“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
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