The past half century has shown that the cultural obstacles to democracy are less formidable than many predicted, from Roman Catholic Southern Europe to Orthodox Eastern Europe to Confucian Asia. ~Michael Gerson
The last half century? Now Spain had some form of constitutional government on and off for the better part of a century before Franco; Italy had a constitutional monarchy with a representative legislature from the time of unification to the rise of fascism; Orthodox Greece was the first European nation outside France to successfully embrace revolutionary liberal politics and establish an independent constitutional monarchy. The history of liberalism and representative government in these countries certainly did not begin in the post-1945 world, and few have seriously maintained that these nations were unfit or unsuited for these things because of their culture–rather crucially in Europe because these are Christian countries with an all together different understanding of the role of the state from that of Islamic tradition.
But what these examples also show is that even in these countries, where the conditions were much, much more favourable, the establishment of constitutional government was frequently difficult and contested, sometimes resulting in collapse, and even then it took most of the last 150 years for these countries to reach a point of having relatively stable representative government. It is theoretically possible that Iraq, or the bits into which Iraq will break up, will someday experience something similar, but neither we nor our grandchildren will ever live to see it. In the short and medium term, we will be resented and hated for our trouble, and our interventions will make us less secure–which, if we believe Mr. Gerson, is the main rationale for why we have this policy.
I don’t say these things as boasts or compliments–it is my opinion that liberalism has done more harm to Orthodox Greece’s living Orthodoxy in many ways than the Turks did through their despotism–but simply as statements of historical truth, a truth that seems conveniently to elude Mr. Gerson. No one, except perhaps Slavophobes and those who look at eastern Europe through the lens of Orientalism, has ever seriously believed that Orthodox Europeans are incapable or culturally averse to constitutional, representative or even democratic government.
The Slavophiles–and there is none more Orthodox in most rspects than they were–were Russian conservatives and even nationalists of a sort who sought and found, however implausibly, the indigenous sources of what they believed ought to be their own liberal and democratic order based in the experience of the city-states of medieval Russia and the (largely romanticised) memory of the Zemskii sobor. Of course, their political ideas had limited impact, but the coherent pairing of these sets of ideas in the minds of Russians–intense commitment to Orthodoxy and a largely decentralised political order (under a paternal monarch)–undermine Mr. Gerson’s claims on this point in particular.
Typically, if constitutional government has taken root slowly in these countries it is because the liberals who have promoted it have been by and large hostile to the traditional Christianity of the people and the Christian identity of the nation. Far more than flawed theories of the origin of government (and they are flawed), it has been contempt for traditional values and the attempt to replace them with liberal ones that has doomed most attempts at constitutionalism throughout Europe down through the decades. (Now that the replacement is in many societies more or less complete, we see the terrible cost of such “progress.”) In the Islamic world, the introduction of liberal democracy cannot but trample on the traditional values of Muslims and it will predictably and understandably provoke resistance and defiance.