I want to develop a point I made briefly in response to yesterday's post (Modcast). The Establishment, whether Presbyterian or some other kind, is not a tight organic network of strong ties. For one thing, as a national body, it is too dispersed to have the regular contact that a strong network requires. For another, it links together people from different, sometimes competing, institutions.
Within each institution the members of the Establishment are elite individuals, often the top of the local pyramid. As a result, they are well connected in their institution, and to others in their local area. As members of the Establishment, these elite individuals are connected to many other elite individuals by weak ties. Thus, the many strong local networks that these elite individuals are central to are loosely tied to many other strong local networks. The whole Establishment is powerful because the information in any one of these local networks can be mobilized and spread through the national network of weak ties to other places in the Establishment network.
On the other hand, the difference between an Establishment and an aggregation of elite individuals is that the Establishment people are tied in many parallel ways not related to work. In the social Establishment of the nation that E. Digby Baltzell wrote about, family ties assimilated elite individuals into an enduring and socializing national class. This familial class Nelson Aldrich happily called the "cousinage." In the Presbyterian Establishment, the family ties may be weaker -- though by no means absent. Instead, Establishment individuals will have shared experiences from colleges, seminaries, retreat centers, missions, and worship services of all kinds to bind them together in the green wood. These are the ties that help the church function with authority, especially in times of crisis.