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Russia Vs. United States Essay, Research Paper
The United States and Russia have been battling off pernicious factions menacing the stability of their democracies over the years. Russia has come a long way over the past century, enduring a number of different phases that have completely desecrated any power Russia may have had paralleled to the rest of the world. The United States, however, has been evolving into a prosperous world power that has led to new respect from many other nations. Both Russia and the United States have struggled in the past at maintaining a significant amount of cultural commitment to preservation of specific aspects of their respective democracies. Having a relatively new democracy, Russian citizens have different perceptions and expectations of government from those of United States citizens. With new liberties and freedoms, Russians are struggling to grasp the concept of capitalism and participation in government. In order to preserve strong features of democracy, such as the right to vote or freedom of speech, a country’s constituents must respect and positively view their government. They must have faith in that the government is working for their best interests. Physically, the United States and Russia have been impacted greatly by their geography. Historically, the backgrounds of Russia and the United States are of stark contrast. Traditionally, Russians have a difficult time believing in the stability of their government as it has changed a number of times.
Geography has had a profound influence on the Russian psyche. Russia is a land that lies open to invasion and the elements, for it possesses no major natural barriers. In the southeast, there are great plains that allow easy entrance to any would-be conquerors (Melvin 139). In the southwest there is the steppe, home of many fierce nomadic tribes and prime invasion route for the horsemen of central Asia. In Russia’s north there are vast forests and tundra, which, although not a defensive vulnerability, provide little possibility for sustenance (Melvin 156). There are no significant mountain chains to shield Russia west of the Urals. This has allowed countless invasions to devastate Russia through the centuries. The Mongols, Poles, Swedes, French, Germans, and other nations have all invaded and pillaged Russia (McDaniel 162). The lack of mountain barriers leads to another problem; unhindered cold arctic winds. They blow across Russia, bringing freezing air and much snow. As a result, forty percent of Russian territory is permanently frozen subsoil, and only one third of Russia is moderately temperate. The great plains of Russia, which are responsible for producing much of its food, are on the same latitude as Canada. This leads to great difficulty in producing sufficient quantities of food (Gustafson 137). The duel problems caused by geography, the vulnerability to attack and the paucity of resources, have caused a marked effect on the Russian mind. The Russian people are more favorable to a strong, even authoritarian government, because they see it as necessary in order to mobilize their scarce resources to provide for the common defense (McDaniel 125). This effect has been present throughout Russian history. The Russian peasants tolerated serfdom until 1864, with only one major revolt. This was much later than in Western Europe. Even when the tsar rescinded many of the liberties granted to them in 1905, it took more than ten years and millions of Russian soldier deaths to lead to revolution (McDaniel 124). The Russians were hesitant to depose their ruler because they saw the stability he offered as more important than their individual rights. This tendency is not conducive to democracy. Freedom and equality for all, the basic prerequisites of democracy, are not the Russian people’s number one priority. Living in such a harsh land they see the necessities of food and safety as more important than philosophical ideals.
In stark contrast, is the American geographical situation, which has had an equally profound influence, albeit with radically different results (Heywood 98). Unlike Russia, America is a temperate and relatively sheltered land. The Atlantic Ocean has provided protection from most serious invasion threats, while the Native American tribes of the interior never proved to be a serious danger to the United States. As a result, the American people never saw a need for an immensely powerful central government to protect them. The enormous prosperity of the land also reinforced this notion. Food was never a serious problem in America, especially after the settlement of the Midwest, and other resources were similarly abundant (Heywood 99). The American Frontier has been a pillar in democracy providing hope for improvement when conditions degenerate. The idea of “moving westward” for more opportunity and prosperity has fostered American culture by ensuring trust in that eventually, conditions will improve and benefits reaped. Trust is a foundational basis of all democracies and if this can be garnered through the geographical situation of a nation, the better off the democracy will be.
Trust and respect for government can be achieved many ways, not just through geographical status. It takes commitment from society as a whole. Imbedded beliefs and values are inevitably at the source of this commitment. Through experience over long periods of time, opinion of government, by way of society, is greatly influenced. In America, the foundation of democracy began with the Revolutionary War. People desired to govern themselves. The war was against the King of England, as well as autocratic traditions of the rest of the world (Heywood 126). Americans wanted to represent themselves and fought hard throughout the war to achieve this goal. After winning the war the nation was united in patriotism. The success of the war led to the establishment of the most important documents in America to this day. Glorification of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers among many others, was preordained with the wide base of support patriotism had rallied throughout the nation (Heywood 97). These documents promoted democratic values that paralleled the desires as well as demands of society. To this day, Americans place high value upon these documents and for the most part act in accordance with them. It would be difficult to dishonor these glorified texts because of the pedestal in which they have been placed upon. Also, when the main focus of them is the concept that all men are created equal, it is difficult to dispute against this favorable stance towards democracy.
Conversely, there was no real revolutionary war against authoritarianism in Russia. The Bolshevik Revolution could be comparable to the Revolutionary War of the United States, but it is not the same because it ended in communism and repression, rather than gradual democracy that occurred in America (Melvin 68). People in Russia do not have the concept of how a democracy functions because they have no experience with it. They went from having tsars to communism, they’ve never had a real democratic government until recently. People are used to serving the state whereas in America people are used to referring to government officials as “public servants.” The governing documents of the states are not honored and valued as they are in America because they were mainly mandates with little public consensus (Melvin 126).
Lack of legitimacy in national constitutions has caused Russians to favor government intervention in all aspects of life involving the economy. Paucity of opportunity and hope has hindered personal aspirations of Russian constituents. This is due largely in part to the strong autocratic traditions of Russia. Russians have never been forced to motivate themselves to gain wealth because the government has always told them where to work and proportioned their salaries (McDaniel 162). There has never been a real capitalist class in Russia because of this. The emphasis of the Russian economy lies mostly along the lines of collectivism versus conservatism in the United States. Precedence of the hierarchy of society sitting on top of individuality has programmed Russian citizens to value well being of society to that of their individual selves (McDaniel 163). An example of this is Bolotov, a nobleman farmer who was a self made man. He dedicated himself to improving his crop yields, hence prospering economically. The tsar government of Russia denounced him. This is typical of the old Russian beliefs that have been pounded into the minds of current citizens. Recently, however, Georgy Gachev wrote an essay called “Honest Private Life as an Alternative to Russian Literature” (Rzhevsky 69). Basically, this essay praises Bolotov for what he did and improving his own situation. It also criticizes previous, traditional Russian literature that has been emphasizing society rather than the individual.
With this new criticism of proceeding ideals, it is apparent change of mind is gradually occurring in Russia. It will, however, take a significant amount of time before this new attitude can be implemented throughout the entire Russian society. Many obstacles lie in the way sustaining conservative foundations in the Russian economy which are necessary for their democracy. One of those obstacles is the lack of middle class (McDaniel 169). Poor people have a tendency to be more radical than those of the middle or upper classes. So many poor people, the current situation in Russia, leads to instability. These people have no stake in democracy, they instead value prosperity. They look to the government when looking for a savior giving the government a huge amount of power. The middle class generally acts as a conservative influence, especially regarding the right of private property which is inevitably a major pillar of any democracy. All of this is in large contrast to America where we have an abundant middle class that acts as a balance to the radical groups in America. There has never been a Communist party in the United States, even during the depression when the nation was in dire need of a savior. The middle class is a strong basis of support for democracy in America. Diverse, incongruent and motivated to maintain democracy, the middle class is a stable way to ensure and sustain democracy (Heywood 210).
Religion is not always considered a pillar of democracy, however, The Russian Orthodox Church being the primary religion of Russia has had a profound influence on its culture (Grudzinska-Gross 48). Its tradition of state control has helped foster a slave mentality among the Russian people. Its refusal to allow dissent or debate over religious practices has ingrained in the Russian mind the need to bow to the dictates of their superiors without question, which is not a healthy trait in a democracy. In America the presence of many religions has forced the general population to accept their fellow citizen’s differences of opinion in religious matters, but in Russia the predominant Orthodox Church encouraged discrimination against other religions. Even as recently as 1993 the Russian Orthodox Church encouraged the passing of a law that would have forced religious organizations to register with the state and that would have restricted “non-traditional” religious activity. The Russian Orthodox Church has also failed to take a very active part in democracy as churches in America have done. It has not encouraged debates over policy and it has not even become involved in advocating for issues except where it is directly concerned. In stark contrast are the religious organizations in America that strongly advocate their positions. They encourage their congregations to get involved in the democratic process and to lobby for what they believe in (Grudzinska-Gross 187). The diverse and active religious groups in America have served as bastion of strength for democracy while the Orthodox Church of Russia has functioned more as a servant of autocracy. However, it should be noted that the Church’s influence has declined. Seventy years of Communism severely damaged its position as did the Church’s lack of opposition to serfdom, the despotism of the tsars, and the Communists. Still, it has undoubtedly had a strong influence.
In order to sustain and grow as a democracy, Russian citizens must acquire a new sense of government. They must respect their leaders, value their constitutions and aspire to be prosperous. The United States does not respect all of their leaders, does not value all of their important documents and does not have universal motivation to prosper, but America does have a strong combination of the three. United States citizens have achieved this state of mind through the geography, history and traditions of the nation. Russia, although having geography, history and traditional values standing against it, has made a significant effort to preserve strong features of democracy through recent decades.
Grudzinska-Gross, Irena. The Scar of Revolution: Custine, Tocqueville,
and the Romantic Imagination. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
Gustafson, Thane, and Daniel Yergin. Russia 2010. New York:
Heywood, Andrew. Political Ideas and Concepts. New York: St. Martin’s
McDaniel, Tim. The Agony of the Russian Idea. Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1996.
Melvin, Neil. Russians Beyond Russians. London: Royal Institute of
International Affairs, 1995.
Rzhevsky, Nicholas. Cambridge Companion to Modern Russian Culture.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
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