In the United States, Progressivism has been associated with sets of (normally left leaning relative to the political spectrum of the time) political reforms whose number and societal effect were noticeable in the time period. These reforms have been traditionally tempered, or opposed by - normally right wing or right leaning- groups called Conservatives.

The opposite of Progressivism, from this standpoint, seems to be Reactionary reforms. That is, a (typically) right-wing movement that gains historical notoriety by the number of reforms overturned, or reforms antithetical to Progressive ideas enacted, with comparable societal effect and number as a Progressive movement would be. However, unlike in the general Progressive-Conservative dynamic I mentioned in the first paragraph, I have not heard of the countervailing political movement during a Reactionary period That is, I do not know the second political term that would accompany a Reactionary-??? Dynamic.


Given the political dynamics explained above, what is the term for the countervailing political movement to Reactionism that would be analogous to the "Conservative" counter-weight of a "Progressive-Conservative" dynamic?

  • I'll try to expand this into an answer if I have time but the most common term is "radical". See the article "Radical, liberal, conservative, reactionary: Making them distinctions which distinguish."
    – Brian Z
    Aug 7, 2020 at 14:55
  • I have read multiple sources that claim a circle is a better model than a line, and that the extremes of the left and the right are closer to one another than they are to the middle. Anarchists, for example, can be found at the very extreme end of the left wing and at the very extreme end of the right wing. If this is the case, there is no opposite because at those extreme extremes there isn't much of a difference. Another way of looking at it: What is typically called the center is the opposite of reactionaries, and also is the opposite of revolutionaries. Aug 8, 2020 at 6:30

2 Answers 2


Technically speaking, I suppose the counterpoint to 'reactionary' would be 'revolutionary'. The term 'reactionary' refers to elements of conservative movements who are not merely concerned with preserving social, political, and economic traditions and institutions, but who actively try to (re)assert defunct, discarded, or sometimes even imaginary traditions and institutions. If a conservative is someone who says 'let's not break what we have for the sake of progress', a reactionary is someone who actively wants to break what progress we have in order to return to some idealized previous moment.

We see that same distinction between progressives and revolutionaries. A progressive wants the current social, political, and economic system to evolve into something 'better' through more-or-less standard political means; a revolutionary wants to toss the current status quo in the garbage bin and throw in a match, rebuilding institutions from the ground up.

However, it's worth noting that reactionaries and revolutionaries are largely indistinguishable: both groups are people who have decided to become progressively more violent in the pursuit of an ideal. Reactionary and revolutionary movements are not really the ends of the Left/Right spectrum. R/R reflects a separate dimension: a Civil/Militant dimension. On one end there are conservatives and progressives who want to engage with and work within civil democratic institutions, on the other there are conservatives and progressives who reject civil democratic institutions and wish to force their ideology on others. The more 'ends justifies the means' a group becomes, the more they lean towards militancy.

  • 1
    Not sure if worth adding specific examples, e.g. reactionary would want to bring back Monarchy when the current state is a republic/democracy. Great answer anyway
    – user4012
    Aug 8, 2020 at 3:03
  • Also, may be worth just out and out cite the Wikipedia in this case? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reactionary
    – user4012
    Aug 8, 2020 at 3:05

Reactionaries are the opposites of Progressives.

Simply put, Progressivism tries to push things "forward", Reactionaries want to push things "backward", and Conservatism wants to keep things the same. Progressivism isn't Conservatism's opposite; Conservatism is the middle value on a scale between Progressivism and Reactionaries. It's simply that our current political climate and political systems don't allow for a proper Reactionary movement to form, and as a result, most of the political conflict is between Conservatives and Progressives. This can be clearly seen by examining the stances held by Progressives and Conservatives over time; often, you'll see that Conservatives simply hold similar positions to those held by Progressives 20 to 30 years ago.

  • 3
    This answer nails it. Said differently: Progressives are the “inner party” with real power (media, universities, pop culture, etc), while conservatives are the “outer party” with much less power. They can only slow the progressive agenda down slightly while giving the center-right a place to vent, but never change or conserve anything. And the reactionaries are basically not represented at all because progressives are most threatened by them and progressives set and control the terms of all cultural and political debate.
    – blud
    Aug 9, 2020 at 0:20

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