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When purple things are pulsating on your mind, I'm the one whose clock you want to clean. Aiding is Sparky, the Astral Plane Zen Pup Dog from his mountain stronghold on the Northernmost Island of the Happy Ninja Island chain, this blog will also act as a journal to my wacky antics at an entertainment company and the progress of my self published comic book, The Deposit Man which only appears when I damn well feel like it. Real Soon Now.

Friday, March 12, 2010

You want deep? Let's start here:
And he who controls it, controls our destiny.
Hydraulic empire

A hydraulic empire, also known as a hydraulic despotism, or water monopoly empire, is a social or government structure which maintains power and control through exclusive control over access to water. It arises through the need for flood control and irrigation, which requires central coordination and a specialized bureaucracy[1].

Often associated with these terms and concepts is the notion of a water dynasty. This body is a political structure which is commonly characterized by a system of hierarchy and control often based around class or caste. Power, both over resources (food, water, energy) and a means of enforcement such as the military are vital for the maintenance of control.


A developed "hydraulic civilization" maintains control over its population by means of controlling the supply of water. The term was coined by the German American historian Karl August Wittfogel (1896 – 1988), in Oriental Despotism (1957). Wittfogel asserted that such "hydraulic civilizations" — although they were neither all located in the Orient nor characteristic of all Oriental societies — were essentially different from those of the Western world. More recently, the idea of practical orientalism has emerged from the original field of orientalism envisioned by Edward Said[2] and Wittfogel amongst others. Practical orientalism considers the creation of the binaries created in elements of everyday routine[3]. In a modern neoliberal economic setting, concepts of common ownership and equal and universal access rights often emerge as exotic or oriental, creating as described below situations of contemporary hydraulic empire and resource control.

Most of the first civilizations in history, such as Ancient Egypt, Sri Lanka, Mesopotamia, China and pre-Columbian Mexico and Peru, are believed to have been hydraulic empires. The Indus Valley civilization is often considered a hydraulic empire despite a lack of evidence of irrigation (as this evidence may have been lost in time due to flood damage). Most hydraulic empires existed in desert regions, but imperial China also had some such characteristics, due to the exacting needs of rice cultivation.


Wittfogel argues that climate caused some parts of the world to develop higher levels of civilization than others. He is known for claiming that climate in the Orient led to despotic rule. These arguments for climatic determinism are today echoed by the work of scholars such as Jared Diamond who suggests in his work Collapse that climatic and environmental determinants have been the central factor determining the rise and fall of empires[4]. This environmental determinism comes to bear when considering that in those societies where the most control was exhibited, this was commonly the case due to the central role of the resource in economic processes and it its environmentally limited, or constrained nature. This made controlling supply and demand easier and allowed a more complete monopoly to be established, as well as preventing the use of alternative resources to compensate.

The typical hydraulic empire government, in Wittfogel's thesis, is extremely centralized, with no trace of an independent aristocracy -- in contrast to the decentralized feudalism of medieval Europe. Though tribal societies had structures that were usually personal in nature, exercised by a patriarch over a tribal group related by various degrees of kinship, hydraulic hierarchies gave rise to the established permanent institution of impersonal government. Popular revolution in such a state was impossible: a dynasty might die out or be overthrown by force, but the new regime would differ very little from the old one. Hydraulic empires were only ever destroyed by foreign conquerors.

Wittfogel's ideas, when applied to China, have been harshly criticized by scholars such as Joseph Needham who argued essentially that Wittfogel was operating from ignorance of basic Chinese history. Needham argued that the Chinese government was not despotic, was not dominated by a priesthood, had lots of peasant rebellions, and that Wittfogel's perspective does not address the necessity and presence of bureaucracy in modern Western civilization.

The same elements of resource control central to hydraulic empire were also central to Europe's colonization of much of the global South. Colonies were resource rich areas located on the periphery, and the contemporary models of core-periphery interaction were focused on the extraction and control of these resources for the use of the core.[5] This was accomplished through a type of agro-managerial despotism with close connections to debates around hydraulic empire.

Contemporary Empire

Struggles and debate around rights to water access and use for both agriculture and also fundamentally for human consumption remain an issue, outside of simply historical cases. In recent decades there has been increased debate around the status of water as a "human right", a resource which cannot be owned and which all should have access to for their own use and survival.

Control over water emerged as a major issue in Latin America in the 1990's following World Bank loans to Bolivia to modernize and later privatize the municipal water systems of La Paz-El Alto and Cochabamba. The Bolivian government auctioned the public utilities in charge of water and sold them to Aguas del Tunari, a subsidiary of Bechtel[6]. Terms of this contract stipulated that control over all water in Cochabamba was the property of Aguas del Tunari, this became a major clashing point as almost 40% of the city was receiving its water from informal systems not linked to the city's water supply[7].This effectively signaled the end of campesino and local control of water, and meant that the new corporate owners would have the right to place Bolivian water on the international market, effectively establishing hydraulic control over the cities involved[8].

Cases such as Bolivia's and that of China's with the Three Gorges Dam Project are examples for some of modern neocolonialism manifested in hydraulic empire. While the colonial nature of these projects is debatable, the use of the term helps discourse by introducing further the concept of control for the gain of the removed or the few. At the heart of colonial theory, is the idea of the core being served by the periphery, a resource rich area lacking the technology or capital to exist as a core of its own or exploit its own resources. It is thus exploited 'for its own benefit' by another group who with the power and means to exploit the resources, thus controls them. In the wake of widespread poverty, major international debt and resource or energy deficits, governments such as those of Bolivia and China will inevitably risk becoming hydraulic empires.

In Fiction

  • The most famous hydraulic empire in fiction is probably described in Frank Herbert's Dune universe, which describes a traditional hydraulic empire on the planet Arrakis,[9] as well as a galactic empire controlled by the limitation of the spice drug produced on Arrakis.[10]
  • The society described by Larry Niven in his 1998 novel, Destiny's Road, is classified as a hydraulic empire. In the case of the story, though, a rigid bureaucracy holds the sole reliable source of potassium, and without it people will see increasing cognitive issues until they die. The hero of this novel, Jemmy Bloocher (under various pseudonyms) discovers the status quo and at the end of the novel actively works to upset the balance.
  • The protagonist in Larry Niven's 1976 book, A World Out of Time, describes the concept of a water-monopoly empire to the antagonist. This becomes a major plot point.


  1. ^ Wittfogel, Karl (1957). Oriental despotism; a comparative study of total power. New York: Random House. doi:JC414 .W5. ISBN 9780394747019.
  2. ^ Said, Edward.1979. Orientalism. New York: Random House
  3. ^ Johnston, R.J. et. al .2000. Dictionary of Human Geography, 4th ed. London: Blackwell Ltd.: Orientalism
  4. ^ Diamond, Jared.2005. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive. Camberwell, Victoria : Penguin Group
  5. ^ Myrdal, Gunner. 1957. Economic Theory and Under-developed Regions. London: Gerald Duckworth and Co. Ltd.
  6. ^ Gallaher, C. et al., 2008. Key Concepts in Political Geography, Sage Publications Ltd. : Neoliberalism, p.159
  7. ^ Gallaher, C. et al., 2008. Key Concepts in Political Geography, Sage Publications Ltd. : Neoliberalism, p.160
  8. ^ Lawson, Victoria. 2007. Making Development Geography, Hodder Education: Geographies of Marxist Feminist Development p.147
  9. ^ O'Reilly, Timothy (1981). "Chapter 3: From Concept to Fable". Frank Herbert. Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., Inc. Retrieved 2009-05-10. "In Arrakis, Herbert "set a planet where water is not available to the extent that it becomes the controlling element" for this "law of the minimum.""
  10. ^ Frank Herbert's Dune. 2000. "Arrakis ... Dune ... wasteland of the Empire, and the most valuable planet in the universe. Because it is here — and only here — where spice is found. The spice. Without it there is no commerce in the Empire, there is no civilization. Arrakis ... Dune ... home of the spice, greatest of treasure in the universe. And he who controls it, controls our destiny.".

Nowadays, everyone is pissy. The President can't tell the Supreme Court that their majority are in the pocket of Big Business. Congress refuses to act for us because they're beholden to Big Insurance. We need a complete clean sweep. Do nothing Republicans can be tossed out with spineless Democrats. Independents need to make way for the same with cleaner hands.

So who's dirty. Follow the money. Look at who got rich while we suffered. And let's put US Marshalls and Treasury in place at Wall Street.

Next blog we'll look at 1831, and what it meant for America.


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