Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Cold War - 110 years early

At the end of the first volume of Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville makes one final observation:
There are two great peoples on the earth today who, starting from different points, seem to advance toward the same goal: these are the Russians and the Anglo-Americans. 
The American struggles against the obstacles that nature opposes to him; the Russian grapples with men. The one combats the wilderness and barbarism, the other, civilization vested with all its arms: thus conquests of the American are made with the plowshare of the laborer, those of the Russian, with the sword of the soldier.
To attain his goal, the first relies on personal interest and allows the force and the reason of individuals to act, without directing them. 
The second in a way concentrates all the power of society in one man. 
The one has freedom for his principal means of action; the other servitude. 
Their point of departure is different, their ways are diverse; nonetheless, each of them seems called by a secret design of Providence to hold the destinies of half the world in its hands one day.
This was written in 1835. The United States had not yet experienced the Civil War, Andrew Jackson was President, John Marshall was (still) Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and reports surfaced that life had just been discovered on the moon.

Russia, meanwhile, was under the autocratic rule of Nicholas I. It didn't even have a railroad yet.

Both were over a century away from the Cold War. But as Tocqueville predicted, they did eventually "hold the destinies" of major parts of the world in their hands. And not only that, his description of what the struggle would look like was also accurate. Individuals v. totalitarianism, freedom v. servitude. 

Tocqueville doesn't speculate how a clash between the two would turn out. Rather, he simply ends with what I quoted above. I wonder if he would have been surprised with how it happened.
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