According to peace studies which examines violence through a multi-disciplinary lens and relies heavily on political philosophy, there is a recognition of the status quo. The condition absent of confrontation and, thus, preserving of the status quo which often preserves social injustice is called negative peace, and the conditions necessary to achieve social justice is called positive peace. Variously, those who pursue the latter may be called political dissidents, anarchists, punks, queers, or in extreme cases terrorists.

What I'm looking for is a word for describing the former. What have people whose efforts go toward the preservation of the status quo called? Bourgeoisie came to mind —along with conservatives— but is that right?

  • 1
    Call it "Normal"?
    – Scott Rowe
    May 20, 2022 at 22:05
  • 2
    Maybe they need better marketing. Choose a name not associated with bad things? But if all those people haven't come up with the name you are looking for, perhaps something is missing?
    – Scott Rowe
    May 20, 2022 at 23:33
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    Are called "negative peace" and "positive peace" by who? Labelling things as negative or positive is a package deal that tries to get agreement that the status quo is bad, without actually going to the effort of demonstrating it. Or that the vaguelly-defined "present justice" is good, without either clearly describing it or demonstrating it is good.
    – BillOnne
    May 21, 2022 at 2:08
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    Forcing people to bend to your political will, using the power of the gun to prevent peaceful, consensual, and mutually beneficial contracts, firing and deplatforming people for disagreeing you or for refusing to use your preferred language, this is not peace. To call it such is a cynical twisting of the language to turn the aggressors into victims, in order to fool people who aren't paying attention. May 21, 2022 at 5:31
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    @jd, first, I haven't tried to suppress speech on this platform. Second, although I agree that civil disobedience is justified when the laws are corrupt, in the case of the US for the last fifty years, all of the civil disobedience has been aimed at making the laws less just, about denying people freedom to chose their own way, about forcing people to conform, about gaining power over people's private lives. The political Left controls all of the media in the US and they use that power to constantly lie and accuse the opposition of doing what they themselves are doing. May 21, 2022 at 10:10

1 Answer 1


From the ontology of political science, there are four terms that revolve around the status quo.

  • Progressives want to change it for the better, whatever that may be.
  • Radicals want immediate drastic change.
  • Reactionaries want change back to ways before the status quo was established.
  • Conservatives want to preserve the status quo.

From WP's article on Conservatism:

Conservatism is a cultural, social, and political philosophy, which seeks to promote and to preserve traditional social institutions and practices.1 The central tenets of conservatism may vary in relation to the status quo of the culture and civilization in which it appears. In Western culture, conservatives seek to preserve a range of institutions such as organized religion, parliamentary government, and property rights.3 Conservatives tend to favor institutions and practices that guarantee stability and evolved gradually.2 Adherents of conservatism often oppose progressivism and seek a return to traditional values.2

In fact, not only is conservatism the appropriate term in peace studies by way of political science for those who want to preserve the status quo, but there is a growing body of evidence that conservatism itself is a function of human biology. Read WP's article "Biology and Political Orientation".

Students who reported more conservative political views were found to have larger amygdalae,4 a structure in the temporal lobes whose primary function is in the formation, consolidation and processing of memory, as well as positive and negative conditioning (emotional learning).5 The amygdala is responsible for important roles in social interaction, such as the recognition of emotional cues in facial expressions and the monitoring of personal space,7 with larger amygdalae correlating with larger and more complex social networks.9 It is also postulated to play a role in threat detection, including modulation of fear and aggression to perceived threats.119 Conservative students were also found to have greater volume of gray matter in the left insula and the right entorhinal cortex.4 There is evidence that conservatives are more prone to disgust10 and one role of the insula is in the modulation of social emotions, such as the feeling of disgust to specific sights, smells and norm violations.

Conservative political doctrine is often also a source of propaganda with the intent of framing political conflicts to paint progressives and radicals as a threat to a way of life. For instance, self-declared "conservative" Donald Trump often used political rhetoric regarding Central American migrant caravans to stir up emotions to turn out the conservative base. These sorts of rhetorical techniques often cause spikes in violence targeting immigrants. Ultimately, this sort of rhetoric pushes conservatives from a negative peace which may condone structural violence to open acts of violence, such as the 2021 attack on the US Capitol building where a number of police officers were affected by assault, murder, or eventual suicide where the small, ineffective insurrection may have played a roll.

Often, radicals use these sorts of events to justify their own violence. A classic example where negative peace resulted in direct action by abolitionists is John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. Conservatives of the time fought very hard to resist abolitionist movements to emancipate and humanize African slaves. Having watched the cruelties of slavery, John Brown engaged in violence to end slavery:

John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry[nb 1] was an effort by abolitionist John Brown, from October 16 to 18, 1859, to initiate a slave revolt in Southern states by taking over the United States arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (since 1863, West Virginia).

One final example where conservatives have used structural violence to preserve the status quo is in South America, where dictators like Pinochet and other conservatives enacted policies such as the conservative economics of Friedman to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the average citizen. A series of struggles that turned violent between reactionaries and conservatives versus progressives and radicals actually morphed into a schism in the Catholic church when a number of priests embraced liberation theology.

One of the sticky wickets of achieving positive peace is that those who use violence inevitably point fingers at their opposition. Those who study peace and conflict have developed a terminology to help bring to light the factors and the responsible parties for violence since political extremists and ideologues often engage in propaganda and doublespeak. The US government decried Nazi persecution of Jews, but had its own internment camps. China is infamous for it's "re-education" policies. Conservative Turks denied the Armenian genocide. The US had Indian "boarding schools". The West led by the US largely refuses to acknowledge the international recognition of the nation of Palestine. Peace activists try their best to cut through the politically loaded language and expose a situation for what is really happening. You'd be surprised by the number of times I've encountered the claim that the People's Republic of China is a republic. (It's not.) Or that a republic isn't a form of democracy. (It is.)

The issues of balancing needs and managing political and economic power goes back in political philosophy to the Ancient Greeks themselves, who eventually revolutionized said philosophy with the introduction of democracy by Cleisthenes, the Father of Athenian Democracy. Political polarization is a cliche of history where many parties weaponize philosophy or undermine critical thinking to achieve their political ends. Slavery, apartheid, and economic oppression (my family's history is entangled with the Pullman Company) often go hand in hand with conservatives engaging in deliberate news bias and the perpetuation of demonstrably false histories in attempts to preserve the status quo.

  • I'm not sure why you believe conservative is not the right label. The definition literally states "The central tenets of conservatism may vary in relation to the status quo of the culture and civilization in which it appears." Is it because you believe conservatives are generally benign as a group?
    – J D
    May 21, 2022 at 8:15
  • And don't be surprised if a post like this gets closed. Conservatives fundamentally disagree with many claims of the peace and conflict movement precisely because the movement frequently takes conservatism to task for it's refusal to recognize structural violence as an actual phenomenon. Recall how Christians in the US Deep South used to show up and collect body parts of lynching victims right after church as souvenirs after sitting through sermons of non-violence. People are funny that way.
    – J D
    May 21, 2022 at 8:36
  • @seconddayout If you haven't read it, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manufacturing_Consent by Noam Chomsky rallies against structural violence. The closure of this question is de facto evidence that the Emperor Has No Clothes. ; )
    – J D
    May 21, 2022 at 9:31
  • JD, thanks for taking the question seriously & meeting my knowledge where it was. I find often on SE sites (SO in particular) that people get hung up at the surface of the question, on its presentation when its asked in a way the reflects the person asking is someone learning at the edge of their knowledge, someone who's not already an expert. qr.ae/pvA0Jg → "learning is messy business. It looks messy, it feels messy, and it can be painful to look at. SO directly hurts education and severly limits knowledge, due to it's need for drawing within the lines." May 21, 2022 at 11:13
  • JD, I'm thinking that conservative seemed off to me, initially, because I was operating upon the more colloquial conception associated with the term, thinking of it moreso as describing people specifically of the US who vote GOP. You've made a good case, though, I think, that it's also of the more general sense I was looking for from an ontology of political philosophy/science perspective. And nope; haven't read Manufacturing Consent. Def will now, though 👌 May 21, 2022 at 11:31

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