See title. I don't want to get political in this forum so please don't take the examples too seriously. This would be in a situation like how Christianity went from a persecuted regional sect to the main religion of the Roman Empire, or maybe a labor union that accumulates enough clout that it starts to oppress the company that contracts it? But even though this once-oppressed group is now in power, it may continue to have the mindset of and pursue goals in the manner of an outgroup.

"Tail wagging the dog" would be on the right path, but not correct because the tail remains a small and secondary part of the dog. In that metaphorical world I'd want something more like "Tail becoming the leash". "Cart before the horse" isn't quite right either; "cart driving the horse" would actually be pretty close, but that's not an existing phrase.

I'm hoping this is a phenomenon that has a technical name that I could research, but I'd settle for an idiom.

Edited after reading Erin-Kate Sousa's answer.

  • 1
    Commenting not answering as only have a word not phrase - hegemony, defined by Collins as the situation in which one country, organization, or group has more power, control, or importance than others. seem to cover some of what you want. Perhaps with an adjective to describe the dominant group e.g. Christian hegemony ?
    – k1eran
    Feb 21, 2017 at 20:31
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    In psychiatry, persecution complex or persecutory delusion. These refer to an irrational internal belief that one is being persecuted. This naturally leads to actions which are not rational, but would be rational if the fact were true.
    – MetaEd
    Feb 21, 2017 at 21:03
  • @MetaEd That's a really solid answer (the best I've seen so far) and describes more than a few cases of what I'm thinking about. However, I would imagine that there are other cases where the former majority would certainly be looking to regain their power, or would regain power if not continually opposed. In that case the term 'delusion' would be problematic/uncharitable.
    – Brendan
    Feb 21, 2017 at 21:40
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    Coming from a background in computer magazine editing, I can't help but think of the phenomenon you describe as Poor Little Apple Syndrome —a self-image of being a plucky, lovable underdog that is entirely disconnected from its current wealth, power, and behavior as a titan of capitalism.
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 22, 2017 at 2:36

4 Answers 4


Try: putting the bottom rail on top - reversing the hierarchy; putting the formerly lowest sector above the formerly highest sector.


I think, especially given your first example of Christians, that it is more about a minority becoming the majority rather than becoming more powerful than the group it contrasts. Also the definition of being a minority implies less power: Ultimately, however, the terms majority and minority describe power differences. The critical feature of the minority group's status is its inferior social position, in which its interests are not effectively represented in the political, economic, and social institutions of the society (Eitzen et al., 2011:209).http://dmc122011.delmar.edu/socsci/rlong/problems/chap-08.htm

  • This is a good point. With that language in mind, I guess I'm more interested in minority groups that have become majority groups but still have the mindset of being a minority group. I'll edit the question to reflect this.
    – Brendan
    Feb 21, 2017 at 20:31
  • As Bernie Sanders says : the top 0.1% in the U.S. have almost as much wealth as bottom 90%; that 0.1% minority has plenty of power !
    – k1eran
    Feb 21, 2017 at 20:40

The minority group, although now in the majority, remains insecure, or has an inferiority complex with respect to the formerly dominant group.

Insecure, at Dictionary.com:

subject to fears, doubts, etc.; not self-confident or assured.

inferiority complex, Wikipedia:

An inferiority complex is a lack of self-worth, a doubt and uncertainty, and feelings of not measuring up to standards. It is often subconscious.

An example is the extreme Anglophilia of some people in the United States. (There is much to admire about Great Britain.) Although the US gained its independence from Great Britain more than 200 years ago, and became richer and more powerful than Great Britain, there are people in the US (some of them descendants of the people who fought in the Revolutionary War) who regard all things British as superior and to be emulated.

On an individual level, the insecurity of people who have become successful is illustrated by an article in Science Magagine, Coping with Class in Science, by Curtis D. Holder, Chair of the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs.

I grew up in rural North Carolina, in a single-parent, poor, working-class family living in a singlewide mobile home. Writing that sentence takes courage after 30 years of denial, guilt, and feeling like an outsider in academia.

Even after rising to the pinnacle of academic success, Prof. Holder did not speak out about his working-class background until recently.

Now, I regret not having spoken out more about my working-class background. Over the last few years, I have become determined to do what I can to bring the issues of social class in the university out of the dark.

The story of this professor illustrates how an entire group could still feel insecure after achieving dominance.


Group A has been oppressed by Group B for years, but finally gets enough political clout/popular support to come to power and achieve the broad points of their agenda. But even though they're now the majority and in power, they continue to act like Group B is oppressing them and use their newfound clout to further their agenda.

Group A is understandably paranoid; has trouble letting go of its underdog identity; clings to its legacy ideology or its forefathers' outlook on life; is stuck in its prior role as the oppressed; continues to respond according to outdated historical patterns....

Once you've gotten the idea across, as you continue to talk about it, you can use something shorter, and set a trend.

You might be able to develop an analogy with an organism that evolves in a certain environment to have a certain trait, and still expresses that trait even though it lives in a different environment now.

Here's an abstract about this idea:

We propose a simple model for genetic adaptation to a changing environment, describing a fitness landscape characterized by two maxima. One is associated with “specialist” individuals that are adapted to the environment; this maximum moves over time as the environment changes. The other maximum is static, and represents “generalist” individuals not affected by environmental changes. The rest of the landscape is occupied by “maladapted” individuals. Our analysis considers the evolution of these three subpopulations. Our main result is that, in presence of a sufficiently stable environmental feature, as in the case of an unchanging aspect of a physical habitat, specialists can dominate the population. By contrast, rapidly changing environmental features, such as language or cultural habits, are a moving target for the genes; here, generalists dominate, because the best evolutionary strategy is to adopt neutral alleles not specialized for any specific environment. The model we propose is based on simple assumptions about evolutionary dynamics and describes all possible scenarios in a non-trivial phase diagram. The approach provides a general framework to address such fundamental issues as the Baldwin effect, the biological basis for language, or the ecological consequences of a rapid climate change.

Maladapted sounds promising.

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