Two models stand out as inspirations for Qaddafi’s Green Book. The first is Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Philosophy of the Revolution (1954), where Nasser lays out his ideas about pan-Arab nationalism and his intention to be not only the Arab world’s leader, but Africa’s, too. Nasser was Qaddafi’s foremost influence as Qaddafi was growing up. The second model for the Green Book is Mao’s Little Red Book (1964-76).
The Green Book, required reading in Libya, is generally more entertaining than coherent, more quaint than philosophically rigorous, and often just plain silly: “Women,” Qaddafi writes, “are females and men are males. According to gynecologists, women menstruate every month or so, while men, being male, do not menstruate or suffer during the monthly period.”
On the other hand, it can sometimes read like rewrites of Rousseau: “All methods of education prevailing in the world should be destroyed through a universal cultural revolution that frees the human mind from curricula of fanaticism which dictate a process of deliberate distortion of man's tastes, conceptual ability and mentality.”
Either way, scholars, political theorists and politicians have had to take the Green Book seriously, if only because it remains Qaddafi’s guiding principles.
The Green Book Broken Down
The Green Book is a collection of three volumes published between 1976 and 1979.
Book One: Published in 1976, the first volume, “The Authority of the People,” is Libya’s equivalent of The Federalist Papers—a series of essays on government theory and how best the people should govern themselves. (Needless to say, the comparison to the Federalist is meant purely as a reflection of the Green Book’s presumption, not its style or substance.)
The volume expounds on the failure of parliamentary democracy (it is unthinkable that democracy should mean the electing of only a few representatives to act on behalf of great masses. This is an obsolete structure”) and the failure of tribal and class systems, and their replacement by what Qaddafi calls “Popular Conferences and the People's Committees.” Those conferences and people’s committees have not been a factor in Libya’s development (and stagnation) since 1969.
Book Two: The second volume, “The Solution of the Economic Problem: Socialism,” was published in 1978. It calls for the end of a wage- and rent-based economy, to be replaced by self-employment or economic partnerships.
“Wage-earners are but slaves to the masters who hire them,” Qaddafi writes. The solution? “The ultimate solution lies in abolishing the wage-system, emancipating people from its bondage and reverting to the natural laws which defined relationships before the emergence of classes, forms of governments and man-made laws. These natural rules are the only measures that ought to govern human relations.”
It’s not clear what Qaddafi means by abolishing wages resulting from “production” and replacing them with income as “a private matter” that “should either be managed privately to meet one's needs or be a share from a production process,” though in a few examples presented later in the book Qaddafi seems to suggest that people should earn whatever satisfies their needs and no more. He does not define the line between need and luxury, or need and indulgence.
Book Three: The third volume, “The Social Basis of the Third International Theory,” was published in 1979. Jana, the Libyan news agency, reported at the time that people converged on bookstores “in orderly queues” to pick up their copy.
Libyans read about Qaddafi’s ideas on “The Nation, “The Tribe,” on women, on black people, minorities, education, music and art, “sports, horsemanship and the stage.” Readers will likely find this volume the most entertaining of the three for its Vico-like, all-encompassing generalities. But Qaddafi prefers dourness to Vico’s exuberance, and of course Qaddafi’s thoughts have none of the charm and reach (to say nothing of the influence) of Vico’s.
On blacks: “The population of other races has decreased because of birth control, restrictions on marriage, and constant occupation in work, unlike the Blacks, who tend to be less obsessive about work in a climate which is continuously hot.”
On music and art: “Humans, being backward, are still unable to speak one common language. Until this human aspiration is attained, which seems impossible, the expression of joy and sorrow, of what is good and bad, beautiful and ugly, comfortable and miserable [...]--all will be expressed according to the language each person speaks spontaneously.”
On sport: “Boxing and wrestling are evidence that mankind has not rid itself of all savage behaviour.” Qaddafi must’ve anticipated Friday night Smackdown.
Green Book Trivia
In 1987, the German ice hockey team Iserlohn (founded in 1959 by Canadian soldiers serving in West Germany and owned in 1987 by former mason and contractor Heinz Weifenbach) briefly sported the Green Book as a sponsor on its jerseys.
The team was facing bankruptcy. Failing to win conventional sponsors, team owner Weifenbach flew to Libya, then claimed that the Center for the Studies and Researches of the Green Book had agreed to pay the Iserlohn club $900,000 to advertise the book on jerseys and in the team’s arena. Friedrich Zimmermann, then West Germany’s interior minister, called the advertising “a clear violation of accepted political neutrality in sports” and pressured Germany’s hockey federation to “take all necessary measures to oppose this crass development.” The West German Hockey Federation banned the ads.