left often Left a. The people and groups who advocate liberal, often radical measures to effect change in the established order, especially in politics, with the goal of achieving the equality, freedom, and well-being of the common citizens of a state. Also called left wing.
b. The opinion of those advocating such measures. (The Free Dictionary)
The term dates to the French Revolution, when members of the Estates General who supported the revolution sat on the left, while those who supported the monarchy and the established order were on the right.
I have considered myself a man of the left after my own idiosyncratic fashion for about as long as I have given thought to such matters, using the term loosely and often with qualifiers, "in some sense," "after my own idiosyncratic fashion." It may be time to reconsider.
In France Jean-Luc Mélanchon garnered a whopping 19 percent on the first-round vote after a campaign where he identified himself with Bernie Sanders while running on a platform considerably to Bernie's left. For some time in France individuals and parties spanning the political spectrum, including the left, have held to the principle that resistance to the racism and xenophobia of the National Front is a moral imperative that trumps other considerations.
Mélanchon abandoned this principle when he declined to endorse centrist (progressive on social issues, economically liberal and pro-business) Emmanuel Macron in the run-off against Marine Le Pen. Reports have it that half of those who voted for Mélanchon intend to sit out the May 7 run-off. Their attitude is that they will support Macron only if he adopts positions that got 19 percent of the vote in the first election. This is the kind of all or nothing, my way or the highway thinking that helped make Donald Trump president.
A May Day rally in Portland was disrupted as the anarchist contingent tossed molotov cocktails, set fires, spray-painted buildings, smashed windows, and hurled rocks, bottles, ball bearings, fireworks, smoke bombs, and road flares at police and firefighters. Some two dozen nitwits were arrested. Yes, the authorities are not always above reproach, to say the least. A heavy-handed, militarized police presence contributes to an atmosphere conducive to confrontations of this sort. But the presumption held in some quarters that all blame lies with the authorities buggers credulity. The May Day nonsense can only be denounced.
Then there is l'affaire Ann Coulter at Berkeley. Twit though Coulter may be, if a faculty or student group invites her to speak in accordance with established policies of the institution, then she should be allowed to speak. The affair is complicated by suspicion that the whole thing was a set-up, a provocation whose aim was to make Coulter a cause célèbre that would give her ideological cronies ammunition for the charge that conservative speech is suppressed on college campuses by an intolerant liberal and leftist establishment. The waters are murked up further by the likelihood of violence precipitated by blockheads looking for a battleground, neo-nazis, Oath Keepers, and other militia groups on the right, anarchist and antifa factions on the left.
Am I excluded from the ranks of the left by pragmatic conviction that political engagement entails compromise and uneasy alliances, unwillingness to make even uneasy alliance with infantile romanticizers of violence in the name of who knows what, and reluctance to prohibit speech in any but quite extreme instances? Maybe it does not matter all that much. The old left-right distinction is something of an anachronism, and what comes after is fodder for a more extensive treatment than I am up to at the moment. The matter of where, how, and with whom to take a stand on issues of the day remains troubling.