The Establishment is 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 élite structures in specific institutions. One can refer to any relatively small class or group of people that 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" (as opposed to an "insider"). Anti-authoritarian and anti-establishment ideologies question the legitimacy of establishments, even seeing their influence on society as anti-democratic.
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 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 the United Kingdom (more specifically, in England) cannot be understood unless it is recognized that it is exercised socially.
Following that, the term the Establishment was quickly picked up in newspapers and magazines all over London, making Fairlie famous. 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. It is used as a loanword in many other languages.
Inside the American Sociological Association the term is often used by those protesting a small clique that controls the organisation. In 1968, a group of academics formed the "Sociology Liberation Movement" (SLM) in order to repudiate the leadership of the American Sociological Association itself, which the SLM referred to as the "Establishment in American sociology".
In the United Kingdom, entrenched groups that form the establishment may[weasel words] include the Royal family, aristocracy (peerage and landed gentry), privy council, civil servants, legal representatives, academics, clergy in the Church of England, financiers, industrialists, teachers and other professionals.
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), 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. 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 twenty-first century.
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."
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 Communist Party of China and the post-handover Hong Kong Government are labelled (most often self-labelled) "pro-Beijing" or "pro-establishment". The term first appeared in 2004.
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", and about leadership communities in policy areas such as foreign policy. 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.
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.