Environmental Influences on Democracy: Aridity, Warfare, and a reversal of the Causal Arrow

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The origins of autocracy in hydraulic civilization and the threat of war emerging from many land borders lead to an examination of two environmental sources of democracy—rainfall and sea borders. Karl Wittfogel's theory of Eastern autocracy arising from the need for centralized irrigation systems is generalized to include rainfall as a correlate of democracy. Findings concerning the absence of warfare between democracies are used to reverse the causal arrow and suggest that warfare is inimical to democratic development. Four ancient civilizations, Sumer, Mesoamerica, Crete, and China, are examined for the existence of early democracy and its inhibition by the onset of widespread warfare. Rainfall and sea borders as two dimensions of minimized environmental threat are tested systematically in a multivariate analysis, along with two societal variables, land inequality and economic development. The two environmental variables as well as the two societal variables are strongly associated with the political rights index, a measure of democracy. The additional and independent significance of a third societal variable, agricultural density, in one of the analyses, suggests connections with another theory of early democracy emerging from a technoecological perspective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)224-262
Number of pages39
JournalJournal of Conflict Resolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1995

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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