The egomaniac wrote a book; it wasn’t a bestseller.
“America can wage war against us, the West can torment us, it doesn’t matter: the world has my Green Book,” Muammar Gaddafi held in a 1979 interview. “All we need to defend ourselves is The Green Book.” More than three decades later, Qaddafi remains a pariah—and his Green Book is as irrelevant as it was the day he proclaimed its importance. He boasted then that “my Green Book has resolved man’s problems.” In fact, fidelity to it has multiplied Libya’s problems.
Penned in 1975, The Green Book reads as Qaddafi’s imitation of Mao’s Little Red Book, updated for the ’70s and tailored for the Muslim world. Whereas Black Panthers far from China peddled Mao’s Little Red Book long after it was written, Qaddafi’s little green book has transcended neither Libya’s borders nor its Marx-on-the-march, mid-seventies publication date. Children still study The Green Book in Libyan schools. Elsewhere, the slim volume is read rarely—and only then as a curiosity.
The second month into a NATO campaign that hoped to oust the Libyan strongman in days, it’s clear that Westerners don’t understand Muammar Qaddafi. Reading his Green Book is a good place to start. Though it isn’t particularly germane to the world, the work sheds light on the personality that has repeatedly drawn the ire of the world.
Unlike Osama bin Laden, whose religious-laced rants leave secular Westerners perplexed, Qaddafi speaks our language. Ruling in a region overflowing with mullahs, monarchs, and murderers, Qaddafi curiously looked West, instead of around him, for inspiration in lording over Libya.
The Green Book’s opening pages offer a half-clever critique of Western democracy. In a parliamentary system, when 51 percent captures the legislative body, then “49 per cent of the electorate is ruled by an instrument of government they did not vote for,” Qaddafi points out. “Plebiscites are a fraud against democracy,” he subsequently writes. “Those who vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ do not, in fact, express their free will but, rather, are silenced by the modern conception of democracy as they are not allowed to say more than ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”
For several pages, Qaddafi adeptly highlights the shortcomings of various aspects of Western democracy. The crescendo of criticism grows, and the reader anxiously awaits the punchline—and quite a joke it is. “Popular conferences are the only means to achieve popular democracy,” Qaddafi, presumably straight-faced, asserts. “Any system of government contrary to this method, the method of Popular Conferences, is undemocratic.” After all that buildup a letdown naturally followed. All of the pointed-out drawbacks of Western-style governance appear more glaringly in the proposed “Popular Conferences.” This sophist’s lapse in logic could only emanate from an emperor whose votaries are afraid to tell him that he wears no clothes.
The opening sections rationalize the few controlling the many by demeaning the governmental systems where the many possess a check on the few. The control-freak mentality that inspires The Green Book’s advocacy of one-man rule—called “Popular Conferences”—also inspires its section on economics. There, the state is as all-powerful as it is in the political realm.
Like The Communist Manifesto, The Green Book calls for the elimination of profit, for economic equality imposed by government, and for the expropriation of the means of production. Qaddafi’s manifesto is dumbed-down Marx and Engel, which, as the twentieth century proved, was already pretty dumb.
“Land is the private property of none.” “No one has the right to undertake an economic activity whereby wealth exceeding the satisfaction of one’s needs can be amassed.” “Disparity in the wealth of individuals in the new socialist society is not tolerated.” “The final step is for the new socialist society to reach a stage in which profit and money disappear.”
Is it any wonder that Libya is an economic basket case and its people rebel?
Elsewhere, The Green Book injects Qaddafi’s quirks—e.g., sports fans are “a helpless apathetic majority that merely watches.” It ingratiates itself to the local prejudices against women opting for education or careers (“A woman is tender; a woman is pretty; a woman weeps easily and is easily frightened.”). But it mainly acts as a justification for the type of political and economic totalitarianism that Qaddafi has practiced for more than four decades.
The Green Book is as much a symptom of Qaddafi’s narcissism as the military regalia or ostentatious titles. The book reveals its author’s pretensions as a figure of importance outside of his own sandbox. He contends, for instance, that through the Third Universal Theory, “the problem of democracy in the world will finally be solved.” That is a thug playing an intellectual. Unsatisfied with his brawn getting people to do as he wished, Qaddafi imagined his brain persuading people to do as he wished, too. If ever the phrase “vanity press” fit, it does here.
The egomania that compelled Qaddafi to write a book presenting itself as a political Rosetta Stone also drove the substance therein. The content is socialism, the hubristic delusion that elites are better equipped to run people’s lives than the people themselves. The “Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution” is as much the bastard child of Western political hallucinations as he is the product of the Middle Eastern political tradition. The Third Universal Theory championed by Qaddafi is not very different from the repressive socialism practiced in Cuba, East Germany, and Albania. Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez’s vocal support for comrade Qaddafi after NATO launched its campaign surprised only those ignorant of the pair’s shared ideology.
The Libyan leader evokes the political religion he proselytizes. Like socialism, he remains long after he has been written off.
Cockroach Qaddafi survived Reagan’s airstrikes. He weathered decades of UN sanctions. Even after NATO bombarded his Tripoli residence this weekend, Qaddafi still stands. His Green Book hasn’t even outlasted his rule.
Daniel J. Flynn is the author of A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). He writes a Monday column for Human Events and blogs at www.flynnfiles.com.