The writings of Russian revolutionary and Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin (1889-1968) show him as a great theorist of love who realized the intimate connection between love and truth, beauty, and goodness. Sorokin’s life displays all the components emphasized in this philosophy, beginning with a realization of beauty in nature and the arts, truth in religion and the intellectual life, and goodness in political activity and service to a world struggling in a difficult transition.
Sorokin began his career as a revolutionary leader and organizer in opposition to the Czarist government, which three times imprisoned him. During one period in prison, he was told each day for several weeks that he would be executed the next day. Under this extreme and prolonged stress, he forged a loyalty to values that could not be shaken by threats of death. During the first months after the Russian revolution overthrew the Czar, Sorokin was chosen as secretary to Prime Minister Kerensky; but then the Bolsheviks plunged Russia into anarchy as they fought and took over the revolution.
After the Bolsheviks overturned Kerensky and took power, they expelled Sorokin from his post at the University of St. Petersburg. In the winter of 1921, his task for the government was to study the mass starvation that resulted from the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary disruption of agriculture. Sorokin writes, “My nervous system, accustomed to many horrors in the years of the Revolution, broke down completely before the spectacle of the actual starvation of millions in my ravaged country. If I came out less an investigator, I do not think I came out less a man, less an enemy of any group of men capable of inflicting such suffering on the human race. . . . The memory of what I saw and heard made me absolutely fearless in denouncing the Revolution and the monsters who were devouring Russia.” Until late in life, Sorokin’s response to what he found intolerable was fearless denunciation; eventually love dominated his character, enabling him to let certain things go and respond to other things constructively.
Sorokin’s positivistic, humanistic optimism was shaken by World War and Bolshevik barbarism. This second philosophical crisis led him to striving further for a coherent understanding of life’s contradictions. His struggle culminated in his third philosophy. It was the synthesis that served him to the end of his life—an integration of values into “the Supreme Trinity of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.” “Integralism,” he wrote, “has given me a firm foundation for maintenance of my integrity and has wisely guided my conduct amidst the bloody debris of the crumbling [materialistic] civilization.” Character and conduct, guided by supreme values, enabled this leader to preserve his effectiveness in a crisis. Integralism would pervade his scientific work.
An integrated philosophy is no substitute for courage, but it does guide and reinforce courage. As a sociology professor during the revolution, Sorokin would teach the truths he had found without fear or favor. We learn courage in part by seeing others’ courage and being fortified by it. The Communists in 1921 decreed benefits for Pavlov since he was a famous scientist, but he refused to accept them. Others were equally heroic, refusing to accommodate to the regime. Sorokin testified, “Let anyone who seeks moral heroism turn his eyes to the thousands of people in Russia who, for years, from day to day, from night to night, despite persecution and temptation, have steadfastly replied to the Bosheviki: “Man does not live by bread alone,” and “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.” The moral and spiritual courage of “ordinary” people inspired and upheld this leader.
The conclusion of Sorokin’s 1924 Leaves from a Russian Diary expresses the attitude that would characterize the rest of his life.
Whatever may happen in the future, I know that I have learned three things which will forever remain convictions of my heart as well as of my mind. Life, even the hardest life, is the most beautiful, wonderful, and miraculous treasure in the world. Fulfillment of duty is another beautiful thing, making life happy and giving to the soul the unconquerable force to sustain ideals—this is my second conviction. And my third is that cruelty, hatred, and injustice never can and never will be able to create a mental, moral, or material millennium.
(On May 22, 2014, this blog introduced Sorokin as the prophetic sociologist whose philosophy of history supports hope for a planetary spiritual renaissance.)
In your experience, how do courage and love relate?
This photo of Pitirim Sorokin in 1917 comes from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/02/%D0%9F%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%B8%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%BC_%D0%A1%D0%BE%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%BA%D0%B8%D0%BD.jpg