The Establishment

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The Establishment generally denotes a dominant group or elite that holds power or authority in a nation or organization. The Establishment may be a closed social group which selects its own members (as opposed to selection by merit or election) or specific entrenched elite structures, either in government or in specific institutions.

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 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 labelled an "outsider".[2][3]


The term is most often used in Britain, in which context it includes leading politicians, senior civil servants, senior barristers and judges, aristocrats, Oxbridge academics, senior clergy in the established Church of England, the most important financiers and industrialists, governors of the BBC, and the members of and top aides to the royal family. 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 been 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 famous. However, the term The Establishment, had been used by Ralph Waldo Emerson in a similar 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 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, with significant American input, would, following the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, establish and control the Royal Institute for International Affairs, later to become known as 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.


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),[9] Amir Abedi refers to the Labor Party and the Coalition Parties (the Liberal Party and the National/Country Party) as the establishment parties. It is communally thought that the Coalition parties are more closely aligned to the American and particularly the British political establishment than is the Labor Party. This would seem to be borne out by the fact that many more former members of the Coalition parties have been honoured by the monarchy for services to the Commonwealth.


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.

Hong Kong

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.


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.

Its ideals support the powerful military mindset, 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


  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Elias, Norbert; Martins, Herminio; Whitley, Richard (1982). Scientific Establishments and Hierarchies. Dordrecht: Reidel. ISBN 978-90-277-1322-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Fairlie, Henry, "Political Commentary", The Spectator, 23 September 1955.
  5. Fairlie, Henry (19 October 1968). "Evolution of a Term". The New Yorker.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "The Anglo-American Establishment" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-05-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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. Anglo-American Establishment (9780945001010): Quigley Carroll: Books. ISBN 0945001010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Anti-political Establishment Parties: A Comparative Analysis - Amir Abedi - Google Buku". Retrieved 2015-05-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Haqqani, Husain (2005). Pakistan : between mosque and military (1. print. ed.). Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. ISBN 978-0870032141.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Burch Jr, Philip H. "The American establishment: Its historical development and major economic components." Research in political economy 6 (1983): 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)
  • 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)