“wriggling, banging of seats, scraping of feet, twisting, whispering, and flipping of note book leaves in the auditorium” (during a Sorokin lecture, 1924)

 

 

With all this talk of courtesy and etiquette going the rounds today, and classes on the subject organized voluntarily by pupils of our schools, I do wish some one would start a fad for courtesy in the public lecture room. We need it here in Decatur.

I’m prompted to this comment by the wriggling, banging of seats. scraping of feet twisting. whispering, and flipping of note book leaves in the auditorium last week when Dr. Pitirim Sorokine was speaking.

The audience composed of about equal proportions of townspeople and students, had difficulty in understanding his broken speech, so it gave up trying and wriggled, banged. and so on, until those who could understand were not permitted to hear.

Part of the fault may have lain with those who introduced the speaker. I think it would have stimulated personal interest if, instead of trying to explain his message, that had been left to him and explanation given instead about the man himself.

Who even in that noisy audience would not have sat quietly, for instance, if they had known that this man came out of Europe unable to speak a single word of English, and in one month was lecturing all over America in the language?

Instead of blaming him for his broken speech. and punishing him cruelly with noise. I think he would have been listened to with admiration and respect. None but would have given him just due for the accomplishment of a difficult feat–if they had known of it.

Dr. Sorokine had long been a student of English and could read and write it with ease. But to read and write, and to speak, are quite different things. as those of us who can struggle through a page of French. only to fall flat before pronunciation, can relate to our sorrow.

And in just one month he had conquered his ignorance of spoken English to such an extent that be spoke it in lectures before that most critical of all audiences in the world, students in a lecture room.

If any person in that audience, with two years gruelling drill in French, had been set before a Parisian audience to deliver a lecture on any subject, do you suppose they could have done it? And if the audience had been noisy, and then heaped the last insult by rising one by one and clumping out.

 

The Assistant Woman’s Editor.

 

 

“Let’s Talk It Over,” Decatur Herald (Decatur, IL), Tuesday, March 25, 1924, pg. 10

 

 

 

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EDITORIAL COMMENT: Let’s hear it for empathy.

Roger W. Smith, comments occasioned by a reading of Sorokin’s “The Sociology of Revolution” and Glen Haydon’s paper on the first volume of “Social and Cultural Dynamics”

 

 

 

‘Sorokin’s Theory of Fluctuation of Forms of Music’ – American Musicological Soc Mtg 1938

 

 

 

I am reading Pitirim A. Sorokin’s groundbreaking work The Sociology of Revolution (1925) now. I am surprised how well it holds up after a century or so; it is quite good.

In addition, I had occasion to come across the following article (POSTED HERE ABOVE), which is based upon an analysis by a musicologist of the chapter on music* in the first volume of Sorokin’s Social and Cultural Dynamics:

 

“Sorokin’s Theory of Fluctuation of Forms of Music”

by Glen Haydon

Papers Read by Members of the American Musicological Society at the Annual Meeting (December 29th and 30th, 1938), pp. 74-83

Glen Haydon was an American musicologist instrumental in the founding of the Department of Music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

 

 

 

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It has occurred to me that Sorokin’s strengths are also his weaknesses. The scope of his works is broad, his ambition and purpose in writing magisterial tomes that aim so high and attempt to go beyond dry sociology, beyond mere fact finding and data collection are impressive.

Yet, the scope often seems too broad; conclusions are often found to be erroneous when subjected to close analysis.

The “problem,” it seems to me, is that, while writing works of great originality and interest, of potentially great significance for humanity, Sorokin often wrote too hastily and not with the strict attention to accuracy of historical or sociological/cultural facts and data required of a scholar.

So that, as he tells us, in The Sociology of Revolution, he examines: “The Russian Revolutions of 1905, 1917-1924; and that of the seventeenth century ; the French Revolutions of 1789, 1848, 1870-71; the German Revolution of 1848; the English Revolution of the seventeenth century; some mediæval and antique revolutionary periods [such as the Bohemian Revolution of the fifteenth century]; the Egyptian, Persian, and other great revolutions.” Actually, most of his findings are based upon his deep knowledge, as a participant as well as a professor of sociology, of the Russian Revolution. And, there is a reasonable amount of coverage of the French Revolution, while other historical periods and revolutions are merely touched upon.

If one examines Sorokin’s copious footnotes in this work, one will readily see that he is writing not as a historian but as a sociologist engaged in the study of comparative societies and civilizations; and that, with the exception of the Russian Revolution, he did not have an in-depth knowledge of any of the other revolutions he studied (I would say haphazardly) and used to derive conclusions from. His sources are secondary sources (most of them read in Russian translation). What did Sorokin know about the Egyptian Revolution or “the great Greek and Roman Revolutions”? The answer: very little.

From a reading of Glen Haydon’s paper, one comes to essentially the same conclusion. Sorokin’s categorizations of ideational, idealistic, and sensate forms and periods of music rely on findings and conclusions about musical styles and works/composers that are often inaccurate. (And the imposition by Sorokin of his scholarly schema — an artifact, so to speak — upon the history of Western music. This from a professor, Sorokin. who had a deep appreciation and love, as an aesthete, of classical music.)

But, says Haydon:

In spite of my quarrels with many of the details of Sorokin’s treatment of music, I feel that I should be very remiss in my duty if I did not acknowledge some of the many and important values of the work. First of all, I want to pay tribute to the man who has had a sufficiently comprehensive insight into the intricacies of cultural history to enable him to evolve a theory applicable to all its ramifications; and who has had the courage to attempt to put it to the acid test of application within the several fields of art, science, philosophy, religion, and general sociology. In the midst of the ever-present necessity for specialization we need relief from the deadening effects of over-specialization; we need to gain a sympathetic insight into the nature and problems of other fields, and some notion of the long-range and immediate forces at work in the cultural processes of today. Certainly, Sorokin’s work constitutes a significant contribution to the overcoming of this difficulty. It is most stimulating to see him apply his methodology to very complex subject material. Nearly every page suggests a half dozen topics for further study and investi­gation. It seems to me this is one of the greatest values a book can have.

When I think of the profundity and impact of works of Sorokin such as The Sociology of Revolution, Hunger as a Factor in Human Affairs, The Crisis of Our Age, and Social and Cultural Mobility which are not aimed solely at sociologists, I find myself agreeing — extrapolating Haydon’s comments and placing them in a wider context — with the thrust of what Haydon was saying. Who can deny that Sorokin reached valid, significant conclusions of great import; that he was clear eyed and prophetic in his insight and vision?

So that, despite weak scholarly underpinnings, The Sociology of Revolution stands up under the test of time. Its conclusions are valid: “A society which has never known how to live, which has been incapable of carrying through adequate reforms, but has thrown itself in the arms of revolution, has to pay the penalty for its sins by the death of a considerable proportion of its members.” Revolutions are foreordained to failure and incomprehensible horrors.

 

 

 

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A final thought about Sorokin’s writings, which was expressed cogently by Sorokin’s fellow sociologist Lewis A. Coser:

It is at least plausible that his almost monomaniacal drive for learning was largely motivated by his desire to show the insiders that he, the outsider, could surpass them in command of vast bodies of literature. The man from Komi, who had never attended gymnasium, would demonstrate that he could master the ways of their culture more deeply and extensively than could they. His ambivalent desire for both acceptance and autonomy is reflected in the habit that was never to leave him: he would pile footnote upon footnote to indicate that he was at home in the whole storehouse of Western culture, while at the same time critically and often violently attacking almost all contemporary thinkers. He would show his colleagues that, though conversant with all the contributions of past and present thinkers, he remained his own man.

— Lewis A. Coser, Masters of Sociological Thought, pg. 505

 
This remark about Sorokin the arrogant and caustic scholar (Coser knew Sorokin personally) can be applied and extrapolated to my thoughts about Sorokin above, to how he went about writing his tomes. The scope of Sorokin’s reading and research was impressive, if not incredible, as can be seen in the two works discussed here. But merely perusing such a broad range of books in relevant areas and on pertinent topics that most sociologists would have overlooked does not amount to the kind of careful, painstaking scholarship that, say, a literary scholar, art historian, or musicologist might, in writing a single book, devote years to.
* “Fluctuations of Ideational, Sensate, and Mixed Forms of Music”; Chapter Twelve of Social and Cultural Dynamics, Volume 1: Fluctuations of Forms of Art, by Pitirim A. Sorokin (New York: American Book Company, 1937)

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2019

“I am no longer a revolutionist because revolution is catastrophe. I am no longer a Socialist, because Socialism is wrong.”

 

 

We had about three hundred and fifty miles to walk. To travel that distance without stopping at villages for food was impossible. In every village we ran great risk of arrest. To pass from one place to another it was necessary to get permission from the “Communistic Committee of Poor Peasants.” Red soldiers were patrolling the forests and special pickets watched all principal vistas. We thought of retreating into the deepest depths of the forest, building a hut and remaining there all winter. We considered also hiding in a house in a village, never appearing out of doors, and never speaking except to the master of the house. It sounds fantastic, but life is more fantastic than any fiction. Two of my friends saved their lives by that first plan and another by the second. This man lived for two years in a small house, never showing himself to anyone except his landlady, and in the end he escaped alive.

We continued to wander over the bosom of Nature, occasionally wishing we might see a little of civilization. In free moments we talked much about the Revolution, and doubts which had been born in my mind at the beginning of the upheaval grew to full size. In this wild forest the utter futility of all revolution, the vanity of all Socialism and Communism became clear to me. The catastrophe of the Revolution, the deep historic roots of Bolshevism, loathed by the majority, it is true, but having as its basis and its force the passive spirit of the Russian nation, overwhelmed me with its truth. Only when the people have suffered the fullest horrors of Bolshevism, only when they have passed completely through the tragic, perhaps the fatal experience of the Communist experiment, can their dreadful sickness be cured once and forever. Only then the poisons in which Bolshevism flourished would be purged from the organism of the Russian people. Only then would this damned passivity disappear and they be transformed from a people accustomed to tyranny to a self-governing nation.

Out of these meditations I wrote an address to my electors, sending it to my friends to be made public. I am no longer a revolutionist because revolution is catastrophe. I am no longer a Socialist, because Socialism is wrong. I released myself from responsibility as a member of the Constitutional Assembly, since the people would not support their own representative body. If they hope to have a ” Government of the people, tor the people, and by the people,” they themselves must be active and must cease to lean on leaders who, without their support, are powerless. Such was the essence of my message.

Many dazzling illusions, beautiful dreams in whose reality I had once believed, I lost during my meditations in the forest. They fled, I believe, forever. But I did not grieve over my lost illusions. Life and the world are so beautiful, so wonderful in their reality that illusions are necessary only to the blind and deaf and lame, for mental, moral, and physical cripples. Healthy persons have no need of illusions.

 
— Pitirim A. Sorokin, Leaves from a Russian Diary — and Thirty Years After; Part II: 1918; Chapter XII, “In the Bosom of Nature” (Boston: Beacon Press, 1950), pp 171-173

 

 

 

 

 

a telling criticism

 

 

[C. Wright Mills’s] The Sociological Imagination … was a collection of literary essays–some brilliant, others pedestrian-that permitted the profession to engage in the sort of self-analysis that too few people in the sociological positivism of the 1950s were prepared to engage in. True enough Pitirim Sorokin made a similar effort [in his Fads and Foibles in Modern Sociology and Related Sciences], but it was so laden with moral judgments and psychological mysticism that it could not penetrate to the heart of the issues raised by the dominant tendencies toward empiricism. Sorokin in his own distinct way, like [Talcott] Parsons, became captive to generalizations that were so rich in tautology and platitudes that we forgot how often devoid they were in specific reference points. [italics added]

 

— Irving Louis Horowitz, “C. Wright Mills, 1916-1962: Bright Lights and Dark Shadows,” Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 41, No. 4 (July 2012), pg. 415

 

 

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What I would be inclined to say is that the late Irving Louis Hortwitz, a distinguished American sociologist, made an excellent point — in this article about C. Wright Mills — about Pitirim A. Sorokin’s shortcomings as a scholar and writer. True, it was only a passing remark.

Horowitz was a student of Mills at Columbia University and edited two posthumous collections of Mills’s work. Note that he also found fault with the writings of Sorokin’s nemesis Talcott Parsons!

 

 
— Roger W. Smith

   April 2019

a photo of Sorokin and Kerensky

 
imageedit_3_5846644904

 

 

 

 

This photo appeared in The Christian Science Monitor (published in Boston, Massachusetts) in the following article:

 

“Kerensky Sees Fall of Soviet Dictatorship: Colleagues of Revolution Meet in Boston

The Christian Science Monitor

March 9, 1938

pg. 10

 

 
On the evening of March 9, the day the article appeared, Kerensky spoke at the Ford Hall Forum in Boston. His lecture was entitled “On Behalf of Democracy.”

In the conclusion of the article, it is stated: “The last meeting between Mr. Kerensky and his secretary [Sorokin] occurred nearly 18 years ago in Berlin. This was four years after Mr. Kerensky’s escape and already the Soviet Regime was sending its roots into Russian soil. Yet like his former superior, Sorokin believes the Soviet Union some day will collapse.”

 
— posted by Roger W Smith

   April 2019