Third Universal Theory

Third Universal Theory

In the early 1970s, Qadhafi began to synthesize and expand his ideas of Arab unity, independence, economic egalitarianism, and cultural authenticity into the Third Universal Theory. The importance of this new theory to the regime was shown by the creation of the Higher Council for National Guidance on September 10, 1972. The council comprised the RCC chairman; the ASU secretary general; the minister of education; the minister of information and culture; the minister of youth and social affairs; the minister of planning, the University of Libya's president; the administrative chairmen of religious endowments; the Muslim Call Society chairman, and the ASU secretary of thought and culture.

The Higher Council for National Guidance was created to disseminate and implement Qadhafi's Third Universal Theory (also seen as the Third International Theory or simply the Third Theory). The Third Universal Theory was predicated on the belief that the two dominant socio-politico-economic ideologies--capitalism and communism--had been proved invalid. According to the theory, capitalism placed the good of a few individuals ahead of that of the community as a whole; communism so emphasized the community that individual development was stifled. Nations constituting what is commonly referred to as the Third World were caught between proponents of the two ideologies: the United States and the Soviet Union, both of which, according to Qadhafi, were "imperialist states which seek to achieve their ambitions by extending their zones of influence."

Qadhafi proclaimed that the Third Universal Theory, because it was based on the Quran, predated capitalism and communism. Furthermore, it offered an alternative. It rejected the class exploitation of capitalism and the class warfare of communism, finding that, in practice at least, systems based on both ideologies were dominated by a small elite. According to the Third Universal Theory, classes were an artificial colonial import. Far from building a system that rested on some form of class relations, the theory sought to eliminate class differences. It embodied the Islamic principle of consultation (shura), by which community or even national affairs would be conducted through mutual consultation in which the views of all citizens were exchanged. This principle was manifested later in Libya in the creation of people's committees and popular congresses.

The Third Universal Theory was an attempt to establish a philosophical grounding, based on Islam, for positive neutrality on the part of Third World nations. Under the theory, Third World states could coexist with the United States and the Soviet Union, and they could enter into agreements with them for their own purposes. But Third World states in general and Arab states in particular should not fall under the dominance of either of the two ideological, imperialist superpowers. In dividing the world between the two superpowers and their supposed prey, the Third Universaal Theory anticipated much of what has come to be called the North-South interpretation of international relations, whereby the world is divided into natural-resource-consuming nations (the industrialized North) and the natural-resource-producing nations (the underdeveloped South). Indeed, Qadhafi has championed this interpretation of international relations. Guided by this viewpoint, Libya has been a strong supporter of national liberation movements against colonial regimes, even though the terrorist tactics used by some groups have tarnished Libya's international reputation and led to economic sanctions and to military attacks in mid-1986.

Central to the Third Universal Theory are the concepts of religion and nationalism as embodied in Islam. Qadhafi believes that religion and nationalism have been the "two paramount drives that moved forward the evolutionary process. They constitute man's history as they have formed nations, peoples, wars." In short, Qadhafi believes that religion determines human actions and interactions.

The atheism of the communists is another reason Qadhafi finds their ideology invalid. According to Qadhafi, communists cannot be trusted because they fear no ultimate judgment and thus may break their word if they consider it beneficial in any particular case. Islam, as the essence of monotheism, is the true religion that encompasses Jews, Christians, and Muslims, all of whom followed God's prophets. The differences among these religions exist not because of the prophets' teachings but because of differences among their followers.

According to Qadhafi, if religion is basic to the individual, nationalism is basic to the society. The Quran refers to tribes and nations that are inherent in the universe. A person belongs to a nationality upon birth. Only later does he or she become a conscious member of a religion. Thus, Qadhafi faults those who deny the validity of nationality. His concept of nationality, therefore, relates to his concept of Arab unity.

In this regard, Qadhafi adheres to the traditional, secularly based view of Arab nationalism propounded by such thinkers as Michel Aflaq, a founder and key political philosopher of the Baath Party, and Nasser. For Qadhafi, nationalism takes precedence over religion. In a wide-ranging speech before the GPC meeting in Sabha on March 2, 1987, Qadhafi denounced Islamic fundamentalism as "nonsense" and stated that "no banner should be hoisted over the Arab homeland except the banner of pan-Arabism."

Country Studies main page | Libya Country Studies main page