OPINION COLUMN (Libya) – Phantasming the Leviathan


What about the problem of “contractualism” and its future in Libya?

In one of the Roman maxims: words bind humans, as ropes for bull horns. Verba ligant hŏmĭnes, taurōrum cornua fūnes. This parable is also found in the regional heritage of North Africa where the man is tied to his tongue.

The two proverbs inhabit the depth of legal thinking. In fact, moral judgments and requisites rarely change wherever we go. It is the basis of stability in society for the stability is a result of a contract process between speaking parties, capable of representing the relationship between words and things.

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What distinguishes the link-by-word is its mutual recognition and announcement between parties that recommend this link by accepting the total words from all parties. “What gives the words their power and what makes them able to maintain order or breach it is the belief in the legitimacy of words and those who utter, a belief that wordsthemselves cannot produce or generate.” (Pierre Bourdieu, The Symbol and Power)

It is this initial idea that makes what we know as “contract”, but it remains as a primary idea, since what it establishes and what it leads toin-itself, is more complex than merely a commonsense conclusion.

When we talk about Libya…

When we talk about Libya, we imagine at once that everything can be re-started to emerge from a “zero”, i.e. inexperienced base.

The state of Statelessness that it is now does not enable us to talk about the State as much as we talk about society. Libyan society is in a permanent state of war and therefore opens to all possibilities. If we rely on Thomas Hobbes, we will describe it as a “free society”. But it is also important to pay attention to this concept in the context of David Hume’s On Human Nature, where the natural right has been rephrased theologically to be linked to ethical predispositions and tendencies that appear in social equilibrium by binding and equalizing opposing forces. The zero start is a Hobbesian impression, which is not entirely realistic, but part of it may reflect an actual situation. The overlapping political and social coordinates in Libya really allow us to assume a vacuum in claiming domination, but if we were “Humean” we will be on a vast plank field that needs efforts beyond perception to be filled with individual’s predispositions.

What I see in my country is exactly what I had imagined for a long time, under the title The Stateless Society, published in 1987, in Tripoli; but my antecedent utopian thoughts are colliding now with the most violent transformations that such a society can become.

The natural state

Why should we go back with our analysis to this initial and foremost level? We must prioritize and redefine our own issues, while simultaneously questioning our tools for their ability to approach the right solutions. I think that the solutions offered by/for the Libyans, did not care much about this; for this reason, beyond the name of the consensus they achieved only artificial formulas that are easy to drag into the “natural state”, that is the state of war.

The consensual formula has replaced and abolished contractual necessity without a solution or part of it. Now we are back to square zero, and we recognize the Hobessian perception and its ability to contain and represent the Libyan question. At the depth of the claim of every Libyan for some form of State, we see only the expression of the basic needs of the word “security”, it therefore seems a mental image of an unsatisfied desire rather than a will. Everyone is saddened by the loss of the State, and they are clinging to what we can call the Leviathan phantasming: “Creating a strong and resilient state that will eliminate all forms of chaos, turmoil, strife and civil war, and bring security and protection to its subjects. Hobess says: ‘The real-minded will see that they are in desperate need of being ruled by a State like the Leviathan to protect them, an invincible State that trying to undermine it is a kind of madness’.” (Imam A. Imam, Thomas Hobbes and Rationalism Philosophy)

In this return to the initial level, I emphasize again, we can discover the loss of several centuries of social consciousness development which is summarized in the difference between the concepts of subjects and citizenship. This phantasming as it is clear, refers to subjects expressing wishes, and does not indicate citizens expressing their will. For them, the Leviathan just exists, it cannot be created; it is transcendent, not immanent. It is a vision that Hobbes was not to allow. The Leviathan is the State, not the ruler or the king as many mistakenly understand, it is the Commonwealth, not the public space that we envision in the “natural state” embracing the war of all against all (bellum omnium contra omnes).

Re-contracting society

Every individual is a project of a mental being – or is liable to be, i.e., a “human project”. The sum of these individual projects is therefore the project of a politically contractual society, for the political process is avalidation of the permeability of societal contracting, it may precede, coincides with, or follows legislation, but legislation may also be replaced, repealed or renewed…

This depends of course, on the status of the society we are talking about and the level of civilization that it has achieved or seeks to express its will in it. In other words, it is about necessity and its arrangement or rearrangement. Contractualization is more important than legislation. When society is contractually stabilized, the need for legislation is bypassed and replaced by consensual formulations, so that external compulsion becomes a self-commitment based on “solidarity” at the level of the public space and is based on “sharing” at the individual level.

We have become accustomed to understanding the context of a historical contract as being voluntary, i.e., as a free consensus, but once it has been achieved, it becomes independent of the influence of will, which makes it a source of legislation and gives it its referential strength and stability. In the Libyan question, instead of this standard context, we are talking about re-contracting.

The re-contractual society has gone through more than one experiment to determine the undertakings and pledges between the parties that have been given the power to speak on behalf of the milieu they represent; party, tribe, group or orientation. But that did not turn them into factual players capable of achieving and developing based on what has been achieved, we have undergone similar experiences6 that did not produce more than political “shambles” (of these experiences: the election of 2012; the emergence of different legitimacy representatives in 2014, the Skhirat 2015 agreement, and preparing for the National Conference which was aborted with a weak French-sponsored agreement to hold new elections in 2018).

I cannot find a word more appropriate to express the vacuuming and disabling of the values of the public space.


This retrieval contractualism, which is repeatedly restored and owned, has lost its most important causes, namely its ability to bind, generalize and spread the culture of commitment. For this main reason, the Libyans have so far failed to issue a unified constitution that represents a basic contract between them and regulates what they must do in procedural contexts that end the transitional period that is open to uncertainty. They failed because they were prisoners of a vision based on inheritance ethics, which could give them the right to hegemony in the name of legislation, instead of issuing a contractual text that ethically obligates the legislation.

When a society is a contractual, equivalence and parity is achieved in the public space, and the State is politically credible for the equivalency of power and sovereignty. In a re-contractual society without trust in the references and without being linked to the public space, the State arises casually that is, isolated from the functioning of the traditional components of the State, but because of artificial coercion without equivalence between power and sovereignty.

The lack of parity and equality between them makes them contradictory, and thus undermines the most important foundations of the contractual idea. “It is a state of equality where power and sovereignty are equal, so that no one has more luck than the other (…) or coercing one another or be a subject to the other.” (John Locke, Two Essays on Civil Governance)

The contractual idea, on the other hand, recognizes sovereignty as symbolic capital, and with the interaction of forms of capital, power is the last form to establish the symbolism of sovereignty and thus the success of contracting.

In the case of a re-contractual society, the symbolic value recognized in the public space is ineffective and therefore re-contracting fails. It is appropriate to go with Pierre Bourdieu that “every capital, whatever the image it takes, is symbolically violent once it is recognized, that is to ignore it in fact as a capital and proclaim it as a sovereignty that requires recognition.” (Bourdieu)

What we add to this in comparison to the example we are dealing with is that social vacuuming eliminates symbolic capital which is outside of some form of direct or indirect power, regardless of its recognition as a sovereign signifier; the distance is vast between sovereignty and power. Symbolic capital can therefore not retain this significance unless this transitional distance has been passed.

Libya, a theoretical virgin land

Arithmetically, the zero base on which equal digits are based on results necessarily in a zero sum. How do the outputs – then – go beyond this vicious circle? We can turn to solutions based on this way of thinking.

Libya is theoretically a virgin land to enact a system that benefits from previous experiences. On this basis, the possibility of success is very great; especially since several years ago it was internationally led. It is obliged not to go beyond the international legislation that has drawn up a specific roadmap, despite that a large part of these arrangements has not yet proved their worth.

As a matter of fact, we cannot ignore the existence of alternative legislation associated with a more advanced contract based on two main aspects: religion and tribal tradition, both of which have a continuing social impact. But we are talking about the possible State, not society, right? Our political thinking that benefits from anthropological data should not be dependent on these data, except to the extent that the rearrangement of primacy is envisaged by invoking the Rousseauian concept of the transition from the original to the natural, the transition from the metaphysical to theontology of power and thus from the limitations of an imagined identity to the contract the humanitarian potential expressed by law as a representation of common will on common issues.

The old image of the contractual society is part of a figurative political memory, but at the very least it allowed us to draw up the contractual contexts, organize the compromise to create a general space based on the parity between power and sovereignty in the State. That motivates society in the order of parity among individuals to legalize terms of participation, equality, entitlement, and organizing of relations.

The “possible” of the contractual society is no longer a local or regional issue. The United Nations is characterized with material authority as a source of recognition and with moral authority as a source of values substitutability. What happens is that we are experiencing a regression caused by conflicts of interest and repeated failures in the permeability of consensual decisions.

I would like to say briefly that the emergence of Libya as a modern State in 1947 and 1951 arose out of an international concern that focused on the need to resolve the course of the contractual, which was prevented by its internal contradictions from reaching a satisfactory conclusion for all parties. The re-establishment of the State does not seem to take place out of such an interest.

We are still bound to measure the truth based on facts. We have not yet departed from Hobbes natural state. We do not practice facts on the scale of truth. We are not yet to accept the contractual state of Rousseau. So, we cannot transform this action into its political derivatives.

We are saddened to say that the Libyans are now returning to the “state of nature” as Hobbes put it, while Bousset, the theologian and the preacher of the royal court, ascends the Green Mountain or the Western Mountain, hollering: “There is no state worse than that of anarchy… a state in which everyone would do all that he wills; no one will do which he wills; where there is no master, everyone is master.” (Bossuet, Politics Drawn from Very Words of Holy Scripture)

Disorder (in the sense of stateless) is characterized, as an expression of the natural state, by a deep temptation, and it is always capable of activating and becoming a general state whenever its causes become available.

The end of Posse’s sermon says: “Where all are masters, all are slaves.”

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The need lies not in contracting in its original form, nor in re-contracting, in its optional form, but in the necessity of a compulsory social contract that is referentially bound by a third party.

If we do not want to make things even more complicated, we must severely stop before the absent voice that is avoided still. To be possible and legitimate – according to Philip Pettit – contracting should not be accepted only, but must be able to absorb any possible rebellion, this is the only case to prove popular acceptance of the contract itself. The tools of this proof are debatable, but to the Libyan issue – by agreeing in principle not to spare the absentee, as has been the case throughout the previous transitional periods, it is the people, the only source, said Rousseau who practice their direct sovereignty without representation.


About Author

Monem MAHJOUB ,Dr.

Historian and Political Critic (Tripoli – LIBYA)

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