From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
An anti-establishment view or belief is one that goes against 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. The term can be distinguished from counterculture, a word normally used to describe artistic rather than political movements that run against the prevailing taste and values of the time.
Although the term has retained its original meaning in British English and continues to be applied to various individuals and groups, in American English the term is used more specifically to describe certain social and political movements that occurred during the 1950s and 1960s.
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, Black Panther Party, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Malvina Reynolds, Dead Kennedys, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Bernie Sanders, the Tea Party Movement, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Many bands or music groups would also be considered anti-establishment, including Public Enemy, System of a Down, Immortal Technique, Black Flag, Rage Against the Machine, 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", Merriam-Webster defines the words as "a group of social, economic, and political leaders who form a ruling class" and The Free Dictionary defines it as "A group of people holding most of the power and influence in a government or society." 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. 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."
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'."--quoted in The American Commonwealth, 1976 Nathan Glazer, Irving Kristol
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"), in which many of them went on to found the outlaw motorcycle gang Hell's Angels. 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.
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 was not until the Baby Boomers came along in huge numbers that protest became organized, 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 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 radical liberation movements for minority groups came out of the 1960s, including second-wave feminism; Black Power, Red Power, and the Chicano Movement; and gay liberation. These movements differed from previous efforts to improve minority rights by their opposition to respectability politics and militant tone. 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, when talking about socialism in the early 20th century, a major WWI general strike in 1919, when writing about the aftermath of WWII, in the talk about the repression of a communist party organizer, in discussion of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom led by Martin Luther King Jr. and others, 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, the establishment from Jimmy Carter's Administration to George H.W.'s administration, 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, and in a discussion of the 2000 election.
- Conflict theories
- The Establishment
- Hungry generation
- New Left
- Peace movement
- Pro-democracy camp (Hong Kong)
- Political radicalism