Reaction (politics)

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Reaction denotes the counter-revolutionary movement. In a historical sense, the term includes the ideological opponents of the Enlightenment, including the political thinkers Louis-Gabriel-Ambroise de Bonald , Joseph de Maistre and Juan Donoso Cortés . As monarchists, they strove to restore the pre-revolutionary state. The defenders of the Ancien Régime classified the revolution and its impact as a catastrophe apart from the expected events, the damage of which must be repaired.

As a fighting term, the term has a pejorative character. Advocates of progress describe it as the "totality of anti-progressive political forces in the state (classes, strata, parties, persons or movements)". In internal ideological disputes, for example between Communists and Social Democrats or Trotskyists and Stalinists , the term was transferred to the political opponent in order to to mark him as an enemy.

Emil Cioran and his successor Mark Lilla see the reaction less as a mere antithesis to the revolution than as an ideology that follows the apocalyptic thought patterns of the revolution, but is contradicting its content. What revolutionaries and reactionaries alike have in common is the idealization of an ahistorical past as a harmonious order - with the former of equality, with the latter of hierarchy.

Concept history

Montesquieu introduced "reaction" as a concept of politics . According to Montesquieu, political processes develop in the interplay of action and reaction of the political actors ( l'action des unes et la réaction des autres ). According to Montesquieu, an action is always followed by a reaction ( l'action est toujours suivie d'une réaction ). In Montesquieu's linguistic usage, “reaction” is accordingly not related to a specific political camp and without any evaluation.

The term “reaction” ( French réaction ) found widespread use and a specific meaning as an antithesis to “progressive” and “revolutionary” during the French Revolution from 1789 onwards.

In the 19th century, "reaction" became the collective term for a reformist resistance movement consisting initially of aristocrats , clericals and bourgeois monarchists who positioned themselves against the Jacobins and opposed the changes initiated by the revolutionaries, and who sought the return of the ancien régimes. The (alleged) backwardness presupposes a linear view of history in the sense of progress . What progress is is disputed in politics, and in this respect the term “reaction” contains a subjective assessment.

According to Herfried Münkler , Louis-Gabriel-Ambroise de Bonald , Joseph de Maistre and Donoso Cortes should be mentioned as central theorists of reactionary ideas in the 19th century .

Another setting looks at the term less historically and calls reaction simply that policy that only reacts to a previous, innovative political development instead of opposing it with its own concepts.

During the time of the Restoration , parts of the “reaction”, out of the Biedermeier period , increasingly developed the desire to maintain cherished fundamental freedoms, as well as the striving for national self-determination and thus against the Metternich system , which the changes brought about by the French Revolution wanted to push back completely and got lost in the small states . The European revolutions of 1848/1849 were a significant turning point in European history and part of a process that was finally followed in the second half of the 19th century by excessive nationalism in most European countries and, on a global scale, by the age of imperialism . The liberal “reaction” formed the middle class between the aristocratic to big bourgeois chauvinism and the libertine socialism in the labor movement ; this historical period is called the Reaction Era.

In the 1930s, the cultural philosopher Julius Evola was able to appreciate the positive aspects of the term “reaction”: “We are convinced that a true reaction against liberalist decline is only possible on the basis of the traditional principles of hierarchy, aristocracy and royalty.”

The resistance to National Socialism can be divided into two different, sometimes irreconcilable camps, and so the representatives of national socialism also counted their opponents either on the communist " red front " ( KPD , left SPD etc.) or the freedom-conservative "reaction" ( Confessing Church , White Rose , German Resistance , etc.). In the Horst-Wessel-Lied they elevated their killed “comrades who shot the red front and reaction” to a cult status.

Also in the stories of the novels and later films by Giovannino Guareschi , the main characters Don Camillo and Peppone represent two former resistanceists against the fascist Mussolini dictatorship and the Nazi German occupying power, who are fighting a feud in the fictional village of Boscaccio in the northern Italian Po Valley ; the Roman Catholic priest Don Camillo represents the “reaction” and the communist mayor Peppone the “red front”.

In the real socialist states behind the Iron Curtain , the western democracies a. a. defamed as “fascist” and “reactionary” and accused of counterrevolution .

Politically, mainly representatives of the so-called New Right and right-wing populism are dubbed “reactionary” by their mostly left-wing opponents. Reactionary developments, which in turn are directed against the 1968 movement and the changes it triggered, are referred to as backlashes .


  • Gabriel Ambroise Vicomte de Bonald: Essay sur les moeurs et l'esprit des nations . 1796.
  • Joseph de Maistre: Essai sur le principe générateur des constitutions politiques . 1814.
  • Joseph de Maistre: Soirées de Saint-Pétersbourg . Librairie Grecque, Latine et Française, Paris 1821.
  • Joseph de Maistre: You Pape. Suivi de l'Église gallicane dans son rapport avec le Soverain Pontife . Société National, Brussels 1838.
  • Juan Donoso Cortés: Ensayo sobre el catholicismo, el liberalismo y el socialism . La Publicidad, Madrid 1851.
  • Nicolás Gómez Dávila: Notas . Edición privada, México 1954.
  • Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn: Democracy. An analysis . Leopold Stocker Verlag, Graz 1996.


  • Bondy, Beatrice: The reactionary utopia: the political thinking of Joseph de Maistre . Cologne 1982.
  • Cioran, Emil : Essai sur la pensée réactionnaire. A propos de Joseph de Maistre . Montpellier 1957.
  • Lilla, Mark : The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction . New York Review Books, New York 2017, ISBN 1-59017-902-1 .

Web links

Wiktionary: reaction  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Gerhard Strauss and a .: Controversial words from agitation to zeitgeist (=  writings of the Institute for German Language , Vol. 2). Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1989, p. 335.
  2. Montesquieu: Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence , Chapter 9. In: Œuvres Complètes . Firmin Didot Frères, Paris 1846, p. 148.
  3. Montesquieu: De L'esprit des Loix , 5th book, chapter 1. In: Œuvres Complètes . Firmin Didot Frères, Paris 1846, p. 210.
  4. ^ Raymonde Monnier: Un mot nouveau en politique: "réaction" sous Thermidor . In: Equipe “18ème et Révolution” (ed.): Dictionnaire des usages socio-politiques (1770–1815): Notions pratiques . ENS Éditions, Paris 1999, pp. 127–156, therein the chapter “Réaction”, histoire de la notion avant la Révolution , pp. 128–132, here p. 130.
  5. Herfried Münkler: Political History of Ideas and Modern Political Theory: An Introductory Overview. in: Manfred G. Schmidt et al. (Ed.): Study book political science. Springer Verlag 2013, ISBN 978-3-531-18986-4 , pp. 21–48, here p. 36.