faculty profile

 

Faculty Profile

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

The Harvard Crimson

April 22, 1941

 

“The biggest noise in an empty barrel for the year,” said Clifton Fadiman in the New Yorker. “He is to me like God,” wrote an awestruck Freshman in the Confidential Guide poll last spring. “The world’s foremost sociologist,” was the opinion of a professor in a midwestern university. In panning Sorokin’s book on “Social and Cultural Dynamics,” Fadiman referred to Harvard’s Department of Sociology as a “White Russian WPA.”* But Professor Sorokin, who is head of that WPA, began his career by being just as red as the rest of his intellectual, revolutionary friends. Back in 1916 in Petrograd, as a young lecturer, his ideas were well tinged with Utopian visions of a socialistic Russia. But his part in the “great experiment” was that played by so many moderates in so many revolutions, only with a happier ending. As he fed the Russian bear, it turned around and bit him. “In a revolution, power lies in the street for any one to pick up,” he wrote in one of his innumerable books. He stepped into the street just long enough to pick up a job as Secretary to Prime Minister Kerensky in the fall of 1917, but that success was so short-lived that soon he had to grow a beard to escape detection by the Bolsheviks who had seized power and were after him. As the blue blood began to run, and the red as well, Sorokin became sickened by the cruelty and irresponsibility of the anarchists and turned counter-revolutionary. He spent fifty days in the Petropavlovskaia Fortress, another word for Bastille, for having “attempted to assassinate Lenin.” It turned out that what they thought was a pistol shot had only been a tire blowout, but he was kept in prison for good measure. Writing anti-government pamphlets and articles was not a healthy occupation in Russia in 1918, and soon Sorokin found himself sentenced to death. At the last minute he was saved by a combination of luck and the work of a friend who must have put in a good word with Lenin. Back in Petrograd teaching again, on precarious academic tenure, he found it impossible to indoctrinate the sons of the proletariat with the first principles of sociology. He contrived to get himself banished from Russia in 1923, and from then on the tempo of the Sorokin drama relaxed. A short term of lecturing in Prague, then on to America. Professor at the University of Minnesota until 1930, and at Harvard since then.

Professor Sorokin now lives in Winchester, with the Mystic Valley Reservation for a back yard, which gives him “all the advantages of an estate without any of the duties.” When he is not lecturing or writing or breakfasting with his friend Serge Koussevitsky, the professor likes to work in his garden behind the house, an interest perhaps inherited from his many Russian forebears. When they want more lengthy relaxation. Mother and Father and the two boys move to their camp in Canada where Father forgets his vertical and horizontal mobility long enough to be a compleat angler. He despairs of modern jazz, movies, radio, advertising, and has a high unconcern for the press. He is above all criticism, good or bad, from a world whose culture and civilization are degenerate. He has an enormous and un-selfconscious ego concerning the immortality of his works, but won’t budge form the assertion that none of the modern greats correspond in ability to those of the past. “When there are no fish, a crawfish is a fish,” he says. “I am a crawfish.” Yet he has doubled the size of Harvard’s Sociology Department, attracted a brilliant group of graduate students, and has probably written as many books in his field as any man in history. Although he scorns the “sensational, vulgar, misleading, and distorting press,” he manages to cull yearly as much publicity as the average Hollywood starlet.

Personally, Professor Sorokin is as pleasant and charming an egoist as it is possible to find at Harvard, home of many successful men. His eyes, behind steel-rimmed glasses, glitter smilingly with every word he utters. Some people who take his courses groan that they can’t understand a word he says. A little judicious listening, coupled with the immunity gained after a few of his lectures, should fix that. Short, boyishly cut gray hair, a rapid and brusque manner, make him seem a tall little man. A conversation with Sorokin requires an effort to keep up with his wit, and when he gets serious, an effort to grasp what he is talking about. For him, the best art, literature, and music was produced before the nineteenth century. Enough of a cosmopolite to prefer Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart to Tchaikovsky and Rimsky Korsakov, smoke English instead of Russian cigarettes, keep cases of French wine in his cellar instead of scotch or vodka, and obtain American citizenship in 1930, he is nevertheless simple and quiet in taste, abhorring social life and all that it entails. However, the professor continues to sling his provoking social theories into the intellectual boxing ring, and although they get slammed around quite a bit there’s no reason why he shouldn’t come out a winner in the end.

* Porter Sargent , a former Harvard professor, publisher, and commentator and critic of higher education. was quoted in an article in Time (May 30, 1938) as follows: “The [Harvard] sociology department is the White Russian WPA.”  Fadiman may have been quoting Sargent; or it may have been the other way around.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

     April 2022

“Another Russian Prophet.”

 

‘Another Russian Prophet’ – The Indianapolis Star 11-23-1923

 

Posted here, the following article about Sorokin:

Another Russian Prophet.

The Indianapolis Star

November 22, 1923

pg. 6

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

     November 2021

Mrs. Sorokine on Way to This Country Now

 

 

 

Posted here:

“Mrs. Pitirim Sorokine on Way to This Country Now”

Decatur Herald (Decatur, Illinois)

March 23, 1924

pg. 17

 

 

– posted by Roger W. Smith

     August 2021

Sorokin interview, California Daily Bruin (1937)

 

‘Sorokin Tells about Students, Professors, Preferences’ – California Daily Bruin 7-2-1937

 

Posted here as a PDF file is the following article:

Sorokin Tells about Students, Professors, Preferences

By Barbara Hirshfeld

California Daily Bruin

July 2, 1937

pp. 1, 4

Sorokin was teaching a summer session course at the University of California at Los Angeles. The interview gives a warm, lighthearted view of Sorokin as person.

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

     August 2021

Sorokin Hits Colleges as “Ph.D. Factories”

 

‘Sorokin Hits Colleges as Ph.D. Factories’ – Boston Sunday Post 1-10-1954

‘Sorokin Hits Colleges as Ph.D. Factories’ – Boston Sunday Post 1-10-1954

 

Posted here both as a PDF file and as a Word document is the following article:

Sorokin Hits Colleges as “Ph.D. Factories”

Boston Sunday Post

January 10, 1954

pp. 33, 42

The article gives perspective on Sorokin’s pedagogical views. The book he mentions being currently at work on was apparently Fads and Foibles in Modern Sociology and Related Sciences.

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

     August 2021

“An Expert’s Opinion of Russia of the Present” (The Michigan Alumnus)

 

‘An Expert’s Opinion of Russia of the Present’ – Michigan Alumnus 5-8-1924

‘An Expert’s Opinion of Russia of the Present’ – Michigan Alumnus 5-8-1924

 

Posted here:

An Expert’s Opinion of Russia of the Present

Visiting Russian Professor Grant Interesting Interview to Alumnus

The Michigan Alumnus

May 8, 1924

pp. 884-886

 

posted by Roger W.  Smith

“Forecasts Early Bolshevik Collapse”

 

‘Forecasts Early Bolshevik Collapse’ – New York Evening Post 11-16-1923

 

Posted here (downloadable Word document above) is the following:

Forecasts Early Bolshevik Collapse

Ex-Professor of Sociology In Petrograd Predicts Democracy for Russia

New York Evening Post

November 16. 1923

This article seems to be unknown to Sorokin scholars — it is not listed in any bibliography or biographical work on Sorokin, as far as I know.

When the Post article appeared, Sorokin had been in the US for only about six weeks and was visiting, as a guest, Vassar College, where he attended classes, would soon give lectures on the Russian revolution to Vassar students, and worked on improving his English.

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

     August 2021

 

*****************************************************

 

See also my post:

Sorokin on The Living Church of Russia (Живая Церковь), Christian Advocate, 1923

Sorokin on The Living Church of Russia (Живая Церковь), Christian Advocate, 1923

– posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 2021

“Overtaking the Lies”

 

‘Overtaking the Lies’ (editorial) – Decatur Herald 3-23-1924

 

Posted here as a Word document is the following editorial concerning Sorokin:

Overtaking the Lies (editorial)

Decatur Herald (Decatur, Illinois)

Sunday, March 23, 1924

pg. 6

The editorial is self-explanatory.

Sorokin was on a lecture tour. He had been in the US since November 1923

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

      July 2021

a “nostalgic multiple jailbird” (New Yorker interview with Sorokin)

 

Binder1

The following is the text of a New Yorker article based on an interview conducted with Sorokin:

“Longevity Recipe”

“The Talk of the Town”

The New Yorker

January 4, 1958

pp. 16-17

 

Longevity Recipe

Are kind, permissive, lurk-around-the house parents, so much de rigueur nowadays, all they’re cracked up to be, psychologically and pedagogically speaking? Does an absentee or punitive father spell future failure for his little ones? Do people learn by suffering or so they go to pieces? Such questions have furrowed our brow during several decades of buttonholing famous men, many of whom, it turned out, had been either quickly orphaned or personally abandoned or paternally cuffed. This ponderous line of thought possessed us anew the other morning when we sat down at a table in the West Fifty-first Street Schrafft’s for a prearranged chat with Professor A. Sorokin, director of the Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism and author of thirty books, among them “Time-Budgets of Human Behavior,” “The American Sex Revolution,” and “Social and Cultural Dynamics.” A merry scholar of sixty-eight if we ever saw one, his face set in quizzically humorous lines, his work translated into fifteen tongues; happy married, by his own account, for forty years to a prominent biologist, and the father of two promising sons, one a physicist and the other a student at Harvard Medical School; a vigorous fisherman, mountain climber, camper-out, and tiller of a big do-it-yourself garden of azaleas, rhododendrons, lilacs, and roses in Winchester, Massachusetts, Professor Sorokin is also the possessor of an upper lip that seems somewhat smashed in. We would never have mentioned this if the Professor had not brought it up himself. “Father did it with a hammer when I was nine,” he said. “He was a good man, but he used to hit the bottle, and then he’d hit my brother and me. Our mother died when I was four. I was born in Touria, a village in Vologda Region, near Archangel. It was a barren rural, extremely cold section. I am from the very bottom of Russian society. Mother was the daughter of poor peasants and Father was an itinerant artisan who did painting, silvering, and gilding, in churches and peasants’ houses. After Mother’s death, my older brother and I–a younger brother was adopted by an aunt–moved with Father from village to village, helping him with his work. We separated from him after the hammer incident, and he died a year later. We continued our nomadic life, gilding icons, and so forth, until in one hamlet, Gam, I came across a newly founded school. I took an examination, was given a scholarship, graduated after three years, and won another three-year scholarship, at the Teachers College in Kostroma Region.”

Professor Sorokin paused to polish off some ham and eggs. “In 1906, when I was seventeen,” he said, “I was arrested there by the Czarist police and imprisoned for four months for giving revolutionary talks at factories. I was later arrested twice more by the Czarist police and three times by the Bolsheviks. Being arrested under the Czar was rather cozy. Czarist prisons were first-class hotels. The wardens were our office boys. ‘Telephone your friends from my office,’ they would say. “Help yourself to the books there.’ Bolshevik arrests were very different. Every day was a day of jeopardy. After Teachers College I went to night school in St. Petersburg, and then spent several years studying, and subsequently teaching, at the Psycho-Neurological Institute and the University of St. Petersburg. I gave courses in criminology and penology. In 1917, I was one of four founders of the All-Russian Peasant Soviet and a member of its executive committee, and I became secretary to Kerensky, then Prime Minister. I was also editor-in-chief of Volia Naroda, the Petrograd newspaper that was the main voice of the Kerensky government. My first Bolshevik arrest, for opposing such Communist leaders as Lenin, Trotsky, and Kamenev, was in January 1918. My second, in the fall of that year, was for helping engineer the overthrow of Communist government in Archangel. I was condemned to death, was released after six weeks through the intercession of a former student of mine, and returned to the university, where I founded its Department of Sociology. I wrote five books on sociology and on law, and underwent my final arrest. I was then comfortably banished, and went to Czechoslovakia on the invitation of my good friend President Masaryk, and in 1923 I came here to lecture at the Universities of Wisconsin and Illinois. I joined the University of Minnesota faculty in 1924, and in 1930 I went to Harvard, where I organized, and became chairman of, the Department of Sociology. In 1948, I founded the Research Center in Creative Altruism there, with the financial support of Eli Lilly, an altruistic Indianapolis pharmaceutist. So far, Mr. Lilly and a fund called the Lilly Endowment have given us a hundred and thirty-five thousand dollars between them to conduct studies on how to make human beings less selfish and more creative. I haven’t been arrested since 1922, but I have revied a few parking tickets. I rather miss being arrested.”

This nostalgic multiple jailbird passed us the sugar, and we pressed him for a further word on creative altruism. “In brief, as a result of my studies, beginning in the nineteen-forties,” he said, “I came to the conclusion that if individual human beings, groups, and cultural institutions in general did not become notably more creatively altruistic, nothing could save mankind. Popular prescriptions, such as political changes, religious changes, and education as a panacea against war, won’t do it. This century, in which science and education have reached unrivalled heights, is the bloodiest of all the twenty-five centuries of Greco-Roman and European history. Have you read my ‘Altruistic Love’? It deals with some of the ascertainable characteristics of five hundred living American altruists and forty-six hundred Christian saints. The extraordinary longevity and vigorous health of the saints is remarkable! Or my ‘The Ways and Powers of Love’? It uncovers a sufficient body of evidence to show that unselfish, creative love can stop aggressive inter-individual and inter-group attacks, tangibly influence international policy, and pacify international conflicts, and that altruistic persons live longer than egoistic individuals. Or my ‘Man and Society in Calamity’? In this, I confirm the law of polarization, which runs contrary to the Freudian claim that calamity and frustration uniformly generate aggression, and contrary to the old claim, reiterated recently by Toynbee, that they lead uniformly to the moral and spiritual ennoblement of human beings. What the law of polarization holds is that, depending upon the type of personality, frustrations and misfortunes may be reacted to and overcome by positive polarization, resulting either in an increased creative effort (consider the deafness of Beethoven, the blindness of Milton) or in altruistic transformation (consider St. Francis of Assisi and Ignatius Loyola), or they may induce negative polarization, in the shape of suicide, mental disorder, brutalization, increase of selfishness, dumb submissiveness, or cynical sensualism. This works both individually and collectively.”

We unfurrowed our brow and left, resolved to love one and all, and to live to be a hundred and three.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

      October 2020

“Professor Sorokine To Remain in U.S.”

 

Professor Sorokine To Remain in U.S.

The present Russian government has extended a formal invitation to Professor Pitirim Sorokine, who is a guest of President [Henry Noble] MacCracken at Vassar College at present, to return to that country and take up once more the editorship of the Russian Peasant Magazine, which he carried on before his condemnation.

Professor Sorokine says that he is not planning to accept this invitation because he believes that a faction would have him arrested if he refused to subscribe to their opinions. In addition he would be obliged to aid in the public instruction under the communist government, which would not be pleasant. He said Wednesday:

“If the imprisonment of Trotsky by the communists, announced today, is true, I believe that the present Russian government is doomed and that its fall will take place in a short time.”

Poughkeepsie Eagle-News (Poughkeepsie, New York), January 17, 1924, pg. 6

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

     September 2019