Aug 5, 2015

Alexis de Tocqueville on the destiny of two great powers: America and Russia (1840)

Today, two great nations of the earth seem to be advancing toward the same destination from different starting points: the Russians and the Anglo-Americans.

Both have grown unobserved and, while men's attention has been preoccupied elsewhere, they have climbed up into the leading rank of nations and the world has learned of both their birth and their greatness at almost the same moment.

All other nations appear to have reached almost the upper limits of their natural development and have nothing left to do except preserve what they have, whereas these two nations are growing: all the others have either halted or are advancing by a great exertion of effort, whereas these two progress rapidly and comfortably on a seemingly unending course as far as we can see.

Americans struggle against obstacles placed there by nature; Russians are in conflict with men.  The former fight the wilderness and barbarity; the latter, civilization with all its weaponry: thus, American victories are achieved with the plowshare, Russia's with the soldier's sword.

To achieve their aim, the former rely upon self-interest and allow free scope to the unguided strength and common sense of individuals.

The latter focus the whole power of society upon a single man.

The former deploy freedom as their main mode of action; the latter, slavish obedience.

The point of departure is different, their paths are diverse, but each of them seems destined by some secret providential design to hold in their hands the fate of half the world at some date in the future.

~ Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1840

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