There seems to be a long running trend in established democracies that traditional parties and candidates are losing ground to those who primarily profile themselves as "anti-establishment".

Naturally, there is a lot that separates for example the Italian five-star movement from Donald Trump and the UK Independence party. (Just to name three examples of what I'd call typical anti-establishmentism) but is there so much common ground that we can talk about a (somewhat) coherent movement?

For the sake of this question, we are talking about parties and candidates who:

  • Clearly spins themselves as outsiders, separate from "politicians".
  • Can be either left or right leaning. (I'd include Bernie Sanders for example)
  • Are both unwilling to enter a coalition (that would neccessitate compromise) and are not really considered as a coalition partner by other parties (who don't see them as trustworthy).
  • Fervently rejects not only the political elite but also established media, academic scholars and businessmen who question them. (Primarily counter argument being "They are establishement, therefore they oppose me")

A good answer would find a common source, common stated values/policies and preferably somthing akin to the philosophical groundwork of "traditional" ideologies. ie, who are the Marx/Burke/Mills of the anti-establishmentists.

  • 2
    Not sure what you are asking. As you said yourself, those movements can be very different in political beliefs (take Bernie Sanders and UKIP as an example), so how should they be a coherent political movement? And isn't any new movement or party "anti-establishment" to a certain extent, as they are not established yet and have to distinguish themselves from "the rest"?
    – Thern
    Mar 6, 2018 at 12:43
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    Revolutionaries are always anti-establishment, by definition. Also the outsiders, representatives of fringe groups are usually anti-establishment because that is their only chance to get influence. Often there is also the image of the ordinary man, unheard by those above. Citizen platforms or grass-root movement are also usually anti-establishment. Mostly it's just a label I think.
    – Trilarion
    Mar 6, 2018 at 12:59
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    I think "anti-establishment" just means against the establishment. As it contains such extremely different groups as corruption protesters, anti-globalization fighters, or islamists, I am quite sure that being against the establishment is more or less the only unifying thing across that groups.
    – Thern
    Mar 6, 2018 at 13:38
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    @Guran My point was that you'll find left-wing "anti-establishment" movements in right wing countries. And you'll also find right wing "anti-establishment" movements in left wing countries. So I feel this is mostly a pop-culture phenomena, not an actual philosophy or political ideology. So, as far as my knowledge goes, the answer to your title question is No. But the last paragraph in the question seems to require some kind of commonality for this undefined "thing".
    – armatita
    Mar 6, 2018 at 14:52
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    Horseshoe theory may be relevant. linked
    – user9389
    Mar 6, 2018 at 18:25

3 Answers 3


Anti-Establishment movements define themselves by two things. The first is that they don't have any strong connections to existing politicians. This allows them to appeal to voters who distrust career politicians in general, but doesn't really say much about their political positions. The second is that they address niche issues and hold viewpoints which do not get much representation from the existing parties.

But which viewpoints these are can be very different from country to country. In Europe, it's often anti-EU, anti-immigration and/or anti-islamism, but there are also anti-establishment movements with other priorities. In the United States there are also multiple movements which label themselves anti-establishment, like the small-state Tea Party movement, the anti-progressive alt-right movement or the anti-capitalist Occupy movement.

If you are looking for a common denominator of all anti-establishment political movements around the globe, then you will usually find that they usually all have some kind of anti-corruption message (presenting themselves as a corruption-free alternative to the "corrupt establishment"), but limiting them to just that would be an oversimplification. You also often hear demands for more direct democracy from anti-establishment candidates. This often fits well into their populist narrative of being "the voice of the silent majority". But most movements and candidates considered anti-establishment have other primary issues. When they have much overlap with anti-establishment candidates in other countries, that's usually more of a coincidence.

  • The last paragraph reads a bit as if the overlap between anti-establishment parties and establishment parties in general is rather large and the differences rather small (although locally there might be some differences). I would even guess that eventually every anti-establishment movement ends up as establishment or vanishes. Anti-establishment rather means something like recently founded.
    – Trilarion
    Mar 7, 2018 at 10:53

No way.

Wiktionary defines "the Establishment" as the ruling class or authority group in society; especially, an entrenched authority dedicated to preserving the status quo.

Given that definition, Donald Trump was part of the establishment before he became president. But during his election campaign it became clear that in some way he was also outside of the Establishment and especially not part of the Republican party's inner circle.

But then he won the election and became the president of the United States. It would, in my mind, be absurd to not consider the president of the United States part of the Establishment. Therefore Donald Trump is now part of the Establishment. But his supporters have not abandoned him so how could they ever be anti-Establishment?

What it comes down to is are you against Establishment itself, the structure of the Establishment or the people that the Establishment consists of?

Anarchists are against the Establishment itself. They want to reshape society so that it will work without any "ruling class or authority group" at all.

Communists, Fascists and Nazis are against the structure of the Establishment. They seek to change how the Establishment works. Communists want to create a Socialist society while Fascists and Nazis want to create a Fascist state. In these societies, their preferred ideology would dominate.

Neither Donald Trump, UKIP nor any other group you mention, want to change the structure of the Establishment. On the contrary, most of those groups are conservative and want to preserve the status quo. What unites them is the identification of enemies. Trump declared Clinton and Obama the enemies, and UKIP the EU. Those were and are part of the Establishment, but not the Establishment itself.

In my opinion, is not enough for someone to want to oust the current run of incumbents to be anti-Establishment. Because then anti-Establishment would merely be synonymous with populism.


The common denominator of the anti-establishment parties/movements is that "anti-establishment" is used as a marketing term.

So called anti-establishment parties or candidates sometimes create a logical fallacy, as their parties are part of the establishment, or their policies do not harm the establishment.

Is Donald Trump really anti-establishment? By rhetoric, he is; but if you look at his party (one of the two established parties of the US) or his cabient, then does not look so much of an anti-establishment candidate anymore. Another US example would be Bernie Sanders, who has been in politics for decades.

In Austria, the FPÖ, makes strong use of the notion of being anti-establishment. However, this party has been in a government coalition several times, the party was founded in 1955, and has been in parliament ever since. Not exactly anti-establishment. They have, however, for the most time been in opposition.

So what have enti-establishment parties/movements/candidates in common?

They are currently not in government.

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