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 inheritance, merit or election). The term can be used to describe specific entrenched elite structures in specific institutions, but is usually informal in application and is more likely used by the media than by scholars.

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 was 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 recognised that it is exercised socially."[1]

The term was quickly picked up in newspapers and magazines all over London, making Fairlie fairly famous. He had not been the first to use The Establishment in this fashion; Ralph Waldo Emerson had it a century before[2]—the Oxford English Dictionary would cite Fairlie's column as its locus classicus.

This use of the word was presumably influenced by the British term established church for the official churches in Great Britain. The term was soon found useful in discussing power elites in many countries, and the English word is used as a loanword in many languages.

In the jargon of sociology, one who does not belong to "The Establishment" is an "outsider".[3][4]

American Sociological Association[edit]

The term is often used by rebels complaining about a small group that dominates a larger organization. For example, in 1968 academic radicals 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".[5]

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.[6] 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. ^ Fairlie, Henry, "Political Commentary", The Spectator, 23 September 1955.
  2. ^ Fairlie, Henry (19 October 1968). "Evolution of a Term". The New Yorker. 
  3. ^ Elias, Norbert; Scotson, John L (1965). The Established and the Outsiders. OCLC 655412048. [page needed]
  4. ^ Elias; Martins, Herminio; Whitley, Richard (1982). Scientific Establishments and Hierarchies. Dordrecht: Reidel. ISBN 978-90-277-1322-3. [page needed]
  5. ^ Alan Barcan, Sociological theory and educational reality (1993) p. 150
  6. ^ Haqqani, Husain (2005). Pakistan : between mosque and military (1. print. ed.). Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. ISBN 978-0870032141. 

Further reading[edit]