Remarkably this bipolar world had been predicted almost prophetically more than a century earlier by the French political historian Alexis de Tocqueville in his 1835 book Democracy in America on the basis of national character and condition. In the same book he recognized that America’s strength came from the righteousness proclaimed from its pulpits.
Consider that when the following was written the British Empire was the dominant power on earth. Russia, while a great power, was by no means yet a global superpower, this being nearly a century before the Soviet Union, and neither was the newly formed United States, which was still in its pre–Civil War days. The character De Tocqueville described back in 1835 remains deeply ingrained:
“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 . . . 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 . . . These alone are proceeding with ease and celerity [swiftness] along a path to which no limit can be perceived.
“The American struggles against the obstacles that 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 by the plowshare; 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 centers 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.” (Democracy in America)
This is utterly stunning. Clearly there is such a thing as national character—and it certainly matters.