In 1975, Gaddafi outlined his political tenets in The Green Book. From the Libyan dictator’s views on women and breastfeeding to why "the black race [will] prevail," Andrew Roberts offers a speed read. Plus, full coverage of Libya’s uprising.
Watching Colonel Gaddafi’s public statements over the past two weeks, especially his long rants comparing his political role with that of Queen Elizabeth II and his TV interview claiming that all Libyans love him except those given hallucinogenic drugs by al Qaeda, one might be forgiven for assuming that the looming prospect of death or exile has sent him mad. Comparisons with Bruno Ganz’s superb portrayal of Adolf Hitler in the movie Downfall, as the Red army closes in on the Fuhrerbunker in April 1945, are unavoidable. Yet in fact utter irrationality has long been the leitmotif of Gaddafi’s thought, as is proved by his 1975 work of political and social philosophy, The Green Book.
Like Chairman Mao’s little red book, Gaddafi encapsulated his most profound thoughts in a short book that was to be required reading—enforced required reading—for all his people. I had the misfortune of having nothing else to read due to a baggage mix-up during a trip to Libya two years ago, and so am one of the few non-Libyans to have read The Green Book. After resigning the premiership of Libya in 1972, and taking on the catchy official title of “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,” Gaddafi wrote The Green Book, which instantly became a No. 1 bestseller. In Libya.
The book’s mélange of banalities, non-sequiturs, nuttiness, Socialism, Islamicism and pseudo-intellectualism explains much about Gaddafi. When we see huge concrete representations of the green book being pushed over and smashed to pieces by Libyans on our TV screens, they are in fact not performing acts of vandalism so much as of perceptive literary criticism. So here are my top 10 quotes from a book that is subtitled “The Solution to the Problems of Democracy; The Social Basis to the Third Universal Theory,” under the precepts of which Gaddafi forced a nation to live for over four decades.
The Top 10 Quotes From Gaddafi’s Green Book:
1. “Women, like men, are human beings. This is an incontestable truth… Women are different from men in form because they are females, just as all females in the kingdom of plants and animals differ from the male of their species… According to gynecologists women, unlike men, menstruate each month… Since men cannot be impregnated they do not experience the ailments that women do. She breastfeeds for nearly two years.”
2. “There are inevitable cycles of social history: the yellow race’s domination of the world, when it came from Asia, and the white race’s attempts at colonizing extensive areas of all continents of the world. Now, it is the turn of the black race to prevail in the world.”
3. “While it is democratically not permissible for an individual to own any information or publishing medium, all individuals have a natural right to self-expression by any means, even if such means were insane and meant to prove a person’s insanity.”
4. “Mandatory education is a coercive education that suppresses freedom. To impose specific teaching materials is a dictatorial act.”
5. “If a community of people wears white on a mournful occasion and another dresses in black, then one community would like white and dislike black and the other would like black and dislike white. Moreover, this attitude leaves a physical effect on the cells as well as on the genes in the body.”
6. “Sporting clubs which constitute the traditional sports institutions in the world today are rapacious social instruments. The grandstands of public athletic fields are actually constructed to obstruct access to the fields.”
7. “Placing a child in a day nursery is coercive and tyrannical and a violation of the child’s free and natural disposition.”
8. “Labour in return for wages is virtually the same as enslaving a human being. In a socialist society no person may own a private means of transportation for the purpose of renting to others, because this represents controlling the needs of others.”
9. “The democratic system is a cohesive structure whose foundation stones are firmly laid one above the other, the Basic People’s Conferences, the People’s Conferences, and the People’s Committees, which finally come together when the General People’s Conference convenes. There is absolutely no conception of democratic society other than this.”
10. “No representation of the people—representation is a falsehood. The mere existence of parliaments underlies the absence of the people, for democracy can only exist with the presence of the people and not in the presence of representatives of the people.”
“Freedom of expression,” Gaddafi also wrote in The Green Book, ‘is the right of every natural person, even if a person chooses to behave irrationally to express his or her insanity.”
The Colonel himself has certainly taken full advantage of that particular freedom. Let us hope that he now acts out in person the title of his only other major foray into the publishing world, his 1998 book of short stories, Escape to Hell.
Historian Andrew Roberts' latest book, Masters and Commanders, was published in the UK in September. His previous books include Napoleon and Wellington, Hitler and Churchill, and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900. Roberts is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.