A Kyiv-based contemporary journalist and commentator recently shared some pertinent reflections on the mind-activity of Russians and Americans. In this case, it was the trenchant observations of that famed French historian, Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859). His observations are as spot-on in 2022/23 as they were when he wrote these words in the mid-1800s:
Incredibly, what Tocqueville said 200 years ago about Russia, relative to America, remains true today. Russians: Gains through violence, theft, spoils of war. Americans: Gains through hard work, fruits of labor. Russians: Embrace own slavery, security only in servitude to a ruthless, unforgiving master. Americans: Individual Freedom Russians: All power and decision-making centralized in a single authority. Americans: Collective power, guided by constituents' ever-changing and conditions dependent self-interest.
de Tocqueville’s words, in their entirety, are chilling in their clarity:
"There are at the present time two great nations in the world, which started from different points, but seem to tend towards the same end. I allude to the Russians and the Americans. Both of them have grown up unnoticed; and whilst the attention of mankind was directed elsewhere, they have suddenly placed themselves in the front rank among the nations, and the world learned their existence and their greatness at almost the same time.
All other nations seem to have nearly reached their natural limits, and they have only to maintain their power; but these are still in the act of growth. All the others have stopped, or continue to advance with extreme difficulty; these alone are proceeding with ease and celerity along a path to which no limit can be perceived. The American struggles against the obstacles which nature opposes to him; the adversaries of the Russian are men. The former combats the wilderness and savage life; the latter, civilization with all its arms. The conquests of the American are therefore gained with the ploughshare; those of the Russian by the sword. The Anglo-American relies upon personal interest to accomplish his ends, and gives free scope to the unguided strength and common sense of the people; the Russian centres all the authority of society in a single arm. The principal instrument of the former is freedom; of the latter, servitude. Their starting-point is different, and their courses are not the same; yet each of them seems marked out by the will of Heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe." de Tocqueville (1835)