Chapter 13: The Hydraulic Trap

Harris details his qualified support for Karl Wittfogel’s theory of hydraulic societies. The traditional hydraulic society is one where water is needed for agriculture and is supplied by one general body of water. Special societies have a certain type of bureaucracy and centralization that allows for the water to be governmentally controlled. Harris supports this to an extent; he differs from the traditional idea in that he thinks larger societies with larger populations require more centralized control which can lead to the tendency for a despot to be in control. Examples of commonly agreed on hydraulic societies are populations in India, China, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Peru.