You, obviously, subscribe to there being a negative connotation to reactionary, and in fact you are right, progressives have a very negative reaction to the word.
The term doesn't actually describe a point of view that is necessarily conservative. It is epithet used to slur persons perceived to have an "extreme" conservative viewpoint. Of course use of the adjective "extreme" is always determined by progressives.
The most neutral definition I can find is:
A reactionary is a person who holds political viewpoints that favor a return to a previous state (the status quo ante) in a society.
A distant second is:
opposing political or social liberalization or reform
"Reactionary" which is intended to imply a reflexive response to change will, of course, be seen in a negative light by anyone who believes that all change is good as is all "reform."
Ironically, Republicans are constantly calling for "reform" (e.g. tax law, entitlement programs et al) and yet for progressives who, apparently, own the word, believe conservative use the term as a euphemism for "gut," or "revert."
If someone can find me a person who believes that not only is all change bad or that society in all of its ways and means should be returned to a state sometime in the 1800s, I would be interested.
I would be equally interested in finding someone who actually believes that every change is positive and that no tradition has any value at all.
It is foolish therefore to consider anyone (other than possibly the insane) residing on either end of the spectrum, let alone large groups of them.
One of the problems in our current public discourse, however, is not that people on the left or the right are incapable of viewing the world in less than absolute terms, but that they refuse to, or at least they refuse to acknowledge they can.
Of course world views don't have to be extreme to be dangerous, and, unfortunately, a very large swath of the population doesn't like to think for themselves and prefers to take their cue from those who they perceive to be the leaders of their tribe.
A conservative viewpoint applied will never create a utopia because none have ever existed. A progressive viewpoint on the other hand offers the promise of a utopia, despite the fact that none have ever existed.
It's impossible to say that given the "correct" world view a utopia is not possible and this is why romantics continue to follow the scent.
Conservatism offers the possibility of the best we have seen and can expect. There is no promise of a future Golden Age, and therefore while the approach is not without peril in terms of application, we know the realm in which it operates.
Progressivism, on the other hand, holds out Utopia as the endgame and, perforce, disruption in the extreme. Obviously disruption can be a good thing but it's not predictable. Risk is greater.
As usual there seems to be inherent contradictions. Capitalism value risk in terms of return while Socialists prefer a more stable environment where all can benefit, albeit modestly.
I would like to think most people really examine these opposing world views before signing off on one or the other, but they don't, and this is why, to a great extent, I am a conservative. What has worked in the past will work in the future. We don't really need to change the way people think to make this so. To achieve the progressive's goal, however, we do need to fundamentally change the way people think...when they are alone and unwatched.
It is all well and good to assert that wealth needs to be redistributed to affect social equality, and as long as that redistribution operates at an economic level above the typical progressive, no problem.
Rich liberals are utter phonies. None of them are prepared to substantially reduce their style of living to raise up that of their fellow citizens in the lowest economic strata. The NY Times Sunday Magazine section is filled with progressive based articles that use all of the right buzz words focus on all the right buzz concepts, but take up 20% of the magazine's pages. The other 80% is taken up by advertisements for $4,000 watches and opulent residences worth millions.
What will happen when the teacher making $100,000 a year is called upon to reduce his or her style of living to raise up fellow citizens?
Ask him or her and the response is bound to be "I'll be happy to do so!" But that's easy to say when you are convinced that there is an almost inexhaustible buffer of millionaire between you and the poor.
I have never gone wrong in my personal and professional life factoring in an honest understanding of human nature. This understanding has led me to employ corporate policies that a progressive would stand up and applaud, and to cut myself free from personal entanglements that could only lead me down.
In the end, it is all about human nature, as it is; not as we might want it to be.
There is plenty to be proud of in human nature as it is. It doesn't need to be radically transformed to achieve as good a world as we can reasonably expect to live in.
It does, however, need to be radically transformed to achieve Utopia, and any such radical effort carries with it a high risk of not only failure but the potential for making things worse.