Reading the Qaddafis

For a family of autocrats, the Qaddafis sure have a lot to say about democracy. In 1975, six years after coming to power in Libya, Muammar (“Colonel Qaddafi”) penned his famous Green Book (the one he held in his hands during his televised tirade last week). It’s a typically rambling but fascinating treatise that proposes direct democracy via popular councils as a more democratic alternative to western multiparty systems. Not that Libya under Qaddafi has ever come close to resembling anything other than a dictatorship. Still, it’s amusing–if that’s the right word–to read the man currently directing the slaughter of his own people waxing philosophically about achieving “true democracy.”

Muammar’s son, Saif, who delivered the chilling warning to demonstrators about coming “rivers of blood” in the Libyan streets, one-upped his old man with his 2007 dissertation as a philosophy student at the London School of Economics (you can read the whole thing here). Based on the thesis, Saif, known as the good son for his work running a human rights advocacy group, might as well be the next John Rawls, whom he cites throughout, although according to Saif, Rawls’ view of international justice doesn’t go far enough in defending the rights of individual citizens, predicated as it is on structures based on “peoples” rather than “persons.” The ironies in Saif’s thesis, beginning with his statement of purpose–“In this thesis I shall be primarily concerned with what I argue is the central failing of the current system of global governance in the new global environment: that it is highly undemocratic”–start to beat you over the head after a while, as he goes on, and on, about correcting the “democracy deficit” in international politics.

He later writes:

There are real and important motivations for cooperation based on rational and reasonable premises, following the arguments of Hume, Rawls and McClennen outlined in Chapter Four, and real costs for uncooperative behaviour. This does not mean that all states and all individuals will always act rationally and reasonably and cooperate and there will be no conflicts. But it does mean that there are real incentives for states to act rationally and reasonably and to cooperate. There is also a real price to pay for uncooperative behaviour for the future relationship: loss of legitimacy, partnerships, reciprocal cooperative actions, and reduction of ‘soft power.’

Here’s to hoping those words prove true in 2011 and that Saif and family soon pay a very, very real price for their own “uncooperative behavior.”

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