Reactionaries often call themselves conservatives but accepting that label wrongly legitimizes them. Conservatives might be allies or potential allies. They are not an existential threat to democracy. With reactionaries, we can only hope for an uneasy truce or containment.
While conservatives seek to maintain the status quo, they might accept policy change at a prudent incremental rate as a matter of maintaining fiscal or social stability, and might even prove progressive on particular issues.
Reactionaries, like radicals, are willing, sometimes violently willing, to completely uproot existing social institutions.
The radical seeks rapid social change for some idea of social good. Sometimes they strive for utopian outcomes. Since the ideology is a concept of a potential future, it’s difficult to prove or disprove possibility.
The reactionary seeks a return to a mythical past. Historical revisions can be proven false though reactionaries have a defining tendency not to let reality interfere with their ideology. Reactionary ideology is closer to mental illness or sociopathic deception than something worthy of legitimate consideration, because no, America was not better off with the institution of slavery. No, the Constitution is not made stronger by repealing the rights of women, minorities, or low income citizens. Supreme Court Justices should not be shaman fortune tellers serving as mediums with the spirit world of slave-owning founders suddenly vested with an authority the Republic did not grant them while they were among the living.
Reactionary politics are illegitmate in an electoral system because reactionary politics are anti-Democratic. Other philosophies have authoritarian strains. Reactionary politics are inherently authoritarian because where else does turning back the clock lead except pushing society backwards to trial by combat and other forms of might makes right: divine rights of kings, master/slave relationships, all those conditions that strangle blood from the brain from which humanity has been slowly and painfully loosening?
In a nation predicated upon electoral reform, reactionary politics are an existential threat. Death from boredom in a stifling environment that tolerates neither dissent nor diversity and a rotting corruption that collapses into itself: inevitable consequences of intellectually and morally bankrupt tyranny, but not before dragging down everything stuck to it.
Progressives might disagree with conservatives, but progressive politics are not mutually exclusive with conservatism. Contrary to decades of Orwellian doublethink in political discourse and mass media, the positive strains within both major parties are liberal in nature. Those who prematurely pronounce the death of liberalism (or denounce it as something it simply isn’t) ignore a powerful libertarian impulse on both sides of the political aisle. Progressives can stand with conservatives on ecology and civil liberties. We can stand with them on ethics and rule of law. That is not the case with reactionaries. They are a threat to democracy and human rights. Call them what they are not what they pretend to be.