Robert Putnam details his 2007 meeting with Muammar Gadhafi in the Libyan desert. While Peter Hallward is going one way with the Rousseauian legacy of the general will, Gadhafi has his own, er, reading of that legacy:
Students of Western political philosophy would categorize Col. Gadhafi as a quintessential student of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: He made clear that he deeply distrusted any political group that might stand between individual citizens and the “General Will” as interpreted by the Legislator (i.e., Col. Gadhafi himself). When I argued that freedom of association could enhance democratic stability, he vehemently dismissed the idea. That might be so in the West, he insisted, but in Libya it would simply strengthen tribalism, and he would not stand for disunity.
Throughout, he styled our meeting as a conversation between two profound political thinkers, a trope that approached the absurd when he observed that there were international organizations for many professions nowadays, but none for philosopher-kings. “Why don’t we make that happen?” he proposed with a straight face. I smiled, at a loss for words. Col. Gadhafi was a tyrant and a megalomaniac, not a philosopher-king, but our visit left me convinced that he was not a simple man.
Of course, that same year, Anthony Giddens was offering his own view (h/t Stuart Elden) of a Gadhafi that has not stood up well, has it?
As one-party states go, Libya is not especially repressive. Gadafy seems genuinely popular. Our discussion of human rights centred mostly upon freedom of the press…
Will real progress be possible only when Gadafy leaves the scene? I tend to think the opposite. If he is sincere in wanting change, as I think he is, he could play a role in muting conflict that might otherwise arise as modernisation takes hold. My ideal future for Libya in two or three decades’ time would be a Norway of North Africa: prosperous, egalitarian and forward-looking. Not easy to achieve, but not impossible.