The case against “oriental despotism”

Evidence and musings from JG Manning, on ancient Egypt:

The highly centralized, despotic understanding of the Egyptian political economy, and observations from other Asian states, beginning with Herodotus and Aristotle down to French political theory, Marx and Weber, led directly to the development of the theory of Oriental Despotism by Karl Wittfogel, a general theory that linked water resources to social structure and governance

…Despite this very ancient image of a state cursed by its resources–passive, never-changing, sterile and long used to despotic rulers–and the strong connection between physical geography, climate and governance,
there was no causal link between the control of irrigation and authoritarian rule

The Wittfogel model… is like Elvis–it refuses to die.

One paper in a very fascinating-looking economic history conference.

h/t Suresh Naidu.