THE BLOG
04/03/2006 02:25 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Creating ‘Western-style Democracy' Wasn't So Easy - Even in the West

As Iraq shatters into a million little pieces before our horrified eyes, many people seem surprised that its fabled elections failed to produce a stable democracy.

After all, neo-cons promised us that elections automatically constitute 'progress.'

They assured us that voting is inherently better than not voting, and that all those purple Iraqi thumbs were iconic symbols of an emerging 'Western-style democracy.'

Alas, that pipe dream is now dissolving in an ocean of blood, but is that really a surprise?

Or did the neo-cons' faith in the power of constitutions and elections reveal - not their optimism - but their appalling lack of historical perspective?

To see what I mean, consider how long it took some typical Western-style democracies to become...well...Western-style democracies.

Spain, for example. Its first democratic constitution was enacted in 1812. It was followed by instability, coups, civil wars, massacres, and dictatorships for 166 years. A stable democracy finally took root in 1978.

Portugal's first democratic constitution was enacted in 1820. It was followed by instability and internal wars, then a period of stability, and then a series of revolutions and ultimately dictatorship. A stable democracy finally took root after 153 years, in 1975.

Greece's first democratic constitution was enacted in 1844. It was followed by periods of peace and expansion, but also by instability and ultimately a brutal civil war, more instability and then a military junta. A truly stable democracy finally took root after 130 years, in 1974.

Italy's first democratic constitution was enacted in 1848 (in Sardinia, later extended to a united Italy in 1861). It was followed by periods of social peace, but also by instability, general strikes and ultimately a fascist dictatorship. A stable democracy finally took root after 100 years, in 1948.

And don't forget Latin America, where 150 years of constitutions and elections led to 150 years of coups, genocides, civil wars, massacres and juntas from which many Latin nations are only now emerging.

The record seems depressingly clear.

If societies are deeply splintered, then constitutions and elections guarantee nothing - except maybe generations of chaos and a lot of dead babies.

But hey, look on the bright side. In the above examples, it took an average of 130 years from a country's first constitution to the emergence of a genuine democracy.

So Iraq should stabilize eventually. Around the year 2136!

At that point, someone will undoubtedly name a solid waste disposal plant in Baghdad after George W. Bush.