What is the status quo

What is the "status quo"? Meaning, definition, explanation


Status quo means “existing condition” in Latin, whereby the more precise (literal) translation is: “State in which ...” (a structure is currently located). The concept of the existing state can be applied to all conceivable areas, including, for example, physical states. Occasionally the terminology of the status quo is even used for this, but this is rather rare. In today's parlance, they are used more for contractual states, but also for process states in project management. The status quo is an important criterion in politics and the legal system.

What is the "status quo"? Meaning, definition, explanation

The term has a very specific connotation (with a subliminal meaning): The status quo is the current state of affairs, which is considered problematic, but can hardly be changed without creating even greater problems. When contracting parties speak of wanting to maintain the status quo, they have examined all known options for remedial action and found that these are also highly problematic and therefore not alternatives. Therefore, the parties are now sticking to the status quo. Politically, the term was used during the Cold War for the East-West conflict. One had to agree that in view of the military balance of power and the potential for nuclear threats, the current stalemate could not be overcome. The political borders of the time also seemed to be subject to the status quo and thus immovable. The description was correct insofar as the status quo at that time could only be abolished through internal changes in the Eastern Bloc countries.

Origin of the word: Where does “Status Quo” come from?

The Latin legal language first used by the ancient Romans delimited a present from a previous state:

  • Status quo: current state
  • Status quo ante: previous state

The abbreviations were important, for example, to distinguish between the drawing of boundaries before and after a war. In the course of time and with the replacement of the Latin legal language by European national languages, the status quo ante lost its semantic meaning. However, the status quo was retained as a term.

Use of the term status quo

The most common use in the 21st century is likely to be in the legal sector. Two contracting parties have to come to terms with an arduous compromise, are looking for a better solution, but cannot find it and are therefore maintaining the status quo. In project management, a phase of the project can be described in this way in which the project developers initially do not change anything in the existing state, but plan such a change. Physicists sometimes refer to the desired normal state in steady state as the status quo.

The status quo clause

For collective decision-making processes, such as those carried out by the member states of the European Union, there can be a status quo clause. This states that the status quo will be maintained if the members cannot agree on a change. This status quo clause actually describes in elegant form a veto right for each individual member. Due to the status quo clause, it can block a decision all by itself. This is actually the case with certain decisions of the EU Council: they have to be taken unanimously.

Striving for the status quo as a psychological phenomenon

In psychological terms, there is a strong tendency to maintain the status quo, which is technically known as the status quo bias. It is based on the fact that people are less fond of change than maintaining the known, albeit suboptimal, state. From a psychological point of view, this can even be economical and efficient, because we don't know what the change will really bring about. However, this tendency does not completely prevent the change, but it can make it more difficult. Intuitively, people tend to want to maintain the status quo if it does not work too badly. This has been proven very well by experiments. It is believed that behind this is the fear of loss, which carries more weight than the hope of profit. Giving up the status quo always seems risky. Most people are highly risk averse. This gives the status quo a great deal of weight.

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