An anti-establishment view or belief is one which stands in opposition to the conventional social, political, and economic principles of a society. The term was first used in the modern sense in 1958, by the British magazine New Statesman to refer to its political and social agenda.[1] Antiestablishmentarianism (or anti-establishmentarianism) is an expression for such a political philosophy.

Anti-establishment in Iceland

The Pirate Party of Iceland has a really strong movement of anti-establishment.[2][3][4]

Anti-establishment figures in the United Kingdom

In the UK anti-establishment figures and groups are seen as those who argue or act against the ruling class. Having an established church, in England, a British monarchy, an aristocracy, and an unelected upper house in Parliament made up in part by hereditary nobles, the UK has a clearly definable Establishment against which anti-establishment figures can be contrasted. In particular, satirical humour is commonly used to undermine the deference shown by the majority of the population towards those who govern them. Examples of British anti-establishment satire include much of the humour of Peter Cook and Ben Elton; novels such as Rumpole of the Bailey; magazines such as Private Eye; and television programmes like Spitting Image, Rumpole of the Bailey, That Was The Week That Was, and The Prisoner (see also the satire boom of the 1960s). Anti-establishment themes also can be seen in the novels of writers such as Will Self.[5]

However, by operating through the arts and media, the line between politics and culture is blurred, so that pigeonholing figures such as Banksy as either anti-establishment or counter-culture figures can be difficult.[6] The tabloid newspapers such as The Sun, are less subtle, and commonly report on the sex-lives of the Royals simply because it sells papers, but in the process have been described as having anti-establishment views that have weakened traditional institutions.[7] On the other hand, as time passes, anti-establishment figures sometimes end up becoming part of the Establishment, as Mick Jagger, the Rolling Stones frontman, became a Knight in 2003,[8] or when The Who frontman Roger Daltrey was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2005 in recognition of both his music and his work for charity.[9]

The pop term "Anti-Establishment" in the United States

Individuals who were anti-establishment often spoke of "fighting the man", "selling out to the Establishment", and "tearing down the Establishment." Many well renowned activists and activist groups innovated great changes to society by standing up to "the Establishment", including the MC5, Symbionese Liberation Army, Black Panther Party, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Malvina Reynolds, Dead Kennedys, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Bernie Sanders, Public Enemy, System of a Down, K-Rino, Immortal Technique, Black Flag, Rage Against the Machine, Terminator X, Gil-Scott Heron, dead prez, Timothy Leary, Paris and Lupe Fiasco among others.

The "Establishment" to these, and these anti-establishment activists was not simply the people of the older generation. Dictionary.com defines the establishment as "the existing power structure in society; the dominant groups in society and their customs or institutions; institutional authority",[10] Merriam-Webster defines the words as "a group of social, economic, and political leaders who form a ruling class"[11] and The Free Dictionary defines it as "A group of people holding most of the power and influence in a government or society."[12] Social critic and "people's" historian Howard Zinn defines the establishment as "Republicans, Democrats, newspapers [and] television" in his book, A People's History of the United States.[13] Later Zinn calls out the "huge military establishment" which one could assume is part of his definition of the "Establishment." In a chapter of the book that expresses Zinn's political theory for the future he defines "the Establishment [as] that uneasy club of business executives, generals, and politicos."[14]

Later in Zinn's book is a reprinted quote from Samuel Huntington, who was a Harvard University political science professor and White House political consultant, that describes the establishment and the coalition a president should establish upon being elected:

"...the President act[s]...with the support and cooperation of key individuals and groups in the executive office, the federal bureaucracy, Congress, and the more important businesses, banks, law firms, foundations, and media, which constitute the private sector's "Establishment."...The day after [the President's]...election, the size of his majority is almost — if not entirely — irrelevant to his ability to govern the country. What counts then is his ability to mobilize support from the leaders of key institutions in a society and government. ... This coalition must include key people in Congress, the executive branch, and the private-sector 'Establishment'."[15]

Early Usage

The anti-Establishment began in the 1940s and continued through the 1950s.

Many World War II veterans, who had seen horrors and inhumanities, began to question every aspect of life, including its meaning. Urged to return to "normal lives" and plagued by post traumatic stress disorder (discussing it was "not manly"), many veterans found suburbia cloying and empty.

The Hells Angels were originally composed of WWII veterans feeling rebellious: the name came from WWII fighting units. The image of Marlon Brando as a motorcycle rebel in The Wild One and James Dean as a Rebel Without a Cause horrified some Americans and electrified others. Some veterans, who founded the Beat Movement, were denigrated as Beatniks and accused of being "downbeat" on everything. Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote a Beat autobiography that cited his wartime service.

Many people craved angry "true" commentary such as Lenny Bruce's acid-tongued comedy, or simply a desire for more personal freedom, even "vices". Playboy magazine, with its famous nudes, was the first skin mag sold alongside national magazines, and caused a scandal and backlash.

Many women also harbored a deep resentment. During the war years, they had been encouraged to assume men's roles in industry, both white collar and blue collar. Rosie the Riveter was a national icon. But after the war, women were forced to give up their jobs and become homemakers.

Citizens had also begun to question authority, especially after the Gary Powers U-2 Incident, wherein President Eisenhower repeatedly assured people the USA was not spying on Russia, then was caught in a blatant lie. This general dissatisfaction was popularized by Peggy Lee's laconic pop song "Is That All There Is?", but remained unspoken and unfocused. It wasn't until the Baby Boomers came along in huge numbers that protest became organized (or disorganized in the case of the hippies), who were named by the Beats as "little hipsters".


Anti-Establishment became a buzzword of the tumultuous 1960s. Young people raised in comparative luxury saw many wrongs perpetuated by society and began to question "the Establishment". Contentious issues included the ongoing Vietnam War with no clear goal or end point, the constant military build-up and diversion of funds for the Cold War, perpetual widespread poverty being ignored, money-wasting boondoggles like pork barrel projects and the Space Race, festering race issues, a stultifying education system, repressive laws and harsh sentences for casual drug use, and a general malaise among the older generation. On the other side, "Middle America" often regarded questions as accusations, and saw the younger generation as spoiled, drugged-out, sex-crazed, unambitious slackers.

Anti-Establishment debates were common because they touched on everyday aspects of life. Even innocent questions could escalate into angry diatribes. For example, "Why do we spend millions on a foreign war and a space program when our schools are falling apart?" would be answered with "We need to keep our military strong and ready to stop the Communists from taking over the world." As in any debate, there were valid and unsupported arguments on both sides. "Make love not war" invoked "America, love it or leave it."

As a hippie, Ken Westerfield helped to popularize Frisbee as an alternative disc sport in the 1960s and 1970s.

As the 1960s simmered, the anti-Establishment adopted conventions in opposition to the Establishment. T-shirts and blue jeans became the uniform of the young because their parents wore collar shirts and slacks. Drug use, with its illegal panache, was favored over the legal consumption of alcohol. Promoting peace and love was the antidote to promulgating hatred and war. Living in genteel poverty was more "honest" than amassing a nest egg and a house in the suburbs. Rock 'n roll was played loudly over easy listening. Dodging the draft was passive resistance to traditional military service. Dancing was free-style, not learned in a ballroom. Over time, anti-establishment messages crept into popular culture: songs, fashion, movies, lifestyle choices, television.

The emphasis on freedom allowed previously hushed conversations about sex, politics, or religion to be openly discussed. A wave of liberation movements came out of 1960s: the feminist movement, the Black Panthers and Black Power, gay rights, Native American awareness, even "Gray Power" for elders. Programs were put in place to deal with inequities: Equal Opportunity Employment, the Head Start Program, enforcement of the Civil Rights Act, busing, and others. But the widespread dissemination of new ideas also sparked a backlash and resurgence in conservative religions, new segregated private schools, anti-gay and anti-abortion legislation, and other reversals. Extremists tended to be heard more because they made good copy for newspapers and television. In many ways, the angry debates of the 1960s led to modern right-wing talk radio and coalitions for "traditional family values".

As the 1960s passed, society had changed to the point that the definition of the Establishment had blurred, and the term "anti-establishment" seemed to fall out of use.

1960s to present: the use of anti-establishment rhetoric in American politics

Howard Zinn, in his bestseller titled A People's History of the United States mentions the concept of "establishment" several times in the book. In reference to the 1896 election and McKinley's victory,[16] when talking about socialism in the early 20th century,[17] a major WWI general strike in 1919,[18] when writing about the aftermath of WWII,[19] in the talk about the repression of a communist party organizer, in discussion of the 1963 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King and others,[20] when writing about how even when black leaders were elected, they couldn't overcome the establishment and in reference to opposition in the Vietnam war,[20] the establishment before and after the Watergate Scandal,[21] the establishment from Jimmy Carter's Administration to George H.W.'s administration,[22] the Iran-Contra Affair and the establishment, the maintaining of the military establishment even after the Cold War ended, the Vietnam Syndrome that leads to anti-establishment thought,[23] and in a discussion of the 2000 election.[24]

The "Anti-Establishment" in India

In India, the 1960s saw emergence of a group of writers who called themselves Hungryalists. They were the first anti-establishment and counter culture writers in Bengal whose dissenting voice drew attention of the government and court cases were filed against them.[25] The main anti-establishment voices in Bengali literature have been Malay Roy Choudhury, Samir Roychoudhury, Subimal Basak and Tridib Mitra.

1999 WTO protests, Occupy protests and anti-establishment thought

In 2011, with the rise of anti-austerity protests, the Arab Spring, online activism like Anonymous and the advent of the Occupy protests targeting the power of high finance and fighting for "the 99%," anti-establishment thought has reappeared. BBC News commented in one article that "The sinister Guy Fawkes mask made famous by the film V for Vendetta has become an emblem for anti-establishment protest groups."[26] During the 1999 WTO protests the Earth Rainbow Network had (and still has) a page titled "The Anti-Establishment Files: Info and background material on the coming World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle."[27]

Anti-establishment in Australia

The United Party Palmer has been referred to as an anti-establishment party.[28]

See also


  1. ^ The Compact Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, Clarendon Press, 1991. ISBN 0-19-861258-3
  2. ^ http://www.thejournal.ie/iceland-pirate-party-2-3049417-Oct2016/
  3. ^ https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/trend-lines/20241/pirate-party-set-to-capitalize-on-anti-establishment-sentiment-in-iceland-s-elections
  4. ^ https://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/10/31/world/europe/icelands-prime-minister-resigns-after-pirate-party-makes-strong-gains.html?referer=
  5. ^ Chris Mitchell. "Self Destruction". Spike Magazine. Archived from the original on 1 November 2006. Retrieved 20 October 2006. 
  6. ^ "Faces of the week". BBC. 15 September 2006. Retrieved 20 October 2006. 
  7. ^ "Prince fears media embarrassment". BBC. 27 September 2006. Retrieved 20 October 2006. 
  8. ^ "Jagger: It's only rock 'n' roll". BBC News. 12 December 2003. 
  9. ^ "Who singer Daltrey collects CBE". BBC. 9 February 2005. Retrieved 20 October 2006. 
  10. ^ "The definition of establishment". 
  11. ^ "Definition of ESTABLISHMENT". merriam-webster.com. 
  12. ^ "Establishment" – via The Free Dictionary. 
  13. ^ "The Seventies: Under Control?". historyisaweapon.com. 
  14. ^ Zinn, Howard. "The Coming Revolt of the Guards." History Is A Weapon. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 March 2012. <http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinncomrev24.html>.
  15. ^ Zinn, Howard. "The Seventies: Under Control?." History Is A Weapon. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 March 2012. <http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinnseven20.html>.
  16. ^ Zinn, Howard. "Robber Barons And Rebels." History Is A Weapon. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 March 2012. <http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinnbaron11.html>.
  17. ^ Zinn, Howard. "War is the Health of the State." History Is A Weapon. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 March 2012. <http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinnwarhea14.html>.
  18. ^ Zinn, Howard. "Self Help in Hard Times." History Is A Weapon. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 March 2012. <http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinnselhel15.html>.
  19. ^ Zinn, Howard. "A People's War?" History Is A Weapon. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 March 2012. <http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinnpeopleswar.html>.
  20. ^ a b Zinn, Howard. "Or Does it Explode?" History Is A Weapon. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 March 2012. <http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinn17explo.html>.
  21. ^ Zinn, Howard. "The Seventies: Under Control?" History Is A Weapon. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 March 2012. <http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinnimvivi18.html>
  22. ^ Zinn, Howard. "Carter-Reagan-Bush: The Bipartisan Consensus." History Is A Weapon. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 March 2012. <http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinncarebu21.html>.
  23. ^ Zinn, Howard. "The Unreported Resistance." History Is A Weapon. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 March 2012. <http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinnunrepo22.html>.
  24. ^ Zinn, Howard. "The 2000 Election and the "War on Terrorism"." History Is A Weapon. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 March 2012. <http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinn2000electionch25.html>.
  25. ^ Amritalok ISSN.0971-4308
  26. ^ "V for Vendetta masks: Who's behind them?". BBC News. 20 October 2011. 
  27. ^ "The Anti-Establishment Files: The WTO meeting in Seattle". earthrainbownetwork.com. 
  28. ^ "The rise of anti-establishment political parties". abc.net.au. 23 May 2014.