The Establishment

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The Establishment is a term used to refer to a visible dominant group or elite that holds power or authority in a nation or organization. The term suggests a closed social group which selects its own members (as opposed to selection by merit or election). The term can be used to describe specific entrenched elite structures, either in government or in specific institutions. Often the term is used generally, but other times it is used more specifically by academics such as Carroll Quigley and Paul Craig Roberts.

The American Sociological Association states that the term is often used by those protesting a small group that dominates a larger organization. For example, in 1968 a group of academics set up the "Sociology Liberation Movement" to repudiate the excessively mainstream leadership of the American Sociological Association, which they referred to as the "Establishment in American sociology".[1]

In fact, any relatively small class or group of people having control can be referred to as "The Establishment"; and conversely, in the jargon of sociology, anyone who does not belong to "The Establishment" may be considered to be an "outsider".[2][3]

United Kingdom[edit]

The term is most often used in the United Kingdom, in which context it includes leading politicians, senior civil servants, senior barristers and judges, aristocrats, senior clergy in the established Church of England, the most important financiers and industrialists, governors of the BBC, and the Monarchy. For example, candidates for political office are often said to have to impress the "party establishment" in order to win endorsement. The term in this sense is sometimes mistakenly believed to have coined by the British journalist Henry Fairlie, who in September 1955 in the London magazine The Spectator defined that 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 Britain (more specifically, in England) cannot be understood unless it is recognized that it is exercised socially."[4]

Following that, the term, the Establishment, was quickly picked up in newspapers and magazines all over London, making Fairlie fairly famous. However, he had not been the first to use the term, The term, The Establishment, had used by Ralph Waldo Emerson in a similiar fashion, a century earlier.[5] Nevertheless, the Oxford English Dictionary would cite Fairlie's column as its locus classicus.

However, author and professor, Carroll Quigley of Georgetown University, in his book The Anglo-American Establishment[6][7] used the term much more specifically than did Fairlie. In that book (copyright date 1981),[8] (according to an out-of-print edition):

Quigley exposes the secret society's (sic) established in London in 1891, by Cecil Rhodes. 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 Rhode's 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, with significant American input, would, following the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, establish and control the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House).

Much more generally, this use of the word, Establishment, may have been influenced by the British term, established church, for the official church of Great Britain. The term was then found useful in discussing the power elites in many other countries. The English word is now used as a loanword in many other languages.

United States[edit]

The United States establishment appears to have developed during the latter three decades of the nineteenth century, in the north-eastern states of the United States. It was largely made up of well educated, male members of the wealthy families, representing the dominant socio-ethnic class at the time, the white (predominately of English descent) Protestants, or at least those who identified with that particular class. The Establishment members typically attend the Ivy League universities, most commonly graduating in law and related fields, and are often members of their fraternal societies. Probably the best known among these are Yale’s Skull and Bones, Scroll and Key and Wolf's Head societies. Many members of the Establishment are Freemasons, and in more recent decades, the Catholic Knights of Malta.

In Carroll Quigley's book, The Anglo-American Establishment, Quigley clearly links the British establishment organization, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, otherwise known as Chatham House, to United States organization, the Council for Foreign Relations. In the book (p. 191, 1981 ed.), Quigley states:

According to Stephen King-Hall, the RIIA agreed to regard the Council for Foreign Relations as its American branch. The relationship between the two has always been very close.

Think-tank organizations such as the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and also the Trilateral Commission are considered by many to be Establishment fronts. However, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administrtion, Paul Craig Roberts, refers to the United States government as the establishment.[9]

Hong Kong[edit]

The term is also used in Hong Kong politics, where political parties, community groups, chambers of commerce, trade unions and individuals who are cooperative with and loyal to China and the post-handover Hong Kong Government are labelled (most often self-labelled) "pro-establishment". The term first appeared in 2005.[citation needed]


The terminology is used in Pakistan to describe the cooperative federation of the powerful military oligarchy; it also assets its role as a consolidated intelligence community.[10] The idea of Establishment is no different from "The Establishment" in the United Kingdom.

Though, its idea supports the powerful military mind-set, but the Establishment itself is "not" exclusively military. The Establishment's sphere includes country's elite civilian politicians, senior civil servants, senior barristers and judges, aristocrats, senior clergy in the established of Pakistan's right-wing sphere, the most important financiers and industrialists, and the media moguls. The Establishment in Pakistan considers the key and elite decision makers in country's public policy, ranging from the use of the intelligence services, national security, foreign and domestic policies.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alan Barcan, Sociological theory and educational reality (1993) p. 150
  2. ^ Elias, Norbert; Scotson, John L (1965). The Established and the Outsiders. OCLC 655412048. [page needed]
  3. ^ Elias; Martins, Herminio; Whitley, Richard (1982). Scientific Establishments and Hierarchies. Dordrecht: Reidel. ISBN 978-90-277-1322-3. [page needed]
  4. ^ Fairlie, Henry, "Political Commentary", The Spectator, 23 September 1955.
  5. ^ Fairlie, Henry (19 October 1968). "Evolution of a Term". The New Yorker. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ The Anglo-American Establishment: From Rhodes to Cliveden. 1981, New York: Books in Focus, 354 pages, ISBN 0-916728-50-1 (hardcover and paperback). Reprinted by Rancho Palos Verdes: GSG & Associates, date unknown, ISBN 0-945001-01-0 (paperback). Full text.
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Haqqani, Husain (2005). Pakistan : between mosque and military (1. print. ed.). Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. ISBN 978-0870032141. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Campbell, Fergus. The Irish Establishment 1879–1914" (2009)
  • Dogan, Mattéi, Elite configurations at the apex of power (2003)
  • Judis, John B. The paradox of American democracy: elites, special interests, and the betrayal of public trust (2001)
  • Quigley, Carroll. The Anglo-American Establishment (1981).