Lewis Mumford review of “The Reconstruction of Humanity”

 

 

Lewis Mumford review of The Reconstruction of Humanity – J of Religion

 

 
The following (PDF file above) is a review by Lewis Mumford of Pitirim A. Sorokin’s The Reconstruction of Humanity (1948):

The review is a penetrating one well worth reading.

Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) was an American historian, sociologist, philosopher of technology, and literary critic. Noted for his study of cities and urban architecture, he had a broad career as a writer. His works ranged from a groundbreaking study of Herman Melville to books such as The Culture of Cities and The City in America; The Condition of Man; and Technics and Civilization, in which he divided human civilization into three distinct epochs, in a manner somewhat similar to Sorokin.

The review, while critical of Sorokin’s weaknesses as  writer and scholar, is an evenhanded one. It demonstrates insight into Sorokin’s works as a whole and places The Reconstruction of Humanity within the context of Sorokin’s oeuvre as it stood at the time the review was written, which was just after the publication of Sorokin’s The Crisis of Our Age.

Note, for example, Mumford’s statement: “The present book has the virtues and defects of Professor Sorokin’s earlier works–both in great abundance. Like his greatest rival, Arnold Toynbee, he is a scholar who carries on his shoulders a tremendous burden of scholarly research, but … his thought is sometimes confused, rather than clarified, by his very erudition.”

 

— Roger W. Smith

    May 2019

 

 

 

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review of The Reconstruction of Humanity

by Lewis Mumford

The Journal of Religion

Vol. 29, No. 4 (October 1949), pp. 301-302

 

 

The Reconstruction of Humanity stands in logical sequence to the series of sociological interpretations that Professor Pitirim Sorokin has published since his monumental Social and Cultural Dynamics (1937). Those four volumes, though concerned with a general theory of culture, clearly indicated Professor Sorokin’s criticism of our present age: that it was a typically “sensate” culture, founded on an exclusive belief in sensations as a source of meaning and “reality,” and that this very fact tended to undermine its existence–since only a supersensate or ideational culture could do justice to all the more significant aspects of human experience.

Sorokin’s next boom addressed to the public at large–for he has published various systematic texts in sociology–was largely a condensation of his Dynamics: The Crisis of our Age, which came out in 1941. Here, restating in briefer form his general theory of social development, his diagnosis became even sharper, as the disintegration of the West itself became more obvious. At the end he observed: “Our remedy demands a complete change of contemporary mentality, a fundamental transformation of our system of values, and the profoundest modification of our conduct toward other men, cultural values, and the world at large.” Drawing his conclusions from similar periods in the past, he reduced the change to a “compact formula: Crisis–ordeal–catharsis–charisma–resurrection.” This conclusion was only briefly framed at the end of the book; it called for a more detailed statement, and that the author seeks to provide in his new work, The Reconstruction of Humanity.

The thesis of Sorokin’s new book is that all detailed plans for improving the present situation through creating a world government or correcting the existing capitalist economy or through this or that program of education are insubstantial or insufficient because they do not envisage any major change in the agent that is to carry them out, namely, in man himself, in his prospensities [sic], his purposes, his ideals. Sorokin believes that this major change involves the deliberate fostering of “creative altruism,” a term that seems to be the precise equivalent of what Kropotkin, in his classic treatise, called “Mutual Aid.” Unfortunately the pages devoted to the regeneration of the personality, the very core of any effort at achieving altruism, make up only a quarter of the book; and at the very point at which Sorokin has something fresh to say, not already indicated in his previous works, he leaves the reader grasping, not exactly at straws, but at hastily improvised life-­rafts and distant life-preservers. We must look forward to still another book to bring Sorokin’s positive doctrines to the necessary stage of concreteness and pragmatic application.

The present book has the virtues and defects of Professor Sorokin’s earlier works-both in great abundance. Like his nearest rival, Arnold Toynbee, he is a scholar who carries on his shoulders a tremendous burden of scholarly research, but–and here the parallel perhaps still applies–his thought is sometimes confused, rather than clarified, by his very erudition. Though he condemns the habits of our “sensate culture,” to use his own term, he frequently succumbs to them, as in his statement on page 118 that there has been a “decrease of the ethics of absolute principles from 100 per cent in the Middle Ages to 57 per cent between 1900 and 1920”: a use of pseudo-statistics that should make the rawest Ph.D. blush. In spite of Sorokin’s passionate belief in the values of grace and love, his recent works do not show any considerable increase in the proportion of these qualities as his insight has deepened. Though he is properly critical, for example, of Dr. Sigmund Freud’s ideological mistakes, he does not acknowledge the real gains in psychological insight which Freud effected, including the fact that Freud, by his original act of reinterpreting the dream and demonstrating its meaningfulness, laid one of the foundation stones of a more ideational culture, which will respect the autonomous functions of the personality. His wholesale disparagement of Freud does not, however, prevent him from availing himself of insights directly derived from Freud’s work.

Finally, Sorokin casts doubts upon the value of many of his more profound generalizations by interlarding his book with many palpably exaggerated or false judgments, such as the statement that “the twentieth century has not produced a single genius in any field of art comparable to the greatest creative geniuses of the preceding centuries or even to the foremost masters of the nineteenth century.” In short, in Sorokin’s own person, both catharsis and charisma seem to have fallen short of the requirements of the situation he has diagnosed. There is more of unregenerate Saul than of charitable Paul in his judgments; and one would be more confident of his program for “reconstructing” humanity if he himself incarnated, in a greater degree, the qualities he holds necessary for mankind’s redemption.

If as a prophet Sorokin’s weaknesses are fatal ones, as a sociologist he nevertheless, despite all his painful weaknesses, demonstrates a fuller insight into the nature of society and the disintegration of our own age than do many of his colleagues, who commit fewer sins of semantics and logic and who show less irascible contempt for those who are in disagreement with them. With such exceptions as Malinowski, Radin, and Kroeber in anthropology, Sorokin is one of the few American sociologists who has done something like justice to the higher human functions. His sociological schema gives full place not only to the social processes and to the cultural heritage but to the purposive, goal­-seeking elements in the human personality. Unlike Freud, he does not dismiss religion as a childish violation of human reason. At the same time, his insight into the underlying unity of the higher religions keeps him from attributing supreme truth to the Christian religion and true godhood solely to its own savior; in marked contrast to Toynbee, he thus avoids the easy archaism of suggesting reversion to some historic form of Christianity as the one force capable of saving our civilization. So, too, though his insights are associated with his system of sociology, that system is in fact a very comprehensive one; so he differs from another wide-ranging interpreter, F. S. C. Northrop, in being less confined to a wooden set of categories, as arbitrarily defined and separated as Northrop’s theoretic and aesthetic components. Much of The Reconstruction of Humanity, it is true, consists in a series of verbal injunctions, without either method or appropriate discipline, as ineffective to produce a change as Milton said medicine would be if it followed only the method of the preacher and merely exhorted the patient verbally to get well.

But he who reads Sorokin’s work with a fuller charity than Sorokin himself applies to most of his contemporaries will also find a mind well grounded in man’s history and culture who has carried through in detail those fundamental insights into the present disintegration of Western civilization which Henry Adams first presented half a century ago. Unlike his emotionally unawakened and therefore intellectually more limited colleagues in sociology, Sorokin has earnestly set himself the task, hopeless to those who are without faith in superconscious processes and axial transformations, of summoning up the forces of life and laying down the basis for a new era founded on love and mutual aid­-love enlarged beyond the narrow boundaries of sexuality and mutual aid capable of encompassing the eventual unity of mankind. Sorokin’s overall purpose and his emotional readiness help to transcend and partly nullify his disturbing, and sometimes almost disrupting, weaknesses. Unfortunately, those who have not by themselves come to the same conclusions as Sorokin will probably lack the patience and sympathy to overlook his solecisms and to grapple with his essential contribution.

 

 

LEWIS MUMFORD

Amenia, New York

Henry Noble MacCracken, “Russia of To-day”

 

 

MacCracken, ‘Russia of To-day’ – The Literary Review 5-5-1923

 

 

 

Posted here (above) as a Word document is the complete text of following article:

 

 

“Russia of To-day”

By Henry Noble MacCracken

The Literary Review

(published by New York Evening Post)

Vol. 3, No. 35

May 5, 1923

pp. 657, 658, 665

 

 

 

The article reviews a recent “pamphlet” (so termed by MacCracken; actually a short book) of Sorokin’s that he published in Prague:

“современное состояние России” (sovremennoye sostoyaniye Rossii;  The Contemporary Condition of Russia)

By Pitirim Sorokin

Prague, 1922 (MacCracken gives the wrong year of publication, 1923)

 

 

MacCracken writes:

 

“The psychology of the refugee” is the phrase with which most European observers of to-day are apt to dismiss any report written by an exile of this home land. There is much that is just in the observation. It is inevitable that the refugee should, in order to justify himself for leaving his home land, exaggerate the abnormalities of home conditions, the cruelty of his enemies, and the need of foreign aid and intervention. It is natural also that the refugee should stress the circumstances which passed under his immediate observation, and should generalize from insufficient data of the universal conditions. The precariousness of his own means of existence, the characteristics of dependency, well known to social workers, all influence his judgement and his interpretation of facts.

It is true that most books about Russia bear marks of the refugee psychology. They all, or nearly all, tell the same story. In contrast with the present conditions, the previous condition of Russia is treated as idyllic, and in most of the books at least the deplorable conditions of the present are attributed to the active ill will and viciousness of a small group of people, instead of to unsound political and economic doctrine, and the inevitable conditions of war.

As a result, scarcely any really trustworthy accounts of conditions in Russia to-day can be found. It is quite out of the question to expect that an American observer, however familiar with Russia he might have been in the past, could get a really wide and impartial view of Russian conditions, or that, seeing them, he could really interpret them. Those residents of Russia who might give such a picture are prohibited from writing by the Soviet Government. Whatever else the Bolshevists may have to reproach the capitalistic governments with, at least they cannot claim superiority in the matter of freedom of speech.

It is therefore a wholly exceptional opportunity which is presented in the recent pamphlet* of Pitirim Sorokin. Exiled last autumn from his professorship of sociology at Petrograd University, Sorokin brought with him [to Czechoslovakia] official data concerning conditions in Russia, and in the course of a few days wrote at white heat his pamphlet, which was published in the first week of January of this year. After extended conversations with him in Prague in December, he gave me an advance copy of his work, with permission to use extracts from it in any way.

 

Henry Noble MacCracken (1880–1970) was president of Vassar College from 1915 to 1946. He and Sorokin were lifelong friends. MacCracken first met Sorokin during a trip to Czechoslovakia in late 1922. He invited Sorokin, upon Sorokin’s coming to the USA, to visit Vassar College, where Sorokin had a pleasant stay before going to the Midwest to deliver lectures on the Russian Revolution.

 

 

— transcription of article by Roger W. Smith

   posted April 2019

review of “The Crisis of Our Age”; The Thomist 1942

 

 

review of ‘The Crisis of Our Age’ – The Thomist, July 1942

 

 

 

Posted here (above) as a downloadable PDF file is a review of The Crisis of Our Age by Pitirim A. Sorokin:

 

The Crisis of Our Age by Pitirim A. Sorokin (review)

By Louis A. Ryan

The Thomist: A Speculative Quarterly Review

Volume 4, Number 3 (July 1942), pp. 523-533

 

It is a very thorough and thoughtful as well as discerning review, and I thought it worth posting.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   June 2018

“Almost Any Catastrophe Would Fit Into Harvard Professor’s Thesis”

 

 

‘almost any catastrophe would fit into Harvard’ prof’s thesis’ – Balt Sun 10-2-1935

 

 

He Told Us So

Almost Any Catastrophe Would Fit Into Harvard Professor’s Thesis

By U. P. Ives

The Baltimore Sun, October 2, 1939, pg. 8

 

 

Full article posted above as a downloadable PDF file.

reviews of “Hunger as a Factor in Human Affairs” by Pitirim A. Sorokin

 

 

Robert Bierstedt review of ‘Hunger as a Factor’ – Social Forces

 

Carle C. Zimmerman review of ‘Hunger as a Factor’ – Social Science

 

 

 

In my post about the Russian-American sociologist Pitirim A. Sorokin, at

“Sorokin”(«Сорокин»)

I stressed the originality and importance of Sorokin’s book Hunger as a Factor in Human Affairs, which I feel deserves to be better known.

Posted here are two reviews of the book which discuss its merits and the circumstances under which it was written and published:

review of Hunger as a Factor in Human Affairs by Robert Bierstedt, Social Forces, Vol. 55, No. 1 (Sep., 1976), pp. 195-196

review of Hunger as A Factor in Human Affairs by Carle C. Zimmerman, Social Science, Vol. 51, No. 2 (Spring 1976), Pp. 113-114

 

 

Robert Bierstedt (1913–1998) was a student of Sorokin’s who became a leading American sociologist. He headed the department of sociology at City College of New York and at New York University before becoming emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Virginia.

 

Carle C. Zimmerman (1897-1983) was a longtime colleague of Sorokin’s at the University of Minnesota and Harvard University.

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 2017

“Sorokin in Review”

 

 

 

William T. Liu, ‘Sorokin in Review’ – The Review of Politics 1966

 

 

This seminal article on the Russian American sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin appeared in The Review of Politics in January 1966. Ostensibly a review of Sorokin’s autobiography, A Long Journey, which had just been published, the article is actually an assessment of Sorokin’s life, career, and oeuvre. It addresses controversies going on at the time which involved a defense of Sorokin being undertaken by renowned sociologists, and in which there was controversy over how theoretical as opposed to empirical sociology should be.

The article is posted above as downloadable PDF file.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   September 2017

 

 

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William T. Liu, “Sorokin in Review,” The Review of Politics, 28:1 (January 1966), pp. 99-105.

 

a bitter exchange

 

Crane Brinton, ‘Socio-Astrology’

 

‘Historionics’ (Sorkin Reply to Crane Brinton)

 

 

 

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A remarkable exchange between Harvard history professor Crane Brinton and Pitirim A. Sorokin, then chairman of Harvard’s Department of Sociology, occurred in 1937 and 1938 in the pages of The Southern Review, a respected journal. That it appeared in The Southern Review, a literary journal, rather than a journal devoted to history or sociology, is noticeable.

Professor Brinton’s article comprised as an appraisal of the first three volumes of Sorokin’s magnum opus, Social and Cultural Dynamics. It was not a standard review, by any means; it was, in fact an essay-review. It was over twenty pages long. Professor Sorokin’s rejoinder was about ten pages long.

Brinton attacks Sorokin with no holds barred, criticizing everything from the methodology and assumptions underlying the work to what he views as Sorokin’s atrocious prose style. Sorokin, clearly stung by the review, responded with a strenuous defense of his work in which he seemed at times to be on the defensive and in other sections of his rejoinder essay tried to even the score with a vigorous counterattack.

The two articles are posted above as downloadable PDF files.

Crane Brinton, Socio-Astrology, The Southern Review, vol. 3 (fall 1937), pp. 243-266

Pitirim A. Sorokin, “Histrionics,” The Southern Review, vol. 3 (winter 1938), pp. 554-564

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 2017