“the mysterious energy of love”


Before the first world war and the later catastrophes of our time, science largely shunned this field [altruistic love]. The phenomena of altruistic love were thought to belong to religion and ethics, rather to science. They were considered good topics for preaching, but not for research and teaching. Moreover, prewar science was much more interested in the study of criminals than of saints, of the insane than of the genius, of the struggle for existence than of mutual aid, and of hate and selfishness than of compassion and love.

The explosion of the gigantic disasters after 1914 and the changing danger of a new suicidal war have now radically changed the situation. These calamities have given impetus to the scientific study of unselfish love. …

… without reinforcement by the energy of unselfish love, all the fashionable prescriptions for the elimination of those ills of humanity cannot achieve their task. This conclusion equally applies to all the prescriptions that try to prevent conflicts by either purely political, educational, sham religious, economic, or military means.

For instance, we may like to think that if tomorrow all the governments of the world were to become democratic, we would finally have a lasting peace and crimeless social order. Yet recent careful studies of comparative criminality of 967 wars and 1,629 revolutions in the history of Greece, Rome, and the Western countries … up to the present time show that democracies have hardly reversed belligerent, turbulent, and crime-infested nanotocracies. The same goes for education in its present form, other panaceas against international wars, civil strifes, and crimes.

Since the tenth century … education has made enormous strides forward. … Yet the number and deadliness of wars, bloody revolutions, and grave crimes have not decreased at all. On the contrary, in this most scientific and most educated twentieth century, they have reached unrivaled heights and have made this century the bloodiest in the past twenty-five centuries of Graeco-Roman and Western history.

Similarly, the tremendous progress of knowledge and the domestication of all of all forms of physical energy has not given man any lasting peace. Rather, it has greatly increased his chances of being destroyed in all forms of interhuman conflicts.

— Pitirim A. Sorokin, “The Mysterious Energy of Love”; a lecture by Sorokin given in 1959 at an undisclosed university.




… none of the prevalent prescriptions against international and civil wars and other forms of interhuman bloody strife can eliminate or notably decrease these conflicts.

By these popular prescriptions I mean, first, elimination of wars and strife by political changes, especially by democratic political transformations. Tomorrow the whole world could become democratic and yet wars and bloody strife would not be eliminated because democracies happen to be no less belligerent and strife-infected than autocracies. Still less pacification can be expected from autocracies. Neither the United Nations nor a world government can give a lasting internal and international peace if the establishment of these bodies is not reinforced by notable altruization of persons, groups, institutions, and culture.

The same goes for education in its present form as a panacea against war and bloody strife. Tomorrow all grown-up persons in the world could become Ph.D.’s, and yet this enormous progress in education would not eliminate wars and bloody conflicts. Since the tenth century on up to the present, education has made enormous progress. The number of schools of all kinds, the percentage of literacy, the number of scientific discoveries and inventions have greatly and almost systematically increased, and yet the international wars, the bloody revolutions, and the grave forms of crime have not decreased at all. On the contrary, in the most scientific and most educated twentieth century, they have reached an unrivaled height and made this one the bloodiest of all the twenty­ five centuries of Graeco-Roman and European history.

The same goes for religious changes, if by religion is meant a purely ideological belief in God or in the credo of any of the great religions. One of the evidences for that is given by our investigation of 73 Boston converts “brought to Jesus” by two popular evangelical preachers. Of these 73 converts only one changed his overt behavior in an altruistic direction after his conversion. Thirty-seven converts slightly changed their speech reactions; after their conversion they began to repeat more frequently the words. “Our Lord Jesus Christ” and similar utterances, but their overt behavior did not change tangibly. The remaining converts changed neither their actions nor their speech reactions. If by religious revival and “moral rearmament” is meant this sort of ideological and speech-reactional transformation, it will not bring peace nor decrease interhuman strife, because it represents mainly a cheap self-gratification for psycho­neurotics and sham-religious persons.

The same goes for communist, socialist, or capitalist economic remedies, and for scientific, artistic, legal, or other ways of establishing and maintaining lasting peace in the human universe, when these are not backed by increased altruization of persons and groups. In my Reconstruction of Humanity (1948), I have given the minimum of evidence to substantiate these statements. This assumption positively signifies that without a notable increase of unselfish, creative love (as ideally formulated in the Sermon on the Mount) in overt behavior, in overt inter-individual and intergroup relationships, in social institutions and culture, there is no chance for a lasting peace and for interhuman harmony, internal or external. This, then, was our first assumption, already vindicated to a considerable degree by the existing body of inductive evidence. …

While many modern sociologists and psychologists view the phenomena of hatred, crime, and mental disorders as the legitimate objects of scientific study they quite illogically stigmatize as theological preaching or non-scientific metaphysics any investigation of the phenomena of love, friendship, heroic deeds and creative genius. There is no need to argue the patently unscientific nature of such an attitude. It is but one of the manifestations of the prevalent concentration on the negative, pathological, and subhuman phenomena which is typical for the disintegrating phase of our sensate culture.

— Pitirim A. Sorokin, “The Scientific Search for Love,” Fellowship, April 1956


— posted by Roger W. Smith

      February 2022




See also my post

a recorded Sorokin lecture

a recorded Sorokin lecture