Den bästa illustrationen av civilsamhällets betydelse är rimligen de stater som saknar civilt samhälle. I Wall Street Journal hittar jag en redogörelse av den inte helt okände civilsamhällesforskaren Robert D. Putnams möte med överste Gadhafi.
We all shook hands and sat down, with Col. Gadhafi behind a table, the translator to his left, me to his right, and Rosemary and a note-taker to my right. Nowhere at the camp did we see the scurrying aides that accompany heads of state in more institutionalized regimes; Col. Gadhafi seemed curiously alone. It was a modest setting. We sat in white molded-plastic patio chairs of the sort familiar in any American suburb. Inside the tent were four radiators, several neon lights and a television. The floor was covered in layers of carpet over the desert gravel.
Col. Gadhafi faced out the entrance of the tent, overlooking eucalyptus trees, lavender wildflowers, a wood fire and a small herd of camels. Throughout the discussion he idly waved a palm frond to shoo flies. The tableau gave the impression that we were seated in a pastoral Bedouin landscape, guests of a local chieftain. [---]
We had a lively conversation for two hours about his political ideas, my own writings, and how the development of civil society might be applied to democratic reform in Libya. Col. Gadhafi is inordinately proud of his Green Book, an archaic mixture of primitive socialism, 1960s-style "people power" rhetoric, and traditional Bedouin values; it has been the touchstone and straightjacket for politics in Libya for nearly four decades.
I noted his emphasis on social solidarity in the Green Book, but added that in the modern world, he needed to extend his ideas to include civil society, voluntary groups and freedom of association. I drew examples from my own childhood in small-town Ohio, but my argument gave the translator problems. Libyan history includes nothing remotely analogous to Rotary or Little League or the Knights of Columbus, so we settled on "veterans' associations" as the only intelligible illustration of my argument.
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.
Was this a serious conversation or an elaborate farce? Naturally, I came away thinking—hoping—that I had managed to sway Col. Gadhafi in some small way, but my wife was skeptical. Two months later I was invited back to a public roundtable in Libya, but by then I had concluded that the whole exercise was a public-relations stunt, and I declined.
In reflecting today on the future of democracy in Libya and the rest of North Africa, I'm drawn to the work of two influential sociologists, Moisey Ostrogorsky and Robert Michels. They taught generations of political scientists that power in the modern world rests on the underlying social order, so to ask "who will rule?" is to ask "who is best organized?" In Russia in 1917 the answer was the Bolsheviks, in Iran in 1979 the answer was Khomeini's Islamic militants, and in Egypt in 2011 the answer appears to be the military.
The saddest legacy of Moammar Gadhafi and his brutal revolutionary philosophy may be that, in Libya in 2011, the answer seems to be "no one at all."