hydraulic society

hydraulic society

WITTFOGEL's (1955) term for Asiatic society. He suggested that centralized and despotic state power could be explained as the outcome of the dependence of these Asiatic societies on extensive state-directed public works to provide and maintain irrigation and flood-control systems. However, Wittfogel's contention has not survived detailed empirical examination. Not only do many ‘despotic’regimes possess no obvious hydraulic basis, many regimes with such a basis are not despotic (e.g. see Leach, 1959, Eberhard, 1965; compare Harris, 1978). At the very least, Wittfogel's explanation is vastly overextended.

Wittfogel's more general claim to have entirely undermined MARX's assumptions about the implications of materialism are similarly overstated. His argument that his work also demonstrated:

  1. that the TOTALITARIANISM of Russian as well as Chinese COMMUNISM could be explained as building on the despotic and hydraulic legacy; and
  2. the dependence of any future freedom on a resistance to all encroachments of state power are similarly challengable. Compare GEOGRAPHICAL DETERMINISM, CULTURAL MATERIALISM. See also ORIENTAL DESPOTISM, ASIATIC MODE OF PRODUCTION AND ASIATIC SOCIETY, ORIENTALISM.
References in periodicals archive ?
Pakistan is fast becoming the hydraulic society of India, security narrative of the state will hardly be sufficient to address this, but the emerging global principle of commonality surely can take this on in the realm of science of people and sociology.
It makes substantial use of strategic group analysis, along with Wittfogel's hydraulic society hypothesis.
For millennia, Egypt has been a hydraulic society, with most of its population relying in subsistence predominantly on the River Nile.