You read a lot good nonfiction books about this idea of people being on the “left” of things, politically. Where does that idea come from, and what is that idea exactly? It is thrown around so often these days that it is somewhat hard to keep track of what exactly is going on with the concept. Various well written, nonfiction bestsellers, and indeed the consensus is that the left–right political framework is, a useful way of clumping together political positions, ideologies, or parties along a one-dimensional political spectrum. But that’s the problem. When you clump together things, whether those things are ideas, people, CDs in a music store, whatever, what happens? You end up coming up with, for instance, bands that can fall into two or more genres. That is not enough scratching the surface of how problematic this can get. Therefore, when you say that a particular member of the U.S. Congress is a Republican, and to label this person as somebody that is a part of “the Right Establishment,” would be making a gross assumption and simplistic assertion about the person. (It is the same reason racism is just flat out wrong.)
This perspective of “left and right”—that’s often played out in the best nonfiction books out there—is technically a dialectical interpretation of complex questions. That is to say that so called left-wing politics and right-wing politics are often presented as polar opposites, and although a particular, individual or party may take a left-wing stance on one matter and a right-wing stance on another, the terms left and right are most often used to describe two globally opposed political points of view.
The terms and framework is a bit of a floating body, as a lot of semantics are. The term actually originated in France, where the Left still implies the political party of “movement,” and the Right implies the party of “order.” By the French example, you can get an idea of how this is a useful way to describe opposing ideas.
In the United States, the Left has traditionally included social liberals and progressives; these are ideas that are most often aligned and associated with the Democratic Party in that country. Meanwhile, the Right is aligned most often with conservatism, fiscal restrained (again, supposedly), reactionary capitalists and the like.