The Establishment is a term used to refer to the dominant group or elite holding the effective power or authority in a nation, in particular when viewed as being opposed to change. It is often used for the traditional ruling class or power elite and the structures of society that they control. The term can be used to describe specific entrenched elite structures in specific institutions, but is usually informal in application. The term is most often used in Britain, where it includes leading politicians, senior civil servants, the most important financiers, and industrialists, governors of the BBC, and the Royal Court. 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.” The term was quickly picked up in newspapers and magazines all over London, making Fairlie famous. He had not been the first to use The Establishment in this fashion; Ralph Waldo Emerson had it a century before – 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. Sociologically speaking, one who does not belong to “The Establishment” is an “outsider”.
The term is often use 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.” The term is also erroneously borrowed in the context of Hong Kong politics, where political parties, community groups, chambers of commerce, trade unions and individuals who are cooperative with and loyal to Beijing and the post-1997 Hong Kong Government are labelled (most often self-labelled) ‘pro-establishment’. The term first appeared around 2005, in contrast with pro-democracy camp, to displace previously common yet derogatory labels. They also label the pro-democracy camp as ‘the opposition’, which they use with negative connotations in the Cantonese language spoken by a majority in the territory, whereas ‘pro-establishment’ is usually considered positive, since it carries the characters for constructive, and for systematic or orderly. Before that these people and organisations were called (Beijing) loyalists, royalists, pro-communists (which were all considered derogatory), and pro-China, etc. It is erroneous in the sense that this term is not commonly regarded to cover pro-democracy politicians in the territory’s legislature, nor prominent barristers and solicitors who are vocal in criticising the government, amongst others.