“I discovered Sorokin in my local public library at age 17 when I was a senior in high school. … There was a book on the library’s shelves which caught my eye: The Crisis of Our Age by one P. A. Sorokin, whom I had never heard of.
“ ‘This looks interesting,’ I thought. …
“The Crisis of Our Age was an intensely stimulating and exciting read for a 17 year old with an interest in history and, especially, the history of ideas. … I could not put the book down, devoured it. It was a very rewarding intellectual exercise for me at that stage in my intellectual development. It challenged me, stimulated me mentally, and greatly expanded my intellectual horizons.”
“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.
Питирим Сорокин аккуратно записывал в дневник назва-ния прочитанных им книг и авторов: 4 тома А. П. Чехова, Ф. М. Достоевского — «Преступление и наказание», «Дневник писателя», «Бедные люди» и другие. Огромное впечатление произвел на него «Идиот». Дальше идут книги A.M. Горького, И. А. Гончарова, Г. Сенкевича, Н. А. Некрасова, Л. Н. Толстого, У. Шекспира, П. В. Засодимского. В.Гюго, A.M. Скабичевского, Г. И. Успенского, А. И. Писарева, выписки из древнегреческих философов: Демокрита, Гераклита, Пифагора, Анаксагора, Про-тагора, Сократа. Среди прочитанных книг — работы B.C. Соло-вьева, Гегеля, В.Чернова («Монистическая точка зрения в исто-рии и психологии», «К вопросу о капитализме и крестьянстве»), М. И. Туган-Барановского («Теоретические основы марксизма»), В. И. Ленина («Проект аграрной программы» и др.) а также книги В. И. Засулич и «Прошлое Шлиссельбургской крепости» В. Панкратова, «Популярные очерки политической экономии» П. Кропоткина.
— Дойков, Юрий, Питирим Сорокин, Человек вне сезона: Биография. Том 1 (1889–1922); Архангельск, 2008., стр. 23
Pitirim Sorokin carefully recorded in his diary the names of the books and authors he read: 4 volumes by A. P. Chekhov, F. M. Dostoevsky – “Crime and Punishment”, “Writer’s Diary”, “Poor People” and others. The Idiot made a huge impression on him. Then there are books by A. M. Gorky, I. A. Goncharov, G. Senkevich, N. A. Nekrasov, L. N. Tolstoy, W. Shakespeare, P. V. Zasodimsky. V. Hugo, A. M. Skabichevsky, G. I. Uspensky, A. I. Pisarev, extracts from ancient Greek philosophers: Democritus, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Anaxagoras, Protagoras, Socrates. Among the books read are the works of B.C. Soloviev, Hegel, V. Chernov (“The Monistic Point of View in History and Psychology”, “On the Question of Capitalism and the Peasantry”), M. I. Tugan-Baranovsky (“Theoretical Foundations of Marxism”), V. I. Lenin (“The Project of the Agrarian Program”, etc.), as well as books by V. I. Zasulich and “The Past of the Shlisselburg Fortress” by V. Pankratov, “Popular Essays on Political Economy” by P. Kropotkin.
Yuri Doykov, Pitirim Sorokin: A Timeless Man; A Biography, Volume 1 (1889-1922); Arkhangelsk, 2008, pg. 23
Use of A-Bomb Condemned: Group Notes Tenth Anniversary of Bombing of Hiroshima
letter to editor
The New York Times
August 3, 1955
The signers were Clarence E. Pickett, Bishop W. Appleton Lawrence, Lewis Mumford, Pitirim A. Sorokin, W. Harold Row, A. Philp Randolph, Orie O. Miller, Howard Thurman, Henry J. Cadbury, A. J. Muste, Roland H. Bainton, and Rabbi Isidor B. Hoffman.
The following letter (in Russian) to the American sociologist Edward A. Ross of the University of Wisconsin was written by Sorokin in July 1922, when Sorokin was in St Petersburg..
Позволю себе послать Вам мою небольшую заметку* о Вашей прекрасной книге, случайно попавшей в Петроград, любезно предоставленной мне для прочтения глубокоу-важаемым г. Кини, представителем Христианского Союза молодых людей.
Вместе с этим позволю обратиться к Вам и через Вас другим американским социологам с большой просьбой: мы, русские социологи, до сих пор оторваны от амери-канской и европейской социологии, – книг и журналов. Этот духовный голод чувствуется нами острее, чем мате-риальный. Я лично, выпустивший за эти годы два тома «Системы социологии» (многотомная работа) и «Голод как фактор», не имею литературы зарубежной, вышед-шей после 1916/17 гг. (кроме немногих книг, в частности книг профессора Е. С. Hayes ‘а, любезно им присланных недавно).
Этим Вы очень обрадуете нас и принесете большую пользу. Лично я, как проводник американской социологии в России (и вообще чрезвычайно высоко ставящий Аме-риканское общество), был бы чрезвычайно признателен Вам.
Если правительство России даст мне разрешение – то я намерен через месяца два-три прибыть в Америку и пробыть в ней год или два, чтобы хорошо изучить американскую социологию, многому научиться, а с другой стороны – поделиться и с вами знаниями и, в частности, большим опытом и выводами, полученными из нашего великого трагического эксперимента.
Если Вы позволите – я очень бы желал посетить Вас и поучиться у Вас.
в заключение в позвольте еще обеспокоить Вас одной просьбой. Вам, конечно, известно, что революция сде-лала и ученых бедными. Я еду в Америку без субсидий государства, рассчитывая только на свой мозг и мускулы. Для существования я должен буду искать какой-нибудь работы. Не были бы добры как-нибудь помочь мне в этом отношении? Я готов делать какую угодно работу, не исключая и мускульной, лишь бы она была мне по силам и не была морально унизительной. Я молод (еще 32 года) и жена – преподавательница ботаники в Агрономическом институте (26 лет), и потому мы можем – если не найдется интеллектуальной работы – работать физически.
Вы очень обязали бы нас, если бы помогли нам в этом отношении. Простите за просьбу – нормально не очень тактичную, но наши исключительные ненормальные условия вынуждают к ней и делают в известной мере извинительными».
Let me send you my little note about your wonderful book,* which happened to be in Petrograd, kindly provided to me for reading by Mr. Keeny,** a representative of the Young People’s Christian Union.
At the same time, I will take the liberty to address you, and through you, other American sociologists, with a big request: we Russian sociologists are still divorced from American and European sociology, books, and magazines. This spiritual hunger is felt more acutely by us than material hunger. I personally, who over the years have published two volumes of System of Sociology (a multi-volume work) and Hunger as a Factor, have had access to no foreign literature since 1916/17 (except for a few books, in particular the books of Professor E. C. Hayes, kindly sent to them recently).
Under such conditions, perhaps you will not find it a tactless request: to send your works of recent years and to ask other American sociologists and, in particular, The American Journal of Sociology, to do the same generously.
You will greatly please us with this and it will be a great benefit. Personally, as an expositor of American sociology in Russia (and having, in general, an extremely high regard for American society), I would be extremely grateful to you.
If the Russian government gives me permission, then I intend to come to America in two or three months and stay there for a year or two in order to study American sociology in depth, to learn a lot, and on the other hand, to share with you the knowledge and, in particular, the profound experience and conclusions obtained from our great tragic experiment.
If you allow it, I would very much like to visit and learn from you.
Let me further bother you with one request. You know, of course, that the revolution has made scholars poor. I am going to America without state subsidies, relying only on my brain and body. To exist, I will have to look for some kind of work. Would you be kind enough to help me in any way in that regard? I am ready to do any work, not excluding physical, as long as it is within my power and is not morally humiliating. I am young (32 years old) and my wife is a teacher of botany at the Agronomic Institute (26 years old), and therefore we can – if there be no intellectual work – work physically.
You would be very obliged to us if you could help us in this regard. Sorry for the request – which is not per se very tactful, but our exceptionally abnormal conditions necessitate and make it to a certain extent excusable.
— translation from the Russian by Roger W. Smith
*Edward Alsworth Ross, Foundations of Sociology (1905)
**Spurgeon M. (Sam) Keeny, a friend of Sorokin’s, who had served during World War I as a Y.M.C.A. volunteer with the British Army. At the time of Sorokin’s letter, he was serving with the American Relief Administration (ARA) headed by Herbert Hoover.
Probably we would have settled in Czechoslovakia “permanently” as teachers in one of the Czech universities if I had not received invitations from two distinguished American sociologists, Edward C. Hayes of the University of Illinois and Edward A. Ross of the University of Wisconsin. They invited me to come to America to deliver a series of lectures on the Russian Revolution. These unexpected invitations radically changed the course of our subsequent life. For many years before, I had been greatly interested in the United States and had studied American social, economic, and political institutions and theories, American culture, literature, and the way of life. …. I greatly admired the American people, democracy, and way of life. This admiration was seemingly so great that many of my friends and colleagues in Russia even nicknamed me “a Russian-American.”
— A Long Journey: The Autobiography of Pitirim A. Sorokin, pg. 200
Спасибо за пожертвование и за добрые пожелания, относящиеся к моей ежедневной работе.
Ваше несогласие с моей политической работой я просто не понимаю. Министр ино- странных дел Советского Союза421 75 раз возражал против введения союзных войск в Ливан422.
С другой стороны, Советы в Венгрии убили 65000, ранили 100000 и принудили 200000 мужчин, женщин и детей искать приюта в беженстве423 .
«Кто же, – спросила я одного венгра, – помогал вам в вашей борьбе?» Ответ был:
«Русские красноармейцы, которые всей силой своей души сочувствовали нам». Из 24000 советских солдат, 9000 перешли на сторону восставших и это были люди подневольные, рискующие своей жизнью. Это были представители русского народа.
Борясь с советской властью по мере своих слабых сил, я считаю, что я стопроцентно солидарна с 200 миллионами русского народа против 6 миллионов коммунистов. Очень хотелось бы, чтобы Вы мне объяснили, почему моя политическая установка ошибочна.
С искренним к Вам уважением,
Alexandra Tolstaya, president of the Tolstoy Foundation, was the writer Leo Tolstoy’s daughter.