The Establishment

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In sociology and in political science, the term The Establishment describes the dominant social group, the elite who control a polity, an organization, or an institution. In the praxis of power, The Establishment usually is a self-selecting, closed elite entrenched within specific institutions — hence, a relatively small social class can exercise all socio-political control.[1]

In 1955, the journalist Henry Fairlie popularized the contemporary usage of the term The Establishment to denote the network of socially prominent and politically important people:

By the 'Establishment' I do not mean only 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 recognised that it is exercised socially.[2]

Consequently, the term the Establishment became common usage in the press of London;[3] The Oxford English Dictionary cites Fairlie's column originating the British usages of the term the Establishment, as in the established church denoting the official Church of England.[4] Moreover, in sociologic jargon, an outsider is the person who is not a member of The Establishment.[5][6]


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),[7] 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 American models, combining political appointments and business acumen. In Francophone Canada, the local leaders of the Catholic Church played a major role. The Family Compact is the first identifiable Canadian Establishment in Anglophone Canada.

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 twenty-first century.[citation needed]

Hong Kong[edit]

The term is also used in politics of Hong Kong, where political parties, community groups, chambers of commerce, trade unions and individuals who are cooperative with and loyal to the Chinese Communist Party and the post-handover Hong Kong Government are labelled (most often self-labelled) "pro-Beijing" or "pro-establishment". The term first appeared in 2004.[8]


The term "Official Ireland" is commonly used in the Republic of Ireland to denote the media, cultural and religious establishment.[9]


In Pakistan, the term "The Establishment" refers to the military and their relations with the intelligence community and high-level political officials that allow them to exert dominance over the government.

United Kingdom[edit]

The United Kingdom has numerous entrenched groups that are regarded as forming the establishment: these include the royal family, the aristocracy, the landed gentry, prestigious public schools like Eton College and Harrow School, the privy council, senior civil servants, lawyers, academics, Church of England clergy, financiers, industrialists, the armed services and other professionals.[10][11][12]

United States[edit]

Beacon Hill, Boston: a preeminent Boston Brahmin neighborhood.[13]

In the United States, the term the establishment typically refers to the two-party political system, in which the Republican Party and the Democratic Party usually are perceived as alike in their anti-labour policies, pro-federal policy, and defense of corporate interests. The usage refers to the original coinage of the term the Establishment in 1955, referring to the intricate matrix of power and connections among corporations, politicians, government agencies, and some social groups.

The establishment also referred to White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs), constitute much of the social elites that have dominated historical American society, culture, and politics, enjoying education, voting rights, and land ownership. In the 1950s, the New Left criticised WASP hegemony of American society.[14] Some prominent American families have held disproportionate wealth and wielded disproportionate political power over the decades. Experts talk about what C. Wright Mills called the "power elite",[15][16] and about leadership communities in policy areas such as foreign policy.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ “The Establishment”, The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought Third Edition (1999) Alan Bullock and Stephen Trombley, Eds., pp. 283–284.
  2. ^ Fairlie, Henry (23 September 1955). "Political Commentary". The Spectator. pp. 5–7. Retrieved 22 June 2022.
  3. ^ however, that usage already had occurred in the late 19th century, in 1882, when Ralph Waldo Emerson used the term as politics: “There are always two parties, the party of the Past and the party of the Future: the Establishment and the Movement.” See Fairlie, Henry (19 October 1968). "Evolution of a Term". The New Yorker. and Darrel Abel, Democratic Voices and Vistas (2002) p. 2.
  4. ^ Wodak, Ruth. "The “Establishment”, the “Élites”, and the “People”, Journal of Language and Politics 16.4 (2017): 551-565.
  5. ^ Elias, Norbert; Scotson, John L (1965). The Established and the Outsiders. OCLC 655412048.[page needed]
  6. ^ Elias, Norbert; Martins, Herminio; Whitley, Richard (1982). Scientific Establishments and Hierarchies. Dordrecht: Reidel. p. 4. 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.
  7. ^ Abedi, Amir (2004). Anti-political Establishment Parties: A Comparative Analysis - Amir Abedi - Google Buku. Psychology Press. ISBN 9780415319614. Archived from the original on 25 December 2016. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
  8. ^ Sonny Shiu-Hing Lo, Steven Chung-Fun Hung, and Jeff Hai-Chi Loo. "The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong as Flagship of China's United Front Work." in China's New United Front Work in Hong Kong (Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore, 2019) pp. 43-75.
  9. ^ Elaine Byrne, "OFFICIAL IRELAND" McGill Summer School 2019.
  10. ^ "Why Britain's Angry Young Men Boil Over". Life. 26 May 1958. p. 138. Retrieved 13 May 2023.
  11. ^ Jones, Owen (26 August 2014). "The establishment uncovered: how power works in Britain". The Guardian.
  12. ^ Peter Hennessy, The great and the good: An inquiry into the British establishment (Policy Studies Institute, 1986).
  13. ^ Cople Jaher, Frederic (1982). The Urban Establishment: Upper Strata in Boston, New York, Charleston, Chicago, and Los Angeles. University of Illinois Press. p. 25. ISBN 9780252009327.
  14. ^ By the 1950s, the emerging New Left was "thumbing their noses at the stuffy white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant establishment." W. J. Rorabaugh, "Challenging Authority, Seeking Community, and Empowerment in the New Left, Black Power, and Feminism," Journal of Policy History (Jan 1996) vol 8 p. 110.
  15. ^ G. William Domhoff, The power elite and the state. (Routledge, 2017).
  16. ^ Mark S. Mizruchi, "The Power Elite in historical context: a reevaluation of Mills's thesis, then and now." Theory and Society 46.2 (2017): 95-116.
  17. ^ Priscilla Roberts, "'All the Right People': The Historiography of the American Foreign Policy Establishment." Journal of American Studies 26.3 (1992): 409-434. online

Further reading[edit]

  • Burch, Philip H. Jr. (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)
  • Kauppi, N. and Madsen, M.R., eds. Transnational Power Elites: The New Professionals of Governance, Law and Security (Routledge, 2013). online
  • Page, E.C. People Who Run Europe (1997).
  • 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)
  • Wodak, Ruth. "The “Establishment”, the “Élites”, and the “People”." Journal of Language and Politics 16.4 (2017): 551-565. online Archived 4 February 2019 at the Wayback Machine