“a mysterious mixture of crackpot and genius”

 

 

“Harvard’s Pitirim Sorokin, 66, a Russian artisan’s son who became the first professor of sociology at the University of St. Petersburg and later at Harvard. Brash, brilliant young Sorokin ran away from his father at the age of nine (“My father was good man, except when he was drunk”), managed to get himself enough education to enter the University of St. Petersburg. A social revolutionary, he was arrested three times by the Czarist police, served as one of Kerensky’s secretaries, was later arrested three more times by the Communists. Exiled in 1922, he soon came to the U.S., and with the publication of his monumental Social and Cultural Dynamics, a study of the fluctuations of “sensate” and “ideational” cultures, he set the academic world to wondering whether it had found a new Spengler. Today, a mysterious mixture of crackpot and genius, Pitirim Sorokin has his colleagues wondering still.”

 

— ‘Goodbye, Messrs. Chips,” Time, June 27, 1955, pp. 59-60

 

 

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Time magazine, it should be noted, was known and often parodied for its glib, snarky style.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   February 2019

a Sorokin nemesis (Porter Sargent on Sorokin)

 

 

Caustic without being bitter is Boston’s white-thatched, bow-tied Porter Sargent. The saltiest commentator on U. S. education, from which he makes his living but for which he has a certain amused contempt, Porter Sargent prefaces his famed annual catalogue of 4,000 private schools with his shrewd opinions on men and affairs. Last week, in the 22nd edition of his Handbook of Private Schools, he threw most of his custard pies at the two most popular favorites of U. S. higher education —President James Bryant Conant of Harvard and President Robert Maynard Hutchins of University of Chicago.

President Conant, glooms Porter Sargent, started out as Harvard’s head “with the naivete and boldness of a scientist,” but soon “sacred cows were jostled” and today Conant has subsided “to the dead level of mass alumni opinion.” Sprightly, 66-year-old Porter Sargent criticizes President Conant most severely for keeping as head of Harvard’s sociology department Pitirim Alexandrovitch Sorokin, whom he calls a pseudo-scientist, a defeatist and a reactionary. “Harvard is maintaining him in a position of influence where he is misguiding and frustrating American youth. . . . The sociology department is the White Russian WPA.”
— “Plain Talker.” Time, May 30, 1938, pg. 39

 

 

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Porter Sargent (1872–1951) was a prominent educational critic/gadfly and founder of Porter Sargent Publishers. In 1949, he was described in an article in the Journal of Higher Education as “probably the most outstanding and consistent critic of the American educational scene.”

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   February 2019

Sorokin and Defoe (and Winston Churchill)

 

 

 

 

imageedit_1_2520341161.jpg

 

 

Daniel Defoe’s customary skill as a writer was to speak in the voices of others. His novels are only the most famous examples of the first-person accounts, memoirs, and polemics that he fabricated throughout his career. Memoirs of a Cavalier is a special example because it took the pursuit of authenticity–which is the standard of all Defoe’s novels–to its limits. So successfully did it mimic the voice of the seventeenth-century soldier of fortune who is its narrator, that for over half a century the memoirs were considered to be genuine. The struggle of this narrator to turn his observations into facts, to make a certain history of his uncertain experiences, was so well caught that, as one of its eighteenth-century editors declared, “tis a Romance the likest to Truth that I ever read’. It is this struggle, as much as the battles and adventures which comprise the Cavalier’s story, that gives this narrative its dramatic qualities.

 

— back cover copy; Daniel Defoe, Memoirs of a Cavalier, or a Military Journal of the Wars in Germany, and The Wars in England; From the Year 1632, to the Year 1648 (World’s Classics Edition; Oxford University Press 1991)

 

 

 

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In my post

 

“Sorokin” (“Сорокин”)

 

https://pitirimsorokin.com/2018/02/03/sorokin%d1%81%d0%be%d1%80%d0%be%d0%ba%d0%b8%d0%bd/

 

 

I wrote:

“Leaves from A Russian Diary,” which details Sorokin’s experiences as a revolutionary opponent of the Czarist government, an official in the short lived Kerensky government, and an anti-Bolshevik, was a work that I could not put down. It has a cogency and dramatic interest, being written at white heat, so to speak, that make it compelling. It reads live a novel, a sort of “Les Misérables” minus about a thousand pages. l feel that it is an underrated book and could never understand why it never achieved a wide readership. For me, it is the best book on the Russian Revolution, the only one I practically ever read about it, in fact. It made me feel what the revolution must have been like. I regard it as a classic, and I felt it was very well written, much more so than when Sorokin was writing as a scholar.

The analogy to Defoe, applied to Sorokin’s reminiscences of the February Revolution and it’s immediate aftermath, is very apt. I am happy to say that I have just recently interested a literarily minded friend in reading Leaves from a Russian Diary, a book I couldn’t put down.

 

 

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In his preface to The Second World War: The Gathering Storm (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1948), Winston S. Churchill wrote:

I have followed, as in previous volumes, as far as I am able, the method of Defoe’s Memoirs of a Cavalier, in which the author hangs the chronicle and discussion of great military and political events upon the thread of the personal experiences of an individual. I am perhaps the only man who has passed through both the two supreme cataclysms of recorded history in high Cabinet office. Whereas, however, in the First World War I filled responsible but subordinate posts, I was for more than five years in this second struggle with Germany the Head of His Majesty’s Government. I write, therefore, from a different standpoint and with more authority than was possible in my earlier books.

Precisely the same as Leaves from a Russian Diary. Both Sorokin and Churchill were participant-observers.

— Roger W. Smith

   February 2019