Gaddafi, Existentialist by Charlie Nash (Unbiased: 2021), 100 internet pages.
On October 20, 2011, the 4-decade rule of Muammar Gaddafi arrived to a brutal conclude when Libyan rebels, supported by NATO bombers and Predator drones, captured, tortured, and killed the fugitive chief. A couple of times later, Secretary of Point out Hillary Clinton took credit for his downfall with an notorious boast: “We arrived, we noticed, he died.” But as a substitute of the new democratic dawn envisioned by Western governments, Libya descended into prolonged, bloody civil war. Amidst the chaos, human trafficking and even open up-air slave markets flourished. There’s a case to be made that the aspiration of liberal internationalism perished along with Gaddafi that working day.
Gaddafi’s ignominious demise abruptly erased him from Western consciousness, where by he had been a spectral presence for many years. The media alternated involving presenting him as a buffoonish megalomaniac and as a risky madman. Under the Reagan administration, he took the blame for a sequence of terrorist assaults versus the West, culminating in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. In his 2016 documentary HyperNormalisation, filmmaker Adam Curtis argued that U.S. propaganda experienced exaggerated Gaddafi’s function for strategic good reasons: Libya’s relative isolation and length from Western allies, primarily Israel, produced it a far more handy target for reprisals than other state sponsors of terror like Syria’s Hafez al-Assad. In the context of Chilly War geopolitics, the gentleman regarded as “The Colonel” took on the mythic purpose of the scapegoat king: the strong insider who was at the same time an eccentric and despised outsider, and could consequently believe culpability for all manner of iniquities.
In his temporary new biographical analyze, Gaddafi, Existentialist, journalist Charlie Nash provides an intriguing new perspective on his subject’s perpetual outsider position. At minimal, Nash demonstrates, Gaddafi was aware of existentialist philosophy and alluded to it in his writings and speeches. But most likely, he speculates, Gaddafi was also a crypto-existentialist whose sensibility and governing philosophy was formed by this mental custom. Nash could possibly have rendered the stakes of this line of inquiry extra explicit—that is, why it would subject if Gaddafi was an existentialist. As a substitute, he frames the make any difference much more as a personal obsession. The charm of the e book could hence depend on the reader’s degree of curiosity about Gaddafi, existentialism, or both of those.
As Nash acknowledges, some will find the Gaddafi, Existentialist hypothesis implausible. Indeed, the Colonel himself preemptively turned down it, stating in one particular speech that existentialism “looks for the key of existence, though we fully grasp this solution and we do so by way of religion.” Gaddafi’s greatest-known articulation of his broader political philosophy was his “Green Book” (the title a nod to Mao’s “Little Red Book”). The “Third International Theory” he elaborated there was a range of “third positionism” that claimed to use Islam to transcend the restrictions of capitalism and communism. As Nash concedes, Gaddafi regularly insisted that the influences on his imagined were being not Western thinkers, but Islamic philosophy and the homespun knowledge of his indigenous Bedouin society. Nash’s inquiry into Gaddafi’s existentialism as a result runs up from his subject’s own denials of any debt to this (or any other) decadent Western philosophy.
However, Nash reveals a number of elements of Gaddafi’s job that level to a connection with existentialist imagined. Initially, he examines many journalists’ and observers’ studies that the Libyan leader’s favourite book was Colin Wilson’s 1956 bestseller The Outsider, a primer on existentialism that rooted this philosophical inclination in the working experience of social alienation. It’s plausible, Nash suggests, that he encountered Wilson’s e book through his time studying in England in the mid-1960s, a keep in which he reportedly expert the predicament examined by Wilson: the isolation and anomie of the inhabitant of the contemporary urban metropolis. But Gaddafi may just as simply have encountered the ebook prior to that. The Outsider was translated into Arabic before long after its publication. Its good results made Wilson a cult figure in the Center East, and toured Lebanon and Syria. According to a mate of Wilson’s interviewed by Nash, Gaddafi also invited the cult author to Libya, but he turned down the invitation.
This brings us to a different piece of proof for Gaddafi’s doable existentialism: the pervasive impact of this university of philosophy throughout the Arab globe by the 1960s. Not only Wilson’s Outsider, but performs by Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and some others had been bestsellers in Arabic translation, and Sartre cultivated ties with radical Arab intellectuals. On this issue, Nash rates Yoav Di-Capua’s e-book No Exit: Arab Existentialism, Jean Paul Sartre and Decolonization: “by the 1950s the Arab world boasted of owning the largest existentialist scene outside of Europe.” If the Arab nationalist milieu that incubated Gaddafi was teeming with existentialists, that indicates he might have been impacted by their tips. On the other hand, if he was as much of an outsider as Nash indicates, he could also have been aloof to this trend. Irrespective, the existentialist themes of independence and authenticity resonated with the fears Gaddafi shared with the Arab nationalists of the instant put up-colonial era.
The principal non-circumstantial proof Nash provides for Gaddafi’s existentialist leanings is the latter’s single released literary work: a selection of brief stories released in English translation underneath the title Escape to Hell (amazingly, with a complimentary foreword by the JFK confidant and California Senator Pierre Salinger). The tales in Escape to Hell, Nash demonstrates, categorical an alienated sensibility of the sort we may possibly associate with existentialist texts like Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, Camus’s The Stranger, and Sartre’s Nausea. Islam and the regular life-style of the Bedouin persons, which Gaddafi claimed were being the supply of his values, surface in these retailers as the only usually means of escape from the hell of the fashionable world.
The ethos conveyed in Gaddafi’s foray into literature implies we may possibly see him not just as a fellow traveler of existentialism, as Nash argues, but as a late emanation of European Romanticism, which idealized the uncontaminated rural lifetime of the authentic Volk as a counterweight to a corrupt civilization. Ironically, like all present day nationalisms, Gaddafi’s was at its most Western exactly in the moments when it rejected the West in favor of the autochthonous. We might add that his “socialist Jamahiriya” was bankrolled by the export of petroleum to the industrial economies he detested. A surreal late illustration of his contradictory relation to the West came throughout a 2009 go to to the U.N. Typical Assembly in New York, when Gaddafi compensated a hefty charge to pitch his Bedouin tent on a suburban estate. The person who rented him the land was Donald Trump.
One particular broader implication of Nash’s investigation of Gaddafi, as I recommended previously, is that in the study course of his occupation he attained a position equivalent to that of the scapegoat kings of fantasy and legend. That is, he became the newest in the prolonged line of alienated outsiders who managed to ascend to a placement of ability, only to be manufactured to purpose as scapegoats. In Gaddafi’s scenario, both equally by the Western powers who bombed and sanctioned him and later, by his own individuals, who killed him in a sort of spontaneous sacrificial act that aimed to regenerate the country, but led to the reverse result. As Nash notes, Gaddafi foresaw his destiny in the title tale in Escape to Hell, which reflects on the fate of leaders who fall victim to the populace that the moment adored them.
Although Gaddafi was under no circumstances taken critically by most intellectuals, Nash’s reserve exhibits that his political philosophy was just one of a variety of attempts to forge an ideological basis for a modern country condition by fusing Islamic and local traditions with European mental frameworks. From this standpoint, his dabbling in existentialism was not entirely out of location, as Nash demonstrates. Gaddafi’s nation-creating business provoked fear and hostility from Western governments in its heyday, but it seems much additional benign now that Libya and other states in the region have descended into civil war, aiding give rise to the nihilistic death cult of ISIS. Like Gaddafi, the ideologues of ISIS declare to be returning to an authentic Islamic politics. But their reactionary fantasies, like his, are crucially formed by European Romanticism’s rejection of a corrupt modernity. In Gaddafi’s time as significantly as now, the spectral terrors the West tasks on to the exotic Center East are a denial of the extent to which the region’s political heritage is intertwined with our very own.
Geoff Shullenberger is a senior lecturer at NYU. His producing has appeared most not too long ago in the Washington Examiner, the Chronicle of Better Education, American Affairs, and the New Atlantis. His blog and podcast is Outsider Theory (outsidertheory.com).