Tocqueville wrote in the first volume of his Democracy in America (1835, “the Russians and Americans ….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.”
He also wrote, “All other nations seem to have reached their natural limits, and they have only to maintain their power; but these are still in the act of growing. 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 that nature imposes 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 by the plowshare; whose 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 centers all 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.
The unmitigated despotism that reigns over us established itself at the very period that servitude ceased in the rest of Europe. From the time of the invasion of the Mongols, the Slavonians, until then one of the freest people in the world, became slaves, first to their conquerors, and afterwards to their own princes. Bondage was thenceforward established among them, not only as an existing state, but as a constituent principle of society. It has degraded the right of speech in Russia to such a point that it is no longer considered anything better than a snare: our government lives by lies, for truth is as terrible to the tyrant as to the slave. Thus, little as one speaks, in Russia, one always speaks too much, since in this country all discourse is the expression of religious or political hypocrisy.”
The Marquis de Cuistine (1839) wrote in his novel, Journey For Our Time: The Journals of the Marquis de Custine Russia 1839, ” I do not reproach the Russians for being what they are, what I blame in them is, their pretending to be what we are. They are still uncultivated: this state would at least allow room for hope; but i see them incessantly occupied with the desire of mimicking other nations, and this they do after the true manner of monkeys, caricaturing what they copy. They thus appear to me spoilt for the savage state, and yet wanting in the requisites of civilization; and the terrible words of Voltaire or of Diderot, now forgotten in France, recur to my mind – “the Russians have rotted before they have ripened.”
1835 and 1839…not much has changed.