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Reactionary vs. Reactive — What's the Difference?

By Urooj Arif & Fiza Rafique — Updated on May 6, 2024
Reactionary refers to conservative political stances opposing progress or reform, while reactive describes responding to stimuli or events.
Reactionary vs. Reactive — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Reactionary and Reactive


Key Differences

Reactionary is often used in a political context to describe an individual or a group that seeks to maintain the status quo or return to a previous state of affairs, often resisting progressive changes. On the other hand, reactive describes a general tendency to act in response to situations rather than initiating change proactively.
Reactionary movements typically advocate for a reversal of recent changes to restore older conditions they view as better, focusing on tradition and preservation. Whereas, being reactive can apply to any situation or individual where the primary mode of behavior is responding to external stimuli, without the ideological implications of resisting progress.
Reactionary views are usually steeped in ideological beliefs that prioritize stability and established norms over innovation and reform. While, a reactive approach might be adopted in any context, from business strategies to personal relationships, reflecting adaptability rather than ideological conservatism.
Reactionary ideologies can lead to policies that strictly enforce traditional roles and norms, possibly at the expense of innovation and modernization. Conversely, reactive behavior, while sometimes seen as lacking initiative, can also allow for flexibility and immediate problem-solving.

Comparison Chart


Political, ideological
General, situational


Conservative, opposing change
Responding to changes or challenges


Seeks to revert to previous states
Acts in response to current situations


Often negative, associated with resistance to progress
Neutral, can be practical or lack foresight

Common Uses

Used to describe political stances and movements
Used to describe behaviors and strategies

Compare with Definitions


Characterized by resistance to change.
Their reactionary approach has stalled numerous innovative projects.


Showing a response to stimuli or events.
His reactive decision-making often results in quick fixes rather than long-term solutions.


Related to a conservative or orthodox ideology.
Reactionary policies often aim to preserve existing power structures.


Tending to be influenced by the environment rather than influencing it.
As a reactive leader, she often waits to see how situations unfold.


Wanting to return to a previous state or condition in society.
His views are considered reactionary in the context of modern education.


Acting in response to a situation rather than setting an agenda.
The company's reactive strategies have allowed them to adapt quickly.


Opposing political or social progress or reform.
The group's reactionary stance on environmental issues is well-known.


Prone to emotional or physical responsiveness.
He is highly reactive to criticism.


Deriving from a desire to maintain the status quo.
Reactionary movements typically resist the forces of social change.


Immediate or instinctive response to external actions.
Their reactive nature makes them excellent in crisis management.


In political science, a reactionary or reactionist is a person or entity holding political views that favor a return to a previous political state of society that they believe possessed positive characteristics that are absent in contemporary society. As an adjective, the word reactionary describes points of view and policies meant to restore a past status quo.


Tending to be responsive or to react to a stimulus.


Characterized by reaction, especially opposition to progress or liberalism; extremely conservative
The principal is very reactionary.
She wants the school to stay the way it has been for the last 50 years.


Characterized by reaction.


An opponent of progress or liberalism; an extreme conservative.


Chemistry & Physics Tending to participate readily in reactions.


(politics) Favoring a return to an alleged golden age of the past; anti-progressive.


That reacts or responds to a stimulus


(chemistry) Of, pertaining to, participating in, or inducing a chemical reaction.


(chemistry) that readily takes part in reactions
Francium is the most reactive of the alkali metals.


(politics) One who is opposed to progress and change and wants to reverse it, wishing for a return to an alleged, mythical golden age of the past.


(electronics) Characterized by induction or capacitance rather than resistance.


In reaction to; as a result of.


Reacting to the past rather than anticipating the future, not predictive.


Being, causing, or favoring reaction; as, reactionary movements.


Having power to react; tending to reaction; of the nature of reaction.


One who favors reaction, or seeks to undo political progress or revolution.


Participating readily in reactions;
Sodium is a reactive metal
Free radicals are very reactive


An extreme conservative; an opponent of progress or liberalism


Tending to react to a stimulus;
The skin of the geriatric is less reactive than that of younger persons


Extremely conservative

Common Curiosities

Can a person be both reactionary and reactive?

Yes, a person can be reactionary in their ideological views while being reactive in dealing with everyday situations.

What are the advantages of a reactive strategy?

A reactive strategy allows for flexibility and immediate adaptation to changes, which can be crucial in dynamic environments.

How does a reactive approach work in business?

In business, a reactive approach involves adjusting strategies based on current market conditions and competitor actions.

Can organizations be reactionary?

Yes, organizations can exhibit reactionary tendencies, particularly in their resistance to change and innovation.

What defines a reactionary person?

A reactionary person holds conservative views, often opposing progress to preserve traditional values and conditions.

Why is being reactionary considered negative?

Being reactionary is often viewed negatively because it involves resisting necessary or inevitable social progress.

What is a common misconception about reactive behavior?

A common misconception is that reactive behavior is inherently negative; however, it can also lead to effective and timely responses.

How do leaders balance reactive and proactive strategies?

Effective leaders balance reactive and proactive strategies by responding to immediate needs while also planning for the future.

What is the role of a reactive mindset in personal relationships?

In personal relationships, a reactive mindset can help individuals respond appropriately to their partners' needs and emotions.

Is being reactive always beneficial?

While being reactive can be beneficial in rapidly changing situations, it may also result in a lack of proactive planning and foresight.

How do reactionary ideologies affect society?

Reactionary ideologies can lead to policies that reinforce existing inequalities and resist progressive reforms.

Are reactionary views always aligned with right-wing politics?

While commonly associated with right-wing politics, reactionary views can also be found in any ideology that seeks to preserve the status quo.

What motivates reactionary politics?

Reactionary politics are often motivated by fear of change, loss of control, and a desire to maintain traditional power structures.

How does society benefit from reactive responses?

Society can benefit from reactive responses by quickly addressing unforeseen challenges and adapting to new circumstances.

How can one transition from being reactive to proactive?

Transitioning from being reactive to proactive involves planning ahead, anticipating challenges, and setting long-term goals.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Urooj Arif
Urooj is a skilled content writer at Ask Difference, known for her exceptional ability to simplify complex topics into engaging and informative content. With a passion for research and a flair for clear, concise writing, she consistently delivers articles that resonate with our diverse audience.
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

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