Egypt: the case against democracy

In our age of democracy, it is difficult to make sense of ancient Egypt. Here is a country that depended on monarchy. There were originally two countries, Upper and Lower Egypt, but once they were united, around 3000 BC under a single ruler, they produced one of the longest if indeed thinnest countries in the world, over 1000 km long; they built the greatest structure that the world was to see for the next 4000 years;  and which continued to be a successful united country for 2000 years — indeed one might almost say 3500 years. Yet how did they do it? Our own efforts at democracy have not yet lasted 100 years and have been interrupted by two horrifying world wars: should we not admit that the Egyptian system was more successful?

True, it was not always united. There were the two intermediate periods,  when the rule of one Pharaoh gave way, but this was felt to be a disaster and a disgrace and Egypt was soon reunited and went on to be as successful as it had ever been before. How did they do it? We really need to ask several big questions. Firstly, how, and perhaps why was such a powerful monarchy established? Why did it last so long and how did they choose their successors? Sons often succeeded fathers with great success,  thhe heridditary sytem evidently worked, and we must wonder whether our own suspicions of family succession are perhaps overdone.  And we must ask how such mighty buildings as the pyramids were possible in a non-market economy? And what were the powerful forces that drove them in their intermediate periods to seek to reunite the country again and with such success?  And finally, what were the drawbacks?  What did they lose by this long lived belief in monarchy?  And what, if anything, do we gain from our vision of democracy?

 

Why Egypt?

 

May, 2012