- By which I mean not "the styles of discourses of those who consider themselves or are considered progressives or reactionaries" but, quite literally, "styles that are progressive or reactionary". Blogging has made me more clearly aware of styles of political discourse, and I think there is some need for a clearer delineation of the two styles. The label 'progressive' in this sense does not align with self-identification as 'a progressive', for several reasons: 1) styles of discourse are not determined by political self-identification; 2) while 'progressive' as a political label used to mean something quite clear about one's political goals (improvement of conditions for everyone, the need for continual reform, the importance of civil liberties), it has, as far as I can see, become attached to people entirely on the basis of whether they hold an arbitrary set of x, y, and z, without regard for whether they do so for ends or in ways that could be considered progressive in that sense; 3) some styles of discourse that are conducive to improvement, reform, and respect can be found across the political spectrum, while the same may be said for contrary styles.
So, that said, here's my first rough characterization of the difference I see (particularly but not exclusively in the blogosphere) between progressive and reactionary styles of discourse:
-> Reactionary Style
* Often indicates revulsion or contempt for opponents; there's a tendency to speak and write in terms one knows the other side will find insulting, sometimes simply for that reason. The impression one would get from the style of discourse is that the other side deserves to be insulted.
* The general pattern of thought, then, is us/them: that is, reactionaries write or speak in such a way as to suggest that what they are doing is defending us against them, whoever 'them' might be.
* Tends to see the distinction between us and them as clear-cut and obvious - 'they' are not reasonable, not educated, not informed, not compassionate, not critical thinkers &c.; 'they' are ignorant, absurd, cruel, wicked, stupid, sneaky, &c. 'We' are the opposite. These categories are considered basic - they are taken as obvious, and the discussion is in terms of them. Reactionary style of discourse is (as it were) Manichaean: all the real good on this side, all the real evil on that; we are wholly right, they are wholly wrong.
* Argument in reactionary style is warfare (usually trench warfare): the discourse doesn't invite one to expect that one can work with the other side to move forward for mutual improvement, and it doesn't invite converts. For there to be progress the other side must be overwhelmed.
* The progressive style of discourse is an attempt to persuade, and tends to make explicit appeals rather than assuming the entire set of evaluations.
* It is fallibilistic in tone; that is, the style of discourse doesn't give the impression that 'we' are always and undeniably right (or reasonable, or good, or informed, etc.) - often quite the reverse.
* The approach logically presupposes that the other side is at least capable of conscience, reason, compassion, good will, etc., and that there is a particular direction in which both sides can move on the basis of such appeals, one which will allow for the betterment of everyone's situation.
* Argument in progressive style is judo: it is not geared to overwhelming the other side, but to winning them over when possible, and, when not possible, deflecting or absorbing insults, appealing to the better aspects of the other side. The only force is moral force, and the appeals involving that.
Obviously, this is all a bit crude; but I think familiarity with various political blogs in the blogosphere will bring one to recognize that there is at least something to it. I'm not saying that all styles of discourse are one or the other (obviously, for instance, many are not confrontational at all, and so can't be either). It's also important to recognize that while my preference is for the latter, I'm not dividing the styles of discourse into the bad group (reactionary) and the good group (progressive). I think there are actually cases in which a reactionary style will do more good than a progressive style - I think they tend to be extreme, but they do exist, and I can allow that there is some room for differences in personal judgment about where and when those extreme cases arise. It's also important to recognize that both of these come in degrees. And, again, I can't reiterate often enough that these are not designations indicating your favored political policies. For instance, Lakoff, who seems to be something of the progressive flavor of the day when the word is taken in the contemporary way as a label for someone who advocates certain particular policies, has what I would consider a reactionary style of discourse - certainly not reactionary at full strength, but strong enough to be recognizable.