Pitirim A. Sorokin, “Sociology of My Mental Life,” in Philip J. Allen, ed., Pitirim A. Sorokin in Review: The American Sociological Forum, (Durham, NC.: Duke University Press, 1963), pp. 4-36
I was born in January 21, 1889, and lived up to the age of eleven among the Komi people, one of the Ugro-Finnish ethnic groups, in the North of Russia. My Russian father was an itinerant “master of gilding, silvering, and ikon-making” (as his guild certificate testified). How and for what reasons he moved from the Russian city Velikiy Ustiug to the Komi region (a distance of more than three hundred miles) and remained there up to his death, I do not know. One of the possible reasons was that among the Komi people he probably found more work than among the Russian population. My mother was a Komi peasant daughter. The only thing I remember about her is the scene of her death—which occurred when I was about three years old. This scene is my earliest memory and it marks my birth into a conscious, remembered life. Of my life before this event I remember nothing. (This personal experience is one of the reasons why I regard various “dianetic” and psychoanalytical theories of an alleged remembrance by the human organism of everything, especially of the birth trauma and various sex experiences, as a mere fancy not supported by any real evidence.)
From my father, relatives, and neighbors I heard that my mother was, though illiterate, a beautiful, intelligent, and very fine person. Of my father I had and still have two different images. In his sober stretch (lasting for weeks and even months) he was a wonderful man, loving and helping his sons in any way he could, friendly to all neighbors, industrious and honest in his work, and to the end of his life faithful to our dead mother. “Christ has risen!” was his habitual way of saying “How do you do?” or “Goodbye.” Unfortunately the stretches of soberness alternated with those of drunkenness, sometimes up to the state of delirium tremens. In his drunken state he was a pitiful figure; he could not care for us nor help us; he was depressed, irritable, and, once in a while, somewhat violent in his treatment of us. In one moment of such violence he beat my older brother and, with a hammer blow, he cut my upper lip, which remained slightly misshapen for many years. Immediately after this event my older brother and I decided to separate from our father, and we started our own independent way of earning a living. One year later father died in a distant village. Because of the undeveloped means of communication it was weeks before we learned about his death. Despite father’s alcoholism, the image of a sober, tender, and wonderful father overwhelmingly prevailed while we were living together and it still prevails in my memory up to the present time.
Even in his drunken state he had nothing in common with the Freudian image of a tyrant-father, insensitive and cruel to his children. With the exception of the alcoholic periods which were considerably shorter and less frequent than his sober periods, our family—father, older brother, and myself (my younger brother was taken by our aunt and did not live with us)—was a good and harmonious team bound together by warm, mutual love, community of joy and suffering, and by a modestly creative work. This deep mutual attachment continued in my relationship with my older brother and, later on, with my younger one. Each of us was intensely concerned with what was happening to the others; and this devotion and love continued to the end of my brothers’ lives (both perished in the struggle with the Communist regime). After our separation from our father, my brother and I moved, earning our living, from village to village for about one year, until we came to a small Russian town, Yarensk (about a thousand population). There we found plenty of work: painting the spire, the domes, and the outside and inside walls of the main cathedral, and silvering and gilding the cathedral’s ikons and other cult objects. There, when we were painting the spire of the cathedral we were almost blown down (from the great height of the building) by a sudden storm and were saved from a fatal fall by a strong rope that withstood the assaults of the ferocious squalls.
This town, Yarensk, introduced me to the urban world. I was then about eleven and my brother about fifteen years old. After a few months of successful work in this town, we moved back into the Komi region and for several months continued our work there until, surprisingly for both of us, I found myself enrolled in an advanced grade school, described later on. This enrollment separated me from my brother for the nine months of the school year and, after two years, divided the course of our lives along quite different paths. During these two or three years of our living together my brother’s leadership and care were truly vital for my survival and growth. Otherwise we were a real brotherly team, each being “the keeper and guardian of the other.” Later on, during the Communist revolution, when the Communists hunted me and put a price on my head, to be captured dead or alive, my younger brother helped me many times at the risk of his own freedom and his very life. My illiterate aunt and her husband likewise most kindly treated me as their own son during my early years when frequently I lived with them in a hamlet, Rymia. Their place was my real “home” when there was no other home. These lines sketch my family background. Among other things they show that I had in my early (and also later) life abundance of a true, pure, and warm love granted to me by my family, relatives, and many others.
Before proceeding with this analysis of my mental development it is necessary to outline the external history of my life. Without such a background it is hardly possible to deal intelligently with the problems of my autobiographical microsociology. The subsequent lines give the main landmarks of my life-course. Eventfulness has possibly been the most significant feature of my life-adventure. In a span of seventy-three years I have passed through several cultural atmospheres: pastoral-hunter’s culture of the Komi; first the agricultural, then the urban culture of Russia and Europe; and, finally, the megalopolitan, technological culture of the United States. Starting my life as a son of a poor itinerant artisan and peasant mother, I have subsequently been a farmhand, itinerant artisan, factory worker, clerk, teacher, conductor of a choir, revolutionary, political prisoner, journalist, student, editor of a metropolitan paper, member of Kerensky’s cabinet, an exile, professor at Russian, Czech, and American universities, and a scholar of an international reputation.
No less eventful has been the range of my life-experience. Besides joys and sorrows, successes and failures of normal human life, I have lived through six imprisonments; and I have had the unforgettable experience of being condemned to death and, daily during six weeks, expecting execution by a Communist firing squad. I know what it means to be damned; to be banished, and to lose one’s brothers and friends in a political struggle; but also, in a modest degree, I have experienced the blissful grace of a creative work. These life-experiences have taught me more than the innumerable books I have read and the lectures to which I have listened. As I stated earlier, my brother and I separated from my father, following one of his violent eruptions while he was under the influence of alcohol; and, not long thereafter, I became “independent” and penniless, but free to chart my own life-course, earning my living as best I could. Subsequently, I was a student at a teachers college; I was arrested and imprisoned four months before graduation because of my political activities in 1906; and then, I became a starving and hunted revolutionary, and a student of a night school, of the Psycho-Neurological Institute, and of the University of St. Petersburg. Two more imprisonments gave me a first-hand experience in criminology and penology—the field of my graduate study and then of my first professorship. Besides several papers, in my junior year I published my first volume on crime.
With the explosion of the Russian Revolution I became one of the founders of the Russian Peasant Soviet (dispersed by the Communists), editor of a metropolitan paper, The Will of the People, member of the Council of the Russian Republic, a secretary to Prime Minister Kerensky, and a leading member of the Russian Constituent Assembly (dispersed by the Communist Government). From the beginning of the Revolution I vigorously fought Lenin, Trotsky, Kamenev, and other Communist leaders. For this reason I was arrested on January 3, 1918, and imprisoned for four months in the Russian Bastille, the Fortress of Peter and Paul.
Released, I resumed my struggle against the Communists, and I was one of the group which engineered the overthrow of the Communist Government in Archangel in 1918. In October, 1918, I was again arrested and condemned to death by the Communist Government of Vologda Province. After six weeks of waiting to be shot, by Lenin’s order I was freed and returned to my academic activity at the University of St. Petersburg. There I became the founder, first professor, and chairman of the department of sociology. During the years 1920-22 I published five volumes in law and sociology. In 1922 I was arrested and, finally, banished by the Soviet Government. A few days after my arrival in Berlin my good friend, President Masaryk, invited me to be a guest of Czechoslovakia. I stayed there for some nine months. Having received invitations from the universities of Illinois and Wisconsin to lecture there on the Russian Revolution, in November, 1923, I came to the United States and in 1924 was offered a professorship by the University of Minnesota. After six years of happy work there I was invited to be the first professor and chairman of the sociology department at Harvard University. After 1930 (in which year I became a naturalized American citizen) I lived and worked in this great university until my retirement in 1959.
In 1948 Mr. Eli Lilly and the Lilly Endowment kindly offered $120,000 for my studies on how to make human beings less selfish and more creative. This generous offer led to the establishment of the Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism in 1949, which I directed until my retirement, after which it became affiliated with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
During my lifetime in America, I have published, besides many scientific papers, some thirty substantial volumes. Most of these volumes have been translated into many languages: Contemporary Sociological Theories into eleven major languages of mankind; The Crisis of Our Age into eight; other volumes into a lesser number of languages. All in all, so far, there have been about forty-two translations of my published volumes.
This voluminous output of books and articles is due mainly to my deep enjoyment of research and writing. They have served me as the best way of self-realization and of release of my creative propensities, as the most fruitful form of mental and moral growth, and as the purest mode of joyful recreation. Through frustrations and failures inherent, to some extent, in this sort of activity, they have enriched my sense of reality and deepened my perception of the tragic aspects of life. For all these reasons I preferred this sort of creative work to other forms of recreation and spontaneously indulged in it at almost any opportunity I had.
The orderly way of my life in the United States, undisturbed by political and other troubles, and the exceptionally favorable conditions for scientific work offered by the American universities also notably helped in such “paper-wasting” activity. Though my load of teaching and administrative work (at Harvard) was fairly heavy, it still left a great deal of free time for study and writing. I usually did and still do this sort of work in the early morning hours before going to the office and then in the evening hours when free from other engagements. Practically all my writing and study I have done at home and not in my office.
These lines do not mean that I have neglected the dolce far niente of loafing, or the pleasures of various forms of recreation. Following the old precept of Lao-Tse that “doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing” I have idled away plenty of time and rested from my mental work by attending symphony concerts and art expositions; by reading literary masterpieces; by camping, fishing, and mountain climbing; and, for the last twenty-five years, by laboring over my azalea-rhododendron-lilac-rose garden, which is visited by many thousands each season, which has earned me a gold medal from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, and which was starred by full-page color photographs in several national magazines. I have also frequently enjoyed convivial meetings with a limited circle of close friends among whom it has been my good fortune to have several distinguished thinkers, artists, and other leaders of our time. All this shows that I have fully enjoyed loafing, rest, and the finest forms of recreation that renew, enrich, and ennoble human life and turn it into a grand, meaningful, creative, and effervescent adventure.
To finish this brief sketch of my life I must mention that in 1917, during the Revolution, I was happily married to Dr. Helen Baratynskaya, cytologist-researcher in her own right. She has published a number of her studies in botanical and other biological journals and is still continuing her research. For the forty-five years of our married life we seem to have had, as yet, neither time nor sufficient reason for divorce or separation. We have two sons: Dr. Peter P. Sorokin, research physicist with IBM, and Dr. Sergei P. Sorokin, instructor and research associate at Harvard Medical School. Both have already published a number of papers in their fields and both are vigorously continuing their scientific work. Some of our friends nicknamed the Sorokin family “a little Sorokin university” with its own mathematician-physicist, two biologists, and one interloper-philosopher, sociologist, psychologist, and jack-of-all-trades.
Finally, at the age of seventy-three, I am not quite senile, as yet: my health is rather good for my age, I am still “wasting plenty of paper,” and I find myself about as busy with my scientific and other activities as I was during my earlier years. Whether the factor of heredity is responsible (though my mother and father died in their thirties and forties) or, as I am inclined to believe, the factor of not having too many vices and not pretending to have many virtues, and especially the factor of pursuing in my life the real and great values, rather than short-lived pseudo-values—whatever is responsible for the delay of my senility, I do not know exactly. Possibly all of these factors have played their role in this matter, particularly the last two.
As a general rule, the contents of the unintegrated and yet-unfilled mind of a child are largely determined by the contents of the mental life of persons and groups among whom the child is born and reared, and with whom he interacts. To a large extent this rule happens to be correct in my case. The character of the mental life of my early sociocultural milieu shaped most of the contents of my early mentality.
A. My native and learned languages.
Since I was born and reared amidst the Komi people, speaking the Komi and the Russian languages, these languages have spontaneously, without any purposive intention on my part, become my native languages. At a later period of my life, again spontaneously, even contrary to my wishes, and exclusively because of lack of practice (caused indirectly by social and cultural factors), I largely forgot the Komi, and my Russian language was somewhat impaired. (These facts, by the way, show the fallacy of the prevalent contentions that all our mental and overt actions are purposive and have invariably some goal.) At a later stage of my life I learned the Latin, the French, the English, and, to a lesser extent, the German and Slavic languages. In these cases, however, I learned them intentionally. They did not enter my mental equipment spontaneously as in the case of “the native” languages, but were learned purposefully through rational determination and a great deal of labor. Knowledge of these languages was the necessary condition for enrolment as a student in a Russian university, for doing scientific work, for obtaining an academic position, and for earning my living as a university professor and scholar in Russia as well as, after my banishment, in the United States.
B. Early religious and other beliefs.
Since the religion of the Komi people was the Russian Orthodox religion, supplemented by the survivals of pagan beliefs, these beliefs and their rituals spontaneously became my religious beliefs and ritual practices. Their imprint upon my mind was greatly reinforced through the occupational work of my father in which, together with my elder brother, I participated during my boyhood. This work of painting, silvering, gilding, and ikon-making was done mainly for churches of various villages. A large portion of our time we spent in, around, or on church buildings, painting them, and making, silvering, and gilding their cult objects. In this work we naturally met, talked, and interacted with the village clergy. In brief, in my boyhood years this religious climate was one of the main atmospheres in which I lived, worked, and formed my early beliefs, rituals, moral standards, and other values. Its influence was so strong that, after reading several old volumes on the Lives of the Saints, I tried to become an ascetic-hermit and many times retired for fasting and praying into the solitude of the nearby forest. This religious and moral climate served also as a stimulus and outlet for the development of my creative propensities. Participation in church singing made me a popular singer at the church services and, later on, a conductor of church choirs; participation in the occupational work of our family made me the best craftsman-designer, painter, and ikon-maker in our family team; learning by heart all the prayers and psalms of religious services and the main religious beliefs, I became a good preacher-teacher at the neighborly gatherings of peasants during the long winter evenings. The splendor of religious ritual, the beautiful landscape of the countryside viewed from the top of church buildings, especially on clear, sunny days, these and hundreds of other situations enriched my mental life—emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically, and morally. Despite a low material standard of living, my early life was rich in joy and sorrow, in adventure and experience.
C. Early schooling.
I do not remember exactly how, when, and where I learned the three R’s of elementary school education. The nomadic sort of life of moving from village to village, with a temporary stay in the villages where we found some work, prevented me from regular attendance of, and graduation from, an elementary school. In these nomadic conditions I could only sporadically attend, for a few days or weeks, the schools of the villages where we were staying. The earliest of my teachers was merely a literate peasant woman who taught in her house the beginnings of the three R’s to a few boys of the hamlet where my illiterate peasant aunt lived. In that “school” I received my first— and the greatest of all—prizes for my excellence in learning. The prize was the paper-wrapping of a single piece of hard candy. I still vividly remember the yellow-green picture of a pear depicted on the wrapping and all the joyful pride with which I accepted it, showed it to my aunt, and then carefully fixed it on the wall of my aunt’s log house, near the ikons. None of the diplomas, prizes, and honors granted to me at a later period of my life by various great institutions of learning has elated me as much as this simple prize.
Somehow or other in this erratic way I acquired elementary school knowledge, and I greatly increased it by voracious reading of all sorts of books which I could get in the villages of the Komi, by the instruction of my father and elder brother, by talks with the village intelligentsia—teachers, clergy, clerks, and medical practitioners—and by conversations with wise, though often illiterate, peasants. Our nomadic life (our “social mobility”) also contributed a great deal to my life-experience and knowledge in the way of meeting ever-new people, situations, and challenges in different villages in which we stayed and worked.
As a result of this sort of education I did not have any difficulty in being admitted to a higher kind of school (corresponding to American grades eight, nine, and ten) opening in the village of Gam when my brother and I happened to be working in that village. The day of the entrance examination in the new school was an important event in the life of the village. A large part of the villagers, including the boys aspiring to become the school’s pupils, attended the public “show” of the entrance examinations. As one of the curious onlookers I attended also, with no intention of taking part in the tests. After listening to the test questions and finding them easy, I spontaneously volunteered to be examined also. I passed the tests with flying colors, was enrolled in the school and given a scholarship of five rubles ($2.50), which paid for board and meals in the school’s dormitory for the whole academic year. (How fantastic this sounds in the range of present prices and scholarships!) In this entirely incidental way my regular school education began in this advanced grade school.
This was the first step of a number along an educational path that led me to the university and professorship as my main life work. Five teachers of the school, headed by the local priest, were very good men and excellent educators. Its library and other modest facilities were notably better than those of the elementary schools. Most of its students were capable boys, sound in body, mind, and moral conduct. The total atmosphere of the school was mentally stimulating, emotionally happy, and philosophically idealistic. As I happened to be the brightest student I was given the scholarship of five rubles for each of three years of the school curriculum. These five rubles paid for my room and board during nine months of each year. During the remaining three months I earned my living by carrying on my previous occupational work in company with my brother, and by helping my peasant uncle and aunt in their farm work.
These three years notably increased my knowledge, enriched my cultural equipment, awakened my creative propensities, and tangibly integrated my Weltanschauung. It was an idealistic world view in which God and nature, truth, goodness and beauty, religion, science, art and ethics were all somehow united in harmonious relationship with each other. No sharp conflict and no inner contradiction between these values marred, as yet, my peace of mind. Despite several sorrows and painful experiences inevitable in human life (the death of my father and peasant uncle, the growing alcoholic proclivity of my brother, my pneumonia, and other unwelcome events), the world appeared as a marvelous place in which to five and strive for its great values.
I did not foresee then that in the near future this harmonious and secure world view would be severely shattered by revolt and reassessment of its values. Obviously impressed by my mental brightness, teachers of the school and the higher educational authorities of the county and province strongly advised me to continue my education in a denominational teachers college in Kostroma province of Russia. In addition, they helped me to procure a scholarship there to take care of my very modest needs for subsistence. It was, then, my coincidental attendance of an exciting community event and my fortuitous participation in the examination at the school that tangibly conditioned my subsequent educational course that led to a university studentship, a professorship, and a fairly distinguished scholarship as my main life work.
D. Early moral, aesthetic, political, and economic mentality.
My ideas, tastes, and convictions in these fields were also determined mainly by those of the Komi people and those which I learned from my father, teachers, clergy, and playmates, from doing my occupational work, and from the books I read. The morality and mores of the Komi peasant communities were well integrated around the precepts similar to those of the Ten Commandments and of mutual help. The houses of the peasants did not have any locks because there were no thieves. Serious crimes occurred very rarely, if at all; even misdemeanors were negligible. People largely practiced the moral precepts they preached. Mutual aid likewise was a sort of daily routine permeating the whole life of the community. Moral norms themselves were regarded as God-given, unconditionally binding, and obligatory for all. The same was true for the common law of the peasants. Living in this sort of a moral community I naturally absorbed its moral norms as well as its mores. The same can be said of my aesthetic tastes and preferences. My world of beauty was made up, first, of the beautiful world of nature: pure big rivers and lakes, not yet contaminated by industrial and urban pollutions; endless forests extending for hundreds of miles; flowery meadows and fields surrounding each village; vast expanses of pure snow in the winters; mainly blue and sunny sky with brilliant stars at night; and other scenes of an unspoiled nature in which the villages and hamlets were mere specks lost in an ocean of such geographic grandeur. It indelibly impressed me for the rest of my life and conditioned my mild dislike of big cities and industrialized surroundings. The life of wild animals of this environment was another realm of my aesthetic experience. Swimming in pure rivers, fishing in silvery streams and lakes, observing the animal life and ever-changing natural scenery, walking, and working amidst this kind of nature well satisfied a large portion of my aesthetic cravings.
Another part of my aesthetic world was a man-made world of fine arts of the Komi and Russian agricultural and hunter communities. My musical tastes were formed by the beautiful folk music of the region which was not, as yet, invaded by the vulgar-urban and commercial-crooning, jazz, and noise-making (Russian chastushki). In this region were still preserved the old folk songs of the Russian and the Ugro-Finnish peoples. From this and other adjacent regions they were collected by the eminent Russian scholars and composers: Rimsky-Korsakoff, Musorgski, Tchaikovsky, Kastalsky, and others. This explains why at a later age when, for the first time, I heard the music of these composers and also of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven, many of their tunes and melodies appeared to me quite familiar: I had heard them in childhood from the Komi and Russian peasant women and men who ordinarily sang collectively during their community work, at fishing or harvesting, or at their communal festivities and important events in their fives, like weddings and funerals. Religious music of the churches was another type of music which strongly conditioned my musical tastes. It was the “traditional” music of the Russian churches, including the early Russian plain chant (Kievsky and Znamensky chants), and once in a while the simple religious compositions of eminent Russian composers like Bortniansky, Lvov, Archangelsky, Kastalsky, Tchaikovsky, and others. Though the Komi and Russian churches did not have great choirs or soloists, nevertheless, the above-mentioned forms of Russian religious music, being beautiful and great in their own way and performed in a church with my active participation as a soloist, or one of the singers, or a conductor of a little choir, indelibly impressed me and tangibly conditioned my musical tastes for the rest of my life. I still enjoy such music and often play many records of it on my hi-fi phonograph.
My literary education began with the folk tales, folk poems, fairy tales, and heroic poems of the Komi and of the adjacent Russian folk. This rich and imaginative folk literature was supplemented by the literature of the great Russian writers: Pushkin, Gogol, Tolstoi, and others of whom I learned in school and from books I read. Even in the most elementary schools of the region pupils were taught a great deal of this literature and learned by heart a large number of poems of the great poets. The folk literature and the classics both represented genuinely fine literature, free from the vulgarity and ugliness of comic and “yellow” commercial publications of the urban-industrial centers. This accounts for my subsequent life-long aversion to all varieties of “pulp literature,” commercial “best-sellers,” and “yellow journalism.”
My occupational work of painting ikons and other designs, of making “sculptured”—copper and silver—covers for ikons, and my living in the atmosphere of churches, with their frescoes, ikons, and many other—often beautiful—ritual objects, developed my sense of line, color, and form, and conditioned my subsequent interest in painting, sculpture, and architecture, and my aesthetic preference in these fine arts. Peasant folk dances, festivals, pageants, and ceremonial rituals replete with color, simple elegance, and quiet drama were another formative source of my aesthetic tastes. As to the formation of my political and economic views, “politics” and “economics,” in their narrow sense, did not preoccupy my mind in my early life. The Komi and the Russian population of this region had never known slavery nor serfdom and democratically managed their local—political and economic—affairs by way of direct self-government of the village community similar to the German Gemeinschaft or to the Russian “mir,” obschina. Village communities had their land in common possession, equitably distributed and redistributed among the individual peasant families (according to their size and increase or decrease in the course of time). A Gemeinschaft-spirit of mutual aid was still vigorous and manifested itself in many forms, including many activities collectively entered into by the whole village community. These conditions prevented development of notable inequalities and sharp-economic, political, and social-stratification within the village populations. There were neither notably rich, privileged, and “superior,” nor particularly poor, disenfranchised, and “inferior” strata. Even the sexes were essentially equal in status. As a result, there was no real “class struggle,” and there were no crystallized political parties with vested class interests. The power of the county elective authorities (zemstvo) consisted mainly in building schools, medical centers, and other educational and cultural institutions. Very limited also was the control of the central, Tsarist government. Among the many ethnic groups of Russia, the Komi group was one of the most literate and most democratic nationalities. Growing in these political and economic conditions I naturally absorbed the spirit of equalitarian independence, self-reliance, and mutual aid. Though my economic conditions were nearer to those of the poor than of the rich peasants and though now and then I did not have enough food, warm shelter, clothing, and other necessities of life, nevertheless, I did not have strong resentment against these conditions nor, except in a few short-lived instances, did I feel lonely, unhappy, and depressed. The life I enjoyed seemed to be wonderful, meaningful, and full of exciting adventures and boundless hope. I was a member of a peasant community at peace with the world, fellow men, and myself.
Such, in black and white, were the visible factors of my early mental life. All in all the outlined social and cultural conditions (often viewed by urbanized and “civilized” scholars as “primitive” and “backward”) were essentially sound and rich in variety and fulness of life experience. Taken as a whole, they were less monotonous than social and cultural conditions of big cities, especially of city slums, and more favorable for vital mental and moral development than the environment of megalopolitan and industrial centers.
Invisible and Dark Factors of My Early Mental Life
The preceding pages outline the visible factors that shaped my early mental life (up to about the age of fourteen years). These factors consist mainly in the character of the mental life of the people-individuals and groups-among whom I lived and with whom I interacted face to face. An additional factor was the character of the mental currents (beliefs, knowledge, standards, and values) with which I came in contact indirectly-through books read, pictures seen, music heard, and through other means of communication. These two factors, plus the geographic conditions of my early years, seem to account for a large portion of my early mental equipment but hardly for the whole of it.
They hardly account, for instance, for my becoming a voracious reader and developing an insatiable curiosity to know many things, while 99 per cent of the boys of this region (especially my elder brother) who lived under similar conditions and breathed the same atmosphere of the mental life of the people, did not develop these tendencies. And why did these boys and both of my brothers absorb from the total mental culture of these communities ideas, values, and forms of conduct essentially different from those absorbed by me? What were the reasons for these differences? And why was I the brightest pupil in all the schools attended at that period of my life? And why, at the age of fourteen, was my mental equipment probably richer and my mental perspective wider than those of boys of the region? And why, in the advanced grade school, did I become a leader a few times in “overthrowing the tyranny” of the profoundly disliked school’s housekeeper and cook (by emptying a pail of water on her) and by this “revolutionary” action bring into the open her misdeeds and take upon myself the punishment for this “outrageous” conduct (unanimously approved by the pupils and tacitly approved by the teachers), and in several other non-scholastic actions? And why, when my views were different from those of nearly all the pupils, did I not hesitate to oppose them, despite my loss of popularity with them? (This sort of “bullheadedness” on my part I began to show fairly early.) These and other questions occur to me now. These differences from the boys of the same communities and from my brothers can hardly be explained by the mental environment because it was about the same for me, for my brothers, and for the other boys. If anything, the rank and file of the other boys had a better family, and better economic and other social conditions than my own. (My mother died when I was about three years old; my father-a very good man when sober-became a chronic alcoholic as I earlier indicated and, in his search for a job, was often away from “home,” though frequently there was no “home” in a good sense of the word.)
Most of the scholars would probably try to explain these differences by the factor of heredity. But such an explanation would only replace the unknown X by the no-better-known Y. First, so far as I know my genealogy (which does not go, however, beyond knowledge of my father, mother, brothers, aunts, uncles, and grandmother), my relatives, parents, and grandparents did not distinguish themselves by any particular achievement, except, perhaps, my illiterate uncle. Knowing nothing about human anatomy, he nevertheless successfully treated dislocated joints. By a simple manipulation of such dislocated joints he performed this operation in a shorter, simpler, and better way than the local medical personnel. He never charged any of his patients for this service and he never boasted of his “God-given” ability. However, being an uncle through his marriage to a sister of my mother, he was not one of my ancestors. Second, today’s biology has not learned, as yet, what kind of germ cells nor which of their chromosomes are bearers of a “fortunate” or “unfortunate” heredity, nor with what kind of heredity this or that individual is endowed. For this reason in most of the “hereditary” interpretations of personality characteristics the “hereditarians” do not deduce or predict these characteristics from their knowledge of the specific traits of the paternal germ cell of the individual, but postulate the quality of his unknown hereditary endowment from the known characteristics of the individual. If the individual has distinguished himself by a notable creative achievement, they conclude that he had a fortunate heredity; if he has not distinguished himself in any way, his heredity is assumed to have been average or poor. Obviously, such a conjecture is purely speculative and unproven. It is in no way better than a hypothesis of a “creative grace” or “uncreative curse” visited upon the person, or his “good or bad luck,” or “favorable or unfavorable chance.” It is possible that each of these factors plays some role in determining the life course or mental equipment of the individual; but at our present poor knowledge of their role, they remain a purely residual guess. They can be left at this point of this essay.
After my graduation from the advanced grade school in 1904 at the age of fourteen, I enrolled in the Khrenovo Teachers School. It was a denominational establishment controlled by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. It trained teachers for denominational elementary schools. Situated near the parish church in the village, its campus was near several textile factories not far from the city of Kineshma and other sizable industrial centers. I found myself in a new, more “civilized” environment and among people notably different from those I had known before. The three-year curriculum of the school was much more advanced, the students and teachers were better qualified, and the library and other facilities of the school were better than those of the elementary and grade schools I had attended. The outsiders whom I met there represented a wide diversity of ideas, standards, and values: peasants, factory hands, clerks and administrators, government officials, the intelligentsia of the region—teachers, priests, doctors, writers, newspapermen, leaders of co-operative organizations, representatives of various political parties, the “Social-Revolutionaries,” “Social-Democrats” (Mensheviks and Bolsheviks), the “Anarchists,” the “Monarchists,” the local leaders of various liberal and conservative political organizations—these outsiders acquainted me with a multitude of new ideas, standards, and values. This new milieu, new people, and especially my intensive reading of hitherto unknown books, journals, and newspapers rapidly broadened my mental horizon and enriched my mental equipment. Their concerted impact was greatly reinforced by the Russian-Japanese War of 1904 and especially by the brewing revolutionary storm that was rapidly spreading over the whole of Russia and that resulted in the revolution of 1905 and subsequent years.
The total impact of all these factors was so powerful that within about two years after my enrolment at this school, most of my previous religious, philosophical, political, economic and social ideologies collapsed and were replaced by new views and values. My previous religiosity gave way to a semi-atheistic rejection of the theologies and rituals of the Russian Orthodox religion. Compulsory attendance of church services and the obligatory courses in dogmatic theology, imposed by the school, notably stimulated this revolt. Its place was largely taken by “scientific theories of evolution” and a “natural science philosophy.” My preceding acceptance of the Tsarist monarchial regime and “the capitalist” economy was replaced by the republican, democratic, and socialist standpoint. Previous political indifference gave way to a revolutionary zeal. I became an enthusiastic missionary of the anti-Tsarist revolution and the leader of the Social-Revolutionary party in the school and adjacent region. In contrast to the Social Democrats, the Social-Revolutionary party claimed to be the party of all-peasant, industrial, and intellectual-labor classes. In contrast with the Marxian social-democratic materialism and economic interpretation of man and history, the philosophy and sociology of the Social-Revolutionary party was much more idealistic or integralistic. It emphasized strongly the role of creative ideas, voluntary efforts, the “struggle for individuality” vs. “struggle for existence,” and the importance of non-economic factors in determining social processes and human conduct. My previous Weltanschauung was much more congenial to this kind of ideology than to the “proletarian,” “materialistic,” “economic” ideology of Marxian social-democracy. This congeniality explains why I chose the Social-Revolutionary but not the Social-Democratic party and why throughout my subsequent life I have never been “infected” by most of the Marxian ideologies.
Having been transformed into an ardent Social-Revolutionary, I began to spread the gospel of the revolution among the students, the factory workers, and the peasants of nearby villages.
On the eve of Christmas, 1906, at one of my regular meetings with a group of peasants, I was arrested, together with my fellow-revolutionist, and jailed in the prison of the city of Kineshma. There I met other political prisoners among whom there were several notable Social-Revolutionaries and Social-Democrats. Together we soon turned the prison into the safest place for keeping the revolutionary literature. The prison guards volunteered to serve as our messengers, and the warden offered his office, with its telephone and other facilities, for our use. During some five months of my imprisonment, the political prisoners had daily discussions of philosophical, social, and politico-economic problems. These discussions, plus my reading of the works of Marx, Mikhailovsky, Lavrov, Plekhanov, Lenin, Kropotkin, and Tolstoi, as well as those of Darwin, Hegel, and other evolutionists and philosophers, acquainted me fairly well with some of the basic works of the revolutionary thinkers, and of a few philosophers and scientists.
In these five months I probably learned a great deal more than I could learn in a semester in the Teachers School. In the prison I also met daily and conversed with many of the criminals: murderers, thieves, burglars, rapists, and other unfortunate “deviants.” These meetings and conversations introduced me to the world of crime and criminals. They were largely responsible for the topic of my first book, Crime and Punishment, Service and Reward (published in 1913) and for my choice of criminology and penology—or more exactly of criminal, penal, and constitutional law—as the field of my first specialization at the University of St. Petersburg. (Here again “the existential,” personal experiences seem to account for this rivulet in my mental life.)
After five months of imprisonment I was released, subject to “open surveillance of police,” to whom I had to report regularly about my domicile, any change of my address, and about my activities. Since I was discharged from the school, I decided to become a sort of an underground “professional revolutionary,” going from factory to factory and from village to village to spread the gospel of the revolution and organize revolutionary “cells” and groups. Often hungry, cold, shelterless, and dirty (because nobody paid for this “professional work”), constantly hunted by the law and occasionally at mass meetings becoming the target for barking guns of attacking Cossacks and police, I carried on this “missionary activity” in contact with a few other revolutionaries for about three months. Towards the end of this period, my health and nervous system became impaired, my energy was greatly depleted, and my arrest appeared to be imminent.
These circumstances forced me to flee from this region to the region of the Komi, where my revolutionary activities were, as yet, unknown. I returned to the little farm of my peasant aunt in the small hamlet of Rymia, where I had stayed before many times. There for two months I helped my aunt with harvesting and farm work and regained my vitality and peace of mind. Having no prospects for either interesting employment or for continuation of my education in the Komi region, in the fall of 1907 I moved to St. Petersburg. Thus one big chapter of my life ended and a new chapter began.
Some of the factors of this crisis in my mental life are fairly obvious. They are the new mental currents and values, the new people, and the new environment I met and largely absorbed in the Teachers School and its region. Especially important was “the spirit of revolution” that was sweeping over the whole of Russia, with its ideologies, values, and aspirations. My previous idealistic Weltanschauung accounts somewhat for my choice of the Social-Revolutionary and not Social-Democratic party and ideology. My contacts and talks with the ordinary criminals as I earlier indicated largely account for my first book and specialization in the field of criminology and penology. These tangible factors consisted, however, not so much in a change of my social position, group-structure, and class-affiliation (as many sociologists of knowledge claim) as in different mental currents and cultural values I encountered and learned from books and people, in this new environment and in the all-pervading storm of the Revolution of 1905-6. Nor was my “mental revolution” a consequence of some grudge against, and frustration by, the Teachers School. Until my arrest I was treated very well by the teachers, administration, and students, and I had no grudge against the school or local authorities. For these reasons the visible factors of the sharp mutation of my mentality had to be the new ideas, values, and aspirations I had learned and my own selection and development of these in the inner workings of my mind. This hypothesis accounts for a large part of the discussed crisis of my mentality. It partly explains also why in my later works, particularly in my Social and Cultural Dynamics, I took for the basic factor of social, cultural, and personality change the cultural-mental factor, and not the social factor of structural composition of groups and social classes. As we shall see further on, the configurations of cultural-mental systems and social structural systems neither coincide with each other nor change simultaneously in time and space.
Although they may account a great deal for the crises, the indicated visible factors leave, however, a number of dark points unexplained. Why, for instance, did not many of my fellow-students in the school experience a similar “mutation” of their mentality, though their background and social affiliations were similar to my own? Why, among those who underwent a change in their mental life, did not an overwhelming majority become the active missionaries of the revolutionary gospel rather than continue the prescribed routine life of the school? Why did I involve myself in the dangerous and most exacting activities of an itinerant missionary of the revolution and continue these activities until my health and peace of mind were seriously impaired? There were neither economic incentives, nor other sensate advantages such as power, popularity, respect, security, and sensate comfort, to be gained from such involvement. And yet, like many other apostles of the revolution, I was “driven” by some powerful force (often termed “call of duty” or “moral imperative”) into this sort of activity; and this kind of “foolish,” “unprofitable,” and highly risky involvement has been repeated several times in later periods of my life.
These and similar “whys” give an idea of the dark points in the explanation of the dynamics of my own, as well as of many others’ mental life. These points suggest that human beings and their mental life are something much more complex and intangible than most of the “economic,” or “instinctive,” or Freudian, or other popular theories indicate. This sort of experience and behavior, repeated later on several times in my life, may be partly responsible for my “integral theory” of human personality, cognition, creativity, and of social and cultural processes, developed in my later works. This integral theory shows the one-sidedness of all “simplistic” theories of man and of the sociocultural world and the extreme complexity of their “superorganic” nature and of the man-made sociocultural world. According to this theory, man and his man-made sociocultural world are “the fields” of manifestation and operation, not only of physical and vital energies, but also of the higher energies of the rational, conscious thought, and especially of the highest “super-rational” energy of creative genius different from the rational and vital energies.
Post-Crisis Integration of My Mental Life
I arrived in St. Petersburg practically penniless. To keep my body and soul together, I had to obtain some job at once. A helping-hand to the janitor of an apartment house, a factory worker, a clerk, a tutor to the boys of mainly middle-class families, an occasional writer of articles in provincial papers—these were my jobs during my first two years in St. Petersburg. The earnings hardly met my elementary needs but somehow they kept me alive. In subsequent years I earned my living by more remunerative tutoring and writing for various periodicals, by a secretarial and research assistantship to such an eminent scholar and statesman as Professor M. M. Kovalevsky, by the scholarship granted to me by the University of St. Petersburg, and after 1914-15, as a lecturer of the Psycho-Neurological Institute and Privatdocent of the University of St. Petersburg.
Anxious to continue my education, very soon after my arrival in the capital of Russia in 1907 I was permitted to attend one of the good night schools (Tcherniaevskie kursy), which I did for two years. During these two years I prepared myself and successfully passed, in the spring of 1909, a rather stiff “examination of maturity”—the equivalent of the examination for the whole eight years of the Russian high school (gymnasium). Passing this examination entitled me to enroll at the newly opened Psycho-Neurological Institute in 1909, and at the University of St. Petersburg in 1910. Graduated with the highest honors from the university, I was “retained by the university for preparation to professorship” in criminal and administrative law. (At that time there were no sociology courses in the university’s curriculum.) In 1916 I successfully met all the requirements for and had conferred upon me, by the university, the degree of “the magister of criminal and administrative law”; and in 1920 I received my degree of Doctor of Sociology from the same university. Sociology was introduced into the curriculum of the university in 1918.
Such, in brief, was the course of my group and social class affiliations during this period of 1907-16 (up to the eve of the Revolution of 1917 and subsequent years).
As to the course of my mental and cultural life during these years, its main trends consisted in an intensive absorption of the immortal cultural values in music and literature, in painting and sculpture, in architecture and drama, and in enrichment, development, and integration of the Weltanschauung ushered in by the crisis. Fairly soon after my arrival in St. Petersburg, I became acquainted with several Russian leaders in literature, music, painting, and the theater. Through attendance of, and participation in, various literary and artistic groups, and philosophical, ethical and cultural societies; through visiting various museums, concerts, and plays; and through personal study, I became fairly well oriented in these cultural fields. Continuation of my revolutionary activities had led me to two new imprisonments in 1911 and 1913 and well acquainted me with political leaders of the Social-Revolutionary, the Social-Democratic, the Constitutional-Democratic, the Anarchist, the Monarchist, and other parties. My co-operation in revolutionary and in scientific work in the seminars of the university with several Social-Revolutionary and Social-Democratic students who eventually became leaders in the Kerensky and the Communist governments resulted in our mutual close friendship. When in 1918 I was condemned to death, this friendship with the Bolshevik students saved me from execution by the Communist firing squad. (When Karakhan, Piatakov, and others learned about the sentence of death passed upon me by Veliky Oustiyg Communist Cheka, they went to Lenin and demanded from him an immediate cancellation of the sentence and my release from prison. Lenin did precisely that and simultaneously published his first complimentary article about me in Pravda. Later on he published three uncomplimentary articles about me, calling me “the foremost ideologist of reaction,” “the defender of slavery and serfdom,” “our implacable enemy,” and so on.)
This active political work firmly grounded me in the field of political science and practical politics. Finally through meeting the stiff requirements of the curriculums of the night school, of the Psycho-Neurological Institute, and of the university, I acquired a substantial knowledge of philosophy, and of mathematical, physical, biological, and psycho-social sciences. This knowledge was notably increased by my intensive study of the basic problems in these disciplines and in sociology, social philosophy, and philosophy of history, the disciplines in which I had become deeply interested already in the Teachers School.
Thus, during these years of 1907-1916 I succeeded in enriching notably my cultural and scientific equipment and—what is more important—in integrating its parts into one fairly consistent system. Philosophically, this system was a variation of an empirical neo-positivism or critical realism, based on logical and empirical scientific methods. Politically, it was a variety of socialistic ideology, founded upon the ethics of co-operation, mutual aid, and freedom. My sociological views represented a sort of synthesis of Comtean-Spencerian sociology of evolution-progress, corrected and supplemented by the theories of Russian scholars such as Mikhailovsky, Lavrov, De Roberty, Petrajitsky, Kovalevsky, Rostovtzeff, Pavlov, Tolstoi, Dostoievsky, and Jakov, and by the theories of Durkheim, Sfmmel, Weber, Stammler, Pareto, Marx, and other Western scholars, to mention but a few names. All in all, it was an optimistic Weltanschauung, fairly similar to the prevalent “World View” of the Russian and Western thinkers of the pre-catastrophic decade of the twentieth century.
My scientific and semi-popular papers and my volume on Crime and Punishment, published in the years of 1911-16, reflect various aspects of this Weltanschauung. These publications and then my active participation in various seminars, scientific, philosophical, and political conferences and, finally, my course of lectures on sociology given in the Psycho-Neurological Institute earned me the reputation of a talented scholar, notable political figure, and eloquent speaker and writer. My name became fairly well known in Russian intellectual circles, among various peasant-labor groups, and among Tsarist officials and police. Such, in brief, were the main changes in my mental life of this period.
New Crisis and New Reintegration
Already, World War I had started to make some fissures in my optimistic Weltanschauung and in my conception of the historical process as progress. The revolution of 1917 enormously enlarged these fissures and eventually broke this world outlook, with its system of values and its “progressive,” rational-positivistic sociology. Instead of the increasingly enlightened and morally ennobled humanity, these historical events unchained in man “the worst of the beasts” and displayed on the historical stage, side by side with the noble and wise minority, the gigantic masses of irrational human animals blindly murdering each other, indiscriminately destroying all cherished values and, led by shortsighted and cynical “leaders,” “overthrowing” creative achievements of human genius. This unexpected world-wide explosion of the forces of ignorance, inhumanity, and death in the supposedly civilized and enlightened humanity of the twentieth century, forced me, as it did many others, to reexamine sternly my “sweet and cheerful” views of man, society, culture, and values, all moving, according to these views, harmoniously from ignorance to wisdom and science, from barbarism to magnificent civilization, from the “theological” to the “positive” stage, from tyranny to freedom, from poverty to unlimited prosperity, from ugliness to ever-finer beauty, from animality to noblest humanity and morality.
This re-examination was fostered also by my personal experiences during the years of 1917-22. My book Leaves from a Russian Diary gives a detailed account of these experiences. Since the beginning of the Revolution, I whole heartedly dedicated myself to the revolutionary reconstruction as one of the leaders of the Social-Revolutionary party, as an editor of the party’s papers, Delo naroda and Volia naroda, as a member of the Council of the Russian Republic, as one of the organizers of the all-Russian Peasant Soviet, as a member of Kerensky’s cabinet, and as a notable professor of the University of St. Petersburg. For many years, fighting for the basic reconstruction of Russia (and other countries), I never believed that this reconstruction could be successfully made by the blind and destructive violence of masses led by unscrupulous leaders using all means—good and evil—for realization of their purposes. Guidance by available scientific knowledge and by the binding power of universal and perennial moral norms appeared to me as the necessary conditions for a fruitful and painless reconstruction. These convictions were responsible for my revolt against the early-cynical, ignorant, and inhuman—policies of the Communist party and government (now largely replaced by constructive ones), against the beastly and destructive violence of its followers, as well as of its opponents, and against the “abomination of desolation” wrought by these forces during the first five years of the Communist revolution. There was too much hate, hypocrisy, blindness, sadistic destruction, and mass-murder to leave my “cheerfully progressive” views intact. These “existential conditions” and the trying, personal experiences of these years started a re-examination of my Weltanschauung and a reappraisal of my values. This reconstruction of my views, values, and my very “self” proceeded slowly during the five years I lived in Communist Russia and then, after my banishment, in Europe and the United States.
To the end of the 1920’s this painful and, at the same time, blissful process of reintegration continued and gradually matured into its essential features. It resulted in what I now call the Integral system of philosophy, sociology, psychology, ethics, and values. My volumes: Sociology of Revolution, Contemporary Sociological Theories, Social Mobility, and Principles of Rural-Urban Sociology, published in the years 1925-29, already are marked by the features of this reintegration, sufficiently advanced but not quite completed as yet. My Social and Cultural Dynamics (1937-41), The Crisis of Our Age (1941), Man and Society in Calamity (1942), Society, Culture, and Personality (1947), Reconstruction of Humanity (1948), The Ways and Power of Love (1954), and Fads and Foibles of Modern Sociology (1956), not to mention other books published in the period of 1930-61, are the fruits of a more or less matured reintegration. Writing these volumes, I have been quite aware that in many essential traits my reintegration theories have sharply deviated from the prevalent theories of American and European sociologists, historians, and psychologists.
For this reason, I expected a strong opposition to my “integralist” views on the part of the psychosocial scholars who, before World War II, did not pass through the crucial experiences of the great revolution and World War I. However, the expectation of a severe opposition and other unpleasant consequences of my “deviant”—integralist—standpoint did not, for a moment, make me hesitate to publish these volumes. My usual “bullheadedness” (mentioned before), and my deepest conviction that a supreme duty of a scholar is “to tell the truth” as he sees it, regardless of any and all consequences, are probably responsible for a lack of hesitation, on my part, in challenging the prevalent theories in my later volumes. The expected opposition and some of the adverse “existential” consequences have come, indeed.
But with these negative results have also come many positive reactions. Somewhat surprisingly for me, my “integralist” views and theories have found an enthusiastic response on the part of sociologists, psychologists, philosophers, religious leaders, and eminent thinkers throughout the world. My volumes have been translated into all major languages of humanity; and my “deviant” theories have been widely discussed and have already a considerable literature in the form of books about my books, Ph.D. theses, hundreds of scientific articles, and special chapters in the textbooks of sociology and in the history of social thought, not to mention thousands of popular write-ups about them. And as time goes on, my “yarns” seem to be paid increasing rather than decreasing attention throughout the world. Personally I am gratified by both-positive and negative—reactions to my “mental productions.”
Other “existential” conditions of my life, at this age of seventy-three years, are also satisfactory: my health is rather good for my age; I am still fairly vigorously continuing my studies, writing, lecturing, and enjoying recreational activities; there is no scarcity of invitations for lecturing and counseling on the part of American and foreign universities and learned institutions, and even on the part of several governments.
So, in spite of routine tribulations of human life, these existential conditions permit me to be at peace with the world, with my fellow-men, and with myself, not withstanding the most turbulent state in which mankind finds itself at the present time. However, this peace does not hinder me from taking a humble, but active, part in the paramount tasks of our age: the prevention of a new threatening world catastrophe and the building of a new, nobler, and more creative order in the human universe.
The preceding brief sketch of the existential and mental factors underlying the main topics of my studies and the character of my “yarns” can be summed up as follows:
a. The existential fact of being born and reared among peasants and remaining in deep sympathy with rural people – with their way of life, culture, and values – largely accounts for my studying these problems and, in co-operation with C. C. Zimmerman and C. J. Galpin, publishing The Principles of Rural-Urban Sociology and three-volumes of the Systematic Source Rook in Rural Sociology. The same existential factors, processed, tested, and enriched by the existing scientific knowledge in this field, explain most of my theories and conclusions embodied in these volumes.
b. Since my life has been a sort of continuous “wayfaring” through most different occupational, social, economic, cultural, political, and ethnic positions and group-affiliations, this – vertical and horizontal – mobility possibly accounts for the concentration of my studies upon the dynamic aspects of personal, social, and cultural phenomena and for the comparatively less attention given to their static and structural aspects. My Social Mobility, Social and Cultural Dynamics, Sociology of Revolution, Man and Society in Calamity, American Sex Revolution, and Reconstruction of Humanity deal mainly with the how and why of the change and with the uniformities in the change of these phenomena. Their structural analysis is not neglected, but it is reduced to the minimum necessary for a detailed analysis of their dynamics.
c. Since I actively participated in and directly observed two world wars and two revolutions, with their disastrous results-great famines, devastating epidemics, and other calamities – it is comprehensible why these phenomena attracted my attention and became the topics of my investigations published in my Sociology of Revolution, Man and Society in Calamity, in the third volume of my Dynamics, in a number of chapters of my Society, Culture and Personality, and in a substantial volume, Influence of Hunger upon Human Behavior and Sociocultural Processes (destroyed by the Soviet government in the process of printing).
d. Having been imprisoned three times by the Tsarist government and three times by the Communist government, and having come in contact inside prisons, not only with political prisoners but also with non-political criminals, I naturally became interested in the phenomena of crime, criminals, and punishment. This existential condition explains the topic of my first substantial volume, Crime and Punishment, Heroic Service and Reward. The same condition accounts also for my first professorial specialization in criminology and penology. I would have preferred to specialize in sociology, but before the revolution, sociology was not taught in Russian universities and could not, therefore, be chosen as a field of professorial specialization.
e. Since my early boyhood, being incessantly confronted with a multitude of human problems, beginning with the problem of procuring means of subsistence and ending with those of “peaceful co-existence” with the ever-changing persons and groups whom I met in my wayfaring life – and experiencing and observing in this mobile life most different situations, persons, groups, values, and events – I could not help becoming interested in human beings and in social and cultural problems, as well as in the how and why of their emergence. My “wayfaring” life itself incessantly challenged and demanded from me some intelligent answers to questions concerning these problems. This sort of continuous “challenge and response” (in the terms of A. J. Toynbee) stimulated my interest in the social, psychological, and humanistic disciplines and was tangibly responsible for my choice of sociology as the main field of my study and professorship.
f. During the two world wars and two revolutions, I lived amidst and observed a gigantic explosion of human bestiality and hateful destructiveness of demoralized individuals and groups. Exploding in their raw, unembellished form or being masked by highfalutin – “Patriotic,” “Socialist,” “Communist,” “Conservative,” “Liberal,” “Democratic,” “Religious,” and other – beautifying ideologies, these forces uprooted anything and destroyed anybody that stood in their way. Their catastrophic effects induced me to undertake a systematic study, on the one hand, of the role of a selfish, individual and collective “struggle for existence,” violence, hatred, and cruelty and, on the other hand, of the role of the opposite forces of unselfish love, sympathy, mutual aid, and heroic sacrifice in human behavior and in sociocultural processes. As a result of my personal encounters with these “hate-powered” forces and of my study of their nature, sources, and effects, I became a convinced opponent of these forces in all their destructive manifestations in the forms of wars, bloody revolutions, and violent strife, and a firm proponent of the opposite forces of sympathy, mutual aid, and unselfish love. These circumstances prepared a general ground for the subsequent establishment of the Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism and for continuation of my studies published in the volumes: The Reconstruction of Humanity, The Ways and Power of Love, Forms and Techniques of Altruistic and Spiritual Growth, Altruistic Love, and Explorations in Altruistic Love and Behavior.
g. However, this general ground alone might not have been sufficient for realization of these tasks. A decisive role in these matters was played by another unexpected factor – by the generous offer of some $120,000 by Eli Lilly and the Lilly Endowment for financial assistance in my studies in this field. This offer was made entirely on their own initiative, without any request or even any previous meeting with Eli Lilly and the members of the Lilly Endowment on my part. This totally unexpected grant, initiated by an eminent industrialist, civic, and cultural leader, and scholar-archeologist, has played the role of the Aristotelian “effective” cause in the establishment of the Center and publication of some twelve volumes of its research.
h. Since I came out of the lowest peasant-labor stratum and had a full share of hardships and disenfranchisement common to such strata, I naturally identified myself with these classes and eventually became disrespectful toward the incapable privileged, rich, and ruling groups. This attitude engendered my opposition to their arrogant domination and to many injustices perpetrated by such persons and groups. This opposition, in its turn, led me to several collisions with the Tsarist government, and to ensuing imprisonments and other penalties imposed upon me. These circumstances are tangibly responsible for my “revolutionism” and eventually for my political position of a “conservative, Christian anarchist” (in Henry Adams’ term). This critical attitude toward all uncreative and irresponsible ruling groups has been reinforced by my subsequent studies of these groups. It has remained such, up to the present time, toward all pseudo-aristocracies and all incapable and demoralized governments – autocratic and democratic, monarchic and republican, communistic and capitalistic. Besides many pages devoted to this topic in my volumes, these attitudes and views find their clear expression in my and W. Lunden’s recent volume, Power and Morality.