Thursday 9 February 2012

The Dream of Pharaoh

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

We have reached the end of days. It’s obvious, is it not, in this year of the Maya? The banking crisis, the euro crisis, war, famine and pestilence are all there; the calendar moves into its final phase. Public debt rises and national economies weaken under the burden. Anarchists occupy New York’s Wall Street; anarchists set up camp outside Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London. The veil has been lifted; all has been revealed; the apocalypse is here!

Actually, we’ve been here before, many times, in the great cycles of our history. There is a timely reminder in History Today by Tim Stanley that chaos and poverty are the historical norms of Western civilization, not peace and plenty. Bad times always appear uniquely bad to those living through them, but they are seldom as bad as all that, or we can at least comfort ourselves with worse examples. In previous ages millenarian sects would rise by the dozen in cataclysmic times, the flagellants would be wandering the streets, their backs all bloody. Now we just wring our hands while we watch the slow motion collapse of the euro!

Oddly enough some of the examples given by Stanley in his article seem understated, or rather it seems odd to me to set the German Peasant’s War, a great national tragedy, alongside the US Bank War of the 1830s, when then President Andrew Jackson took the kind of action that the present Wall Street shower could not even dream of! But, hey, where is the Black Death?!

He’s certainly more on key in highlighting the troubles of the Great Depression, which make our present banking crisis still something of a teddy bears’ picnic. Then there really was war and rumours of wars; then history entered one of its most malevolent cycles, the nadir of civilization. In my own period of special interest, England of the seventeenth century, the world was indeed turned upside down during the Civil Wars, many expecting the Second Coming daily.

Karl Marx was wrong about boom and bust, as he was wrong about most things; it’s not a feature of capitalist accumulation; it’s a feature of human history. It’s there in the Bible in the dream of Pharaoh, the fat years followed by the lean years. The trouble is that we come to believe that the fat years are fat forever; they are not. If communism was the delusion of Marx the end of history was the delusion of Francis Fukuyama, the delusion of a great many of us.

It might be the delusion of democracy itself, which is arguably not the end of historical evolution, but merely a stage passing through, simply a chrysalis. Stanley quite rightly says that the end of the Cold War and the global sweep of democratic capitalism in the 1990s gave the impression that the struggle of history was over, a reverse Utopia from that anticipated by the Marxists. But democracy promised more than it could deliver; and in Russia it delivered chaos.

Now democracy is an inconvenience for the big battalions, as Robert Michels’ iron law of oligarchy takes definite hold in the European Union. Here government of the bureaucrats by the bureaucrats for the bureaucrats makes sure that meaningful democracy shall indeed perish from the earth, or the European part of it at least. Still, the end is not yet. Things might be bad but they could always be much, much worse. Let me rest and dream of the Maya. :-)


  1. It ain't over yet, soon enough we will see.

  2. Coincidentally, I've just finished reading Sir John Glubb's little treatise The Fate Of Empires (1978). Sir John made quite a few insightful and prescient comments, which I found somewhat remarkable in such a short work. A sampling:

    "The first direction in which wealth injures
    the nation is a moral one. Money replaces
    honour and adventure as the objective of the
    best young men. Moreover, men do not
    normally seek to make money for their
    country or their community, but for themselves. Education undergoes the same gradual
    transformation. No longer do schools aim at
    producing brave patriots ready to serve their
    country. Parents and students alike seek the
    educational qualifications which will
    command the highest salaries."

    "Money being in better supply than courage,
    subsidies instead of weapons are employed
    to buy off enemies...The weakness of pacifism is that there are still many peoples in the world who are aggressive."

    "As in the case of the Athenians, intellectualism leads to discussion, debate
    and argument, such as is typical of the
    Western nations today. Debates in elected
    assemblies or local committees, in articles in
    the Press or in interviews on television—
    endless and incessant talking. Men are interminably different, and intellectual arguments rarely lead to agreement. Thus public affairs drift from bad to worse, amid an unceasing cacophony of argument. But this constant dedication to discussion seems to destroy the power of action. Amid a Babel of talk, the ship drifts on to the rocks."

    "Another remarkable and unexpected symptom of national decline is the intensification of internal political hatreds. One would have expected that, when the survival of the nation became precarious, political factions would drop their rivalry and stand shoulder-to-shoulder to save their country."

    "One of the oft-repeated phenomena of
    great empires is the influx of foreigners...the immigrants are liable to form communities of their own, protecting primarily their own interests, and only in the second degree that of the nation as a whole."

    1. Bob, terrific quotes--thank you! Ana, I'm glad to see how learned are your courtiers . . . ! Chris

  3. History is change; sometimes a gentle tidal ebb and flow, sometimes a tempest or a cataclysm, but always in motion. There is no state of being so benign some pestilential meddler doesn't want it different. Someone's always scheming; factions are always plotting, even in the quietest times.

    Ambition and rivalry are part of human nature, just as much as curiosity and creativity. Without these characteristics, humans would be mere ants. For us to reach an end of the infinite variations that create history, would mean we had finally lost our humanity and become something else.

  4. By constantly referring to the sovereign of ancient Egypt during the time of Abraham and Joseph as 'Pharaoh' The Bible portrays an anachronistic setting not in consonance with the Egyptological data, this is an historical inaccuracy. The Quran on the other hand correctly mentions them as 'Kings' rather than Pharaohs. As for the monarchs who ruled during the time of Moses The Quran repeatedly calls them Pharaohs.

    1. Rehan, you surprise me. I was under the impression that the sovereigns of Egypt from the days of Namer onwards were always known as Pharaohs. Clearly something I shall have to look in to.

  5. Anastasia you really have a great mind and the way, with ease you take any subject, it amazes me. Permit me to share my thoughts on Tim Stanley’s observations.
    The sheer adventurism of an intellect with absolute disconnection from the reality, cultivates the mind with cynical impressions of apocalypses. Talk any subject; they will create crises from that. They peel patches of history to illustrate the resulting events, which they foresee would bring doom. Crises were there in the past, crises will remain in future too...Crises won’t go. As I understand the dynamics of crises, it involves many aspects of life. When I say crises, it means any event of very significant nature which causes considerable impact over the world and its inhabitant.
    Anastasia world is a dangerous place to live and we are living in this, mankind surviving for thousands of years, we have learned the way to live with given terms and we survive too...Don’t you think amidst all confusion and chaos around we are surviving...This is a miracle ...With all due regard to Tim Stanley, I believe, he needs to examine many other aspects by taking into account, the world as whole...I surely don’t wish to question his authority on this subject. Whether the prophecy of doom as predicted by Maya calendar and Chinese holds any substance or not, but the happenings (as you have enumerated) around the globe is a matter of grave concern...I see that as churning...
    Come what may I still hold natural disaster as the only threat to we mankind...It happened earlier, it can happen now...I am just keeping my finger crossed... As you are resting and dreaming of Maya...The world is living dangerously
    Anastasia, if with God grace, we both survives the natural catastrophe, then surely we would have wad of currency notes to look

  6. While I agree with you that history is cyclical, and I don't accept that the Apocalypse is nigh, there is also a long-term trend line, which I won't call progress, although some might, that is visible in events that are irrevocable and in some way improve the human condition, such as the Reformation and the scientific revolution.

    "It might be the delusion of democracy itself, which is arguably not the end of historical evolution, but merely a stage passing through..."

    I'm surprised that you wrote this Ana, although I think you're right. I've long thought democracy to be, in Churchill's words, "the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried", and some other form is probably necessary to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Unfortunately, I have no idea what that other form is or should be.

    1. Dennis, I think in the end, if there is an end, that the bureaucrats will inherit the earth. :-)

  7. Since when do we regard the Koran as an authority on anything? Let alone the correct title of Egyptian rulers.

    1. Michael, on this issue for me the rest, or the best, is silence. :-)

  8. I write as a non-practising member of the CoE. I would think that the general view (in this country) is that the Bible is a guide to Christianity. It is not a history textbook and it may not be factually correct. The Koran should be treated in the same way. It is not a textbook on how to live. It is a great pity that we don't say this loud and clear to the Muslims who have CHOSEN to live amongst us.

    1. Michael, I certainly have no reluctance in saying that all sacred texts should be treated with caution.

    2. The earliest instance where Pharaoh is used specifically to address the Egyptian ruler is in a letter to Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten), who reigned circa 1353 - 1336 BC. There is also debate about whether Joseph et cetera were Egyptians or when Abraham came into Egypt. I am not an historian and The Holy Quran is not a text of history. However, without wanting to get into a pointless debate, as a Muslim I believe it to be the verbal revelation from God to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. It is really something when what was said in eighth century Arabia corresponds with what is only being discovered in recent years.

    3. Thanks, Rehan. I saw Akhenaten in Cairo. :-)