The Establishment

The Establishment is a dominant group or élite that holds power or authority in a nation or in an organisation. It may comprise a closed social group that selects its own members, or entrenched élite structures in specific institutions. One can refer to any relatively small class or group of people that can exercise control as The Establishment. Conversely, in the jargon of sociology, anyone who does not belong to The Establishment may be labelled an "outsider"[1][2] (as opposed to an "insider"). Anti-authoritarian and anti-establishment ideologies question the legitimacy of establishments, even seeing their influence on society as anti-democratic.

The term in this sense is sometimes mistakenly believed to have been coined by the British journalist Henry Fairlie, who in September 1955 in the London magazine The Spectator defined the network of prominent, well-connected people as "the Establishment", explaining:

By the Establishment, I do not only mean the centres of official power—though they are certainly part of it—but rather the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercised. The exercise of power in the United Kingdom (more specifically, in England) cannot be understood unless it is recognized that it is exercised socially.[3]

Following that, the term the Establishment was quickly picked up in newspapers and magazines all over London, making Fairlie famous. However, the term had been used by Ralph Waldo Emerson in a similar fashion, a century earlier.[4] Nevertheless, the Oxford English Dictionary would cite Fairlie's column as its locus classicus. More generally, the use of the word Establishment may have been influenced by the British term, established church, for the official Church of England. The term was then found useful in discussing the power elites in many other countries, now used as a loanword in many other languages.

The American Sociological Association states that the term is often used by those protesting a small group that dominates a larger organisation. As an example of this, in 1968, a group of academics formed the "Sociology Liberation Movement" (SLM) in order to repudiate the leadership of the American Sociological Association itself, which the SLM referred to as the "Establishment in American sociology".[5]

United States

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, entrenched groups that form the establishment may include the Royal family, aristocracy (peerage and landed gentry), privy council, civil servants, legal representatives, academics, clergy in the Church of England, financiers, industrialists, etc.[6]

Author and professor Carroll Quigley of Georgetown University exposes the secret society (sic) established in London in 1891 by Cecil Rhodes, in his book The Anglo-American Establishment.[7] Quigley explains how these men worked in union to begin their society to control the world. He explains how all the wars from that time were deliberately created to control the economies of all the nations. That society was established by Cecil Rhodes in 1891 and, following Rhodes' death in 1902, was carried on by Alfred Milner, which society, Quigley refers to as the Milner Group, but sometimes referred to as the Round Table movement. That group, following the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, would establish and control the Royal Institute for International Affairs, later to become known as Chatham House.


The term, establishment is often used in Australia to refer both to the main political parties and also to the powers behind those parties. In the book, Anti-political Establishment Parties: A Comparative Analysis by Amir Abedi (2004),[8] Amir Abedi refers to the Labor Party and the Coalition Parties (the Liberal Party and the National/Country Party) as the establishment parties.


The original Canadian Establishment began as a mix between the British and U.S. models, combining political appointments and business acumen. The Family Compact is the first identifiable Canadian Establishment in Anglophone Canada. In Francophone Canada, the local leaders of the Catholic Church also played a major role.

The journalist Peter C. Newman defined the modern Canadian Establishment in his 1975 book The Canadian Establishment. It catalogued the richest individuals and families living in Canada at the time. All of the specific people he identified were prominent business leaders, especially in the media and in public transit. Newman reports that several of these old families have maintained their importance into the 21st century.

According to Anglo-American journalist Peter Brimelow, Newman's establishment was overshadowed by a new class. His book The Patriot Game "makes a swinging attack on the political, bureaucratic, and academic establishment whose entire well-being rests on the promotion of Canadian nationalism. [He] identifies the federal Liberal party as the selfish and thoughtless inventor of this modern activity of creating a Canadian identity, he argues that it is now a pervasive disease throughout Canada's national political and cultural elite."[9]


The term "Official Ireland" is commonly used in the Republic of Ireland to denote the media, cultural and religious establishment.

Hong Kong and Macau

The term is also used in politics of Hong Kong and Macau, where political parties, community groups, chambers of commerce, trade unions and individuals who are cooperative with and loyal to the Communist Party of China and the post-handover Hong Kong Government are labelled (most often self-labelled) "pro-Beijing" or "pro-establishment". The term first appeared in 2004.

See also


  1. Elias, Norbert; Scotson, John L (1965). The Established and the Outsiders. OCLC 655412048.
  2. Elias, Norbert; Martins, Herminio; Whitley, Richard (1982). Scientific Establishments and Hierarchies. Dordrecht: Reidel. p. 40. ISBN 978-90-277-1322-3. Those who are outsiders, in relation to a given establishment, as a rule, have on their part resources needed by the establishments' members [...]. Established and outsiders, in other words, have specific functions for each other. No established-outsider relationship is likely to maintain itself for long without some reciprocity of dependence. [...] Members of an establishment usually are very careful to maintain and, if possible, to increase the high dependence ratio of their outsider groups and thus the power differentials between these and themselves.
  3. Fairlie, Henry (23 September 1955). "Political Commentary". The Spectator.
  4. Fairlie, Henry (19 October 1968). "Evolution of a Term". The New Yorker.
  5. Barcan, Alan (1993). Sociological theory and educational reality. p. 150.
  6. Jones, Owen (26 August 2014). "The establishment uncovered: how power works in Britain". The Guardian.
  7. "The Anglo-American Establishment" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2015-05-03. Retrieved 2015-05-13.
  8. "Anti-political Establishment Parties: A Comparative Analysis - Amir Abedi - Google Buku". Archived from the original on 2016-12-25. Retrieved 2015-05-13.
  9. Stewart, Gordon (4 June 1988). "The Patriot Game: National Dreams & Political Realities by Peter Brimelow (review)". The Canadian Historical Review. 69 (2): 273–274 via Project MUSE.

Further reading

  • Burch Jr, Philip H. (1983). "The American establishment: Its historical development and major economic components". Research in political economy. 6: 83–156.
  • Campbell, Fergus. The Irish Establishment 1879–1914 (2009)
  • Dogan, Mattéi, Elite configurations at the apex of power (2003)
  • Hennessy, Peter. The great and the good: an inquiry into the British establishment (Policy Studies Institute, 1986)
  • Jones, Owen. The Establishment – and how they get away with it (Penguin, 2015)
  • Rovere, Richard. The American establishment and other reports, opinions, and speculations (1962), a famous spoof; it is online
  • Silk, Leonard Solomon and Mark Silk. American Establishment (1980)
  • Valentine, C. The British Establishment, 1760-1784: An Eighteenth-Century Biographical Dictionary (University of Oklahoma Press, 1970)
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