One of the strangest terms in common use today is “the international community.” It is used endlessly, invoked as a moral arbiter, and proclaimed a transcendent ideal. But no one seems to have the slightest idea what it actually means, and it is regularly employed in so many different ways that arriving at a meaning would probably be impossible. It is probably long since time for the term to be retired, since it is essentially undefinable, and thus inherently misleading, but it is useful in that it points us toward the existence of a phenomenon which has been remarked upon before but never fully defined. Put simply, without anyone really intending to, and in some cases against the better judgment of all involved, we now find ourselves living in a world that is profoundly guided and influenced by an “international community” of a certain kind, one that would perhaps be better described as a Transnational Establishment.
“The Establishment,” like “the international community,” is a supremely popular and much abused term, but it is based on a fairly insightful analysis of power and the way power manifests itself. It was coined by a pugnacious British journalist Henry Fairlie, who wrote in 1955,
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 recognized that it is exercised socially.
Fairlie realized something that goes beyond the British context he was describing. Namely, that power and the exercise of it is not merely a political and economic phenomenon, but also—perhaps primarily—a social phenomenon. Quite often, he realized, power is achieved, maintained and exercised socially, and not politically and economically. One need not be rich, titled, smart, or elected in order to be part of the Establishment and thus to take part in its power. One simply had to be socially accepted within its ranks.