External Course 

From: "Sociology of My Mental Life", in: Allen, P.J., ed. Pitirim A. Sorokin in Review. The American Sociological Forum. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1963. Xxii; pp.4-36

External Course of My Life

Early 1900s. Town of Veliki Ustug.

Before proceeding with this analysis of my mental development it is necessary to outline the external history of my life. Without such a background it is hardly possible to deal intelligently with the problems of my autobiographical microsociology. The subsequent lines give the main landmarks of my life-course. Eventfulness has possibly been the most significant feature of my life-adventure. In a span of seventy-three years I have passed through several cultural atmospheres: pastoral-hunter's culture of the Komi; first the agricultural, then the urban culture of Russia and Europe; and, finally, the megalopolitan, technological culture of the United States. Starting my life as a son of a poor itinerant artisan and peasant mother, I have subsequently been a farmhand, itinerant artisan, factory worker, clerk, teacher, conductor of a choir, revolutionary, political prisoner, journalist, student, editor of a metropolitan paper, member of Kerensky's cabinet, an exile, professor at Russian, Czech, and American universities, and a scholar of an international reputation.

No less eventful has been the range of my life-experience. Besides joys and sorrows, successes and failures of normal human life, I have lived through six imprisonments; and I have had the unforgettable experience of being condemned to death and, daily during six weeks, expecting execution by a Communist firing squad. I know what it means to be damned; to be banished, and to lose one's brothers and friends in a political struggle; but also, in a modest degree, I have experienced the blissful grace of a creative work. These life-experiences have taught me more than the innumerable books I have read and the lectures to which I have listened. As I stated earlier, my brother and I separated from my father, following one of his violent eruptions while he was under the influence of alcohol; and, not long thereafter, I became "independent" and penniless, but free to chart my own life-course, earning my living as best I could. Subsequently, I was a student at a teachers college; I was arrested and imprisoned four months before graduation because of my political activities in 1906; and then, I became a starving and hunted revolutionary, and a student of a night school, of the Psycho-Neurological Institute, and of the University of St. Petersburg. Two more imprisonments gave me a first-hand experience in criminology and penology—the field of my graduate study and then of my first professorship. Besides several papers, in my junior year I published my first volume on crime.

With the explosion of the Russian Revolution I became one of the founders of the Russian Peasant Soviet (dispersed by the Communists), editor of a metropolitan paper, The Will of the People, member of the Council of the Russian Republic, a secretary to Prime Minister Kerensky, and a leading member of the Russian Constituent Assembly (dispersed by the Communist Government). From the beginning of the Revolution I vigorously fought Lenin, Trotsky, Kamenev, and other Communist leaders. For this reason I was arrested on January 3, 1918, and imprisoned for four months in the Russian Bastille, the Fortress of Peter and Paul.NN Released, I resumed my struggle against the Communists, and I was one of the group which engineered the overthrow of the Communist Government in Archangel in 1918. In October, 1918, I was again arrested and condemned to death by the Communist Government of Vologda ProvinceTooltip trigger goes here.. After six weeks of waiting to be shot, by Lenin's order I was freed and returned to my academic activity at the University of St. Petersburg. There I became the founder, first professor, and chairman of the department of sociology. During the years 1920-22 I published five volumes in law and sociology. In 1922 I was arrested and, finally, banished by the Soviet Government. A few days after my arrival in Berlin my good friend, President Masaryk, invited me to be a guest of Czechoslovakia. I stayed there for some nine months. Having received invitations from the universities of Illinois and Wisconsin to lecture there on the Russian Revolution, in November, 1923, I came to the United States and in 1924 was offered a professorship by the University of Minnesota. After six years of happy work there I was invited to be the first professor and chairman of the sociology department at Harvard University. After 1930 (in which year I became a naturalized American citizen) I lived and worked in this great university until my retirement in 1959.NN In 1948 Mr. Eli Lilly and the Lilly Endowment kindly offered $120,000 for my studies on how to make human beings less selfish and more creative. This generous offer led to the establishment of the Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism in 1949, which I directed until my retirement, after which it became affiliated with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

During my lifetime in America, I have published, besides many scientific papers, some thirty substantial volumes. Most of these volumes have been translated into many languages: Contemporary Sociological Theories into eleven major languages of mankind; The Crisis of Our Age into eight; other volumes into a lesser number of languages. All in all, so far, there have been about forty-two translations of my published volumes.NN This voluminous output of books and articles is due mainly to my deep enjoyment of research and writing. They have served me as the best way of self-realization and of release of my creative propensities, as the most fruitful form of mental and moral growth, and as the purest mode of joyful recreation. Through frustrations and failures inherent, to some extent, in this sort of activity, they have enriched my sense of reality and deepened my perception of the tragic aspects of life. For all these reasons I preferred this sort of creative work to other forms of recreation and spontaneously indulged in it at almost any opportunity I had.

The orderly way of my life in the United States, undisturbed by political and other troubles, and the exceptionally favorable conditions for scientific work offered by the American universities also notably helped in such "paper-wasting" activity. Though my load of teaching and administrative work (at Harvard) was fairly heavy, it still left a great deal of free time for study and writing. I usually did and still do this sort of work in the early morning hours before going to the office and then in the evening hours when free from other engagements. Practically all my writing and study I have done at home and not in my office.

These lines do not mean that I have neglected the dolce far niente of loafing, or the pleasures of various forms of recreation. Following the old precept of Lao-Tse that "doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing" I have idled away plenty of time and rested from my mental work by attending symphony concerts and art expositions; by reading literary masterpieces; by camping, fishing, and mountain climbing; and, for the last twenty-five years, by laboring over my azalea-rhododendron-lilac-rose garden, which is visited by many thousands each season, which has earned me a gold medal from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, and which was starred by full-page color photographs in several national magazines. I have also frequently enjoyed convivial meetings with a limited circle of close friends among whom it has been my good fortune to have several distinguished thinkers, artists, and other leaders of our time. All this shows that I have fully enjoyed loafing, rest, and the finest forms of recreation that renew, enrich, and ennoble human life and turn it into a grand, meaningful, creative, and effervescent adventure.

To finish this brief sketch of my life I must mention that in 1917, during the Revolution, I was happily married to Dr. Helen Baratynskaya, cytologist-researcher in her own right. She has published a number of her studies in botanical and other biological journals and is still continuing her research. For the forty-five years of our married life we seem to have had, as yet, neither time nor sufficient reason for divorce or separation. We have two sons: Dr. Peter P. Sorokin, research physicist with IBM, and Dr. Sergei P. Sorokin, instructor and research associate at Harvard Medical School. Both have already published a number of papers in their fields and both are vigorously continuing their scientific work. Some of our friends nicknamed the Sorokin family "a little Sorokin university" with its own mathematician-physicist, two biologists, and one interloper-philosopher, sociologist, psychologist, and jack-of-all-trades.

Finally, at the age of seventy-three, I am not quite senile, as yet: my health is rather good for my age, I am still "wasting plenty of paper," and I find myself about as busy with my scientific and other activities as I was during my earlier years. Whether the factor of heredity is responsible (though my mother and father died in their thirties and forties) or, as I am inclined to believe, the factor of not having too many vices and not pretending to have many virtues, and especially the factor of pursuing in my life the real and great values, rather than short-lived pseudo-values—whatever is responsible for the delay of my senility, I do not know exactly. Possibly all of these factors have played their role in this matter, particularly the last two.