewhere—“in order to be the master of my opinion”—but found too much mockery on the left side to settle there. On that side, noted Adrien Duquesnoy, the delegate from Nancy, sat “men who no doubt hold exaggerated opinions at times but who in general hold a very high idea of liberty and equality.”

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