The Establishment

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The Establishment is a term used to describe a dominant group or elite that controls a polity or an organization. It may comprise a closed social group that selects its own members, or entrenched elite structures in specific institutions. One can refer to any relatively small class or group of people who 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 anti-establishment ideologies question the legitimacy of establishments, seeing their influence on society as undemocratic.

The term in its modern sense was popularized 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". He wrote:

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.[3]

Following that, the term the Establishment was quickly picked up in newspapers and magazines all over London, making Fairlie famous.[4] The Oxford English Dictionary cites Fairlie's column as its origin. The use of the term Establishment also reflects the British term, established church, for the official Church of England. The term quickly became useful in discussing the power elites in many other countries, for example, the Soviet Union Nomenklatura. It is used as a loanword in many other languages.[5]


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),[6] 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]

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."[7]

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, the privy council, senior civil servants, lawyers, academics, Church of England clergy, financiers, industrialists, the armed services and other professionals.[10][11]

United States[edit]

Beacon Hill, Boston: a preeminent Boston Brahmin neighborhood.[12]

In the United States, the term typically references the two party system, which are oftentimes seen as similar to each other in regards to their anti-labor practices, unflinchingly pro-federal policy, and vehement defense of corporate interests. It also harkens back to the original coinage of the term in 1955, referencing the intricate power and reach held within the matrix of corrupt connections between corporations, said politicians, government agencies, and some internet based social groups.

It can also refer to White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs), who constitute a majority of the social elites who have dominated American society, culture, and politics for most of the history of the United States, enjoying advantages in various matters such as education, voting rights and land acquisition. In the 1950s, WASP hegemony faced criticism by the emerging New Left.[13] 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",[14][15] and about leadership communities in policy areas such as foreign policy.[16] Many of these families often have ties to older East Coast cities such as Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Newport, Rhode Island. One such group of interconnected elite families is the Boston Brahmins. Many in the East Coast establishment have ties to Ivy League colleges and to prep schools in New England and the Northeast.[17] In the Southern United States, the First Families of Virginia are an example of the Establishment.

Traditionally, WASP and Protestant establishment families have been associated with Episcopal (or Anglican), Presbyterian, United Methodist, Congregationalist, and other mainline Protestant denominations.[18] According to the Pew Research Center, the Episcopal Church "has often been seen as the religious institution most closely associated with the American establishment, producing many of the nation's most important leaders in politics and business."[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Elias, Norbert; Scotson, John L (1965). The Established and the Outsiders. OCLC 655412048.[page needed]
  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. pp. 5–7. Retrieved 22 June 2022.
  4. ^ In saying, "There are always two parties, the party of the Past and the party of the Future: the Establishment and the Movement." Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1882 used the term in a somewhat similar sense but his usage but was not picked up by writers. See Fairlie, Henry (19 October 1968). "Evolution of a Term". The New Yorker. and Darrel Abel, Democratic Voices and Vistas (2002) p. 2.
  5. ^ Ruth Wodak, "The “Establishment”, the “Élites”, and the “People”." Journal of Language and Politics 16.4 (2017): 551-565.
  6. ^ Abedi, Amir (2004). Anti-political Establishment Parties: A Comparative Analysis - Amir Abedi - Google Buku. ISBN 9780415319614. Archived from the original on 25 December 2016. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
  7. ^ 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.
  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. ^ Jones, Owen (26 August 2014). "The establishment uncovered: how power works in Britain". The Guardian.
  11. ^ Peter Hennessy, The great and the good: An inquiry into the British establishment (Policy Studies Institute, 1986).
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ G. William Domhoff, The power elite and the state. (Routledge, 2017).
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Priscilla Roberts, "'All the Right People': The Historiography of the American Foreign Policy Establishment." Journal of American Studies 26.3 (1992): 409-434. online
  17. ^ Donhoff, G. William, Who Rules America?, Prentice Hall, 1967.
  18. ^ Davidson, James D.; Pyle, Ralph E.; Reyes, David V. (1995). "Persistence and Change in the Protestant Establishment, 1930-1992". Social Forces. 74 (1): 157–175 [p. 164]. doi:10.1093/sf/74.1.157. JSTOR 2580627.
  19. ^ Lipka, Michael (2 July 2018). "5 facts about Episcopalians". Pew Research Center.

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