Category Archives: Brandeis University – my courses & professors

Balzac, “Le Père Goriot”










Complete audio book (in French) posted here.



Le Pere Goriot – Chapter 1 (excepts)



Also, the opening pages of Chapter 1 (as a downloadable Word document, above).






Diana Brown (a voracious and perspicacious reader), host of the site

Thoughts on Papyrus: Exploration of Literature, Cultures and Knowledge

has a new post

“Review: Le Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac”




Her post got me to thinking about Le Père Goriot, one of my all-time favorite books. I read it first in French, in Mr. Walter Albert French 3 class in my freshman year at Brandeis University. Mr. Albert was an outstanding teacher.

I decided to post the complete audiobook, read in the original French.

I will leave the commentary on Le Père Goriot to Ms. Brown. But I recall that my college best friend John Ferris also read the novel in French class, and that it was one of his favorites. John was a sociology major and a polymath. (He encouraged me to go with him to audit a lecture on James Joyce’s story “Araby” by the revered professor and poet Allen Grossman which I never forgot). John made the point to me that Mme. Vauquer’s boarding house in the novel (Le Père Goriot) is a microcosm of society, with the different floors representing different levels of social standing. The unappreciated and neglected (by his social climber daughters) Père Goriot lives in a garret on the top floor.

I have read Le Père Goriot several times in both the original French and English translation.






email, Roger Smith to Diana Brown

July 26, 2020


Loved your brilliant post on “Père Goriot,” Diana. It’s one of my all-time favorite novels and probably Balzac’s best. I first read it in college in French. I had a very good professor for third year French.

I’ve read “Père Goriot” several times in both French and English. It and Balzac’s unique genius can be enjoyed and appreciated on many levels. Mme. Vauquer’s boarding house is indeed a microcosm of society; and she, and the others, is a character only a Balzac or a Charles Dickens could create.









For reference, I have posted the text of the first few pages of Chapter 1, in English translation (by A. J. Krailsheimer), here. The brilliance of the novel is apparent from the first few lines. I have sometimes thought of Balzac as a sort of French Theodore Dreiser (or the reverse); Dreiser in his formative years was greatly influenced by Balzac’s novels. But, without intending disrespect to Dreiser, I would say that Balzac is unquestionably the greater writer. Both Dreiser and Balzac wrote hastily, without fussing over niceties of style. Both had a capacity to create great stories and unforgettable characters.



— posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 2020

Joshua Prawer




English Society in the Early Middle Ages



In the spring 1966 semester, I took the course History 124a, “Feudalism: Medieval Society and Political System,” at Brandeis University.

The course was taught by Professor Joshua Prawer. Prawer, who was a visiting professor on leave for the academic year, was dean of the Faculty of Humanities at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He was an internationally known medieval historian. Books which he later published include The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem: European Colonialism in the Middle Ages, The World of the Crusaders, Crusader Institutions, and The History of the Jews in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.

I took great courses and did well in my first two years of college. I had placed out of a few required core courses, which enabled me to take several higher-level elective courses.





Despite enjoying the courses — greatly — I was a shy, inhibited person in those days, and I was unhappy with the social milieu at Brandeis. I tended to be repressed and taciturn. And diffident among other students and probably in class as well. (I can’t exactly recall.)

I recall that there was no final exam for Professor Prawer’s course, in which I received a final grade of B. There was a required term paper.

My term paper was based on the English historian Doris Mary Stenton’s English Society in the Early Middle Ages (1066–1307), which was published in 1951 as the third volume of the Pelican History of England. She was the wife of the medievalist Sir Frank Stenton, author of Anglo-Saxon England, c550–1087, Volume II in the Oxford History of England.

I recall that I worked fairly hard on the paper and enjoyed Doris Mary Stenton’s book. I was very interested in medieval history and society. I seem to recall that my paper mostly amounted to summarizing the contents and findings of the book and I thought that, on that account, it was probably not a great paper.

To my great surprise (really and truly), I got the paper back with only the following (no other comments or marks): an A+ on the top of the first page and the professor’s comment beneath, “Why didn’t you open up more in the seminar?”

If I may say so without bragging, what this seems to show is that a good writer can write well at any time about almost anything, and under constraints and deadline pressure. It must have been my writing that impressed Professor Prawer. I don’t recall that the paper was otherwise remarkable.


— Roger W. Smith

    January 2020

Mozart, Alexander L. Lipson, and Russian 1 with Professor Gribble



On Thursday, November 16, 2017, I heard a performance at Carnegie Hall of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 16 in E-flat major, K. 428 by the Tetzlaff Quartet. Mozart’s K. 428 is one of his Haydn Quartets, a set of six string quartets that he dedicated to Joseph Haydn.

It is a flawless work. It exemplifies Mozart’s genius. It also brought to mind a sentence in my first-year Russian textbook — written by a famed Slavicist and foreign language teacher, Alexander L. Lipson — which was as follows: “Как и Моцарт, Пушкин написал только шедевры” (Kak i Motsart, Pushkin napisal tol’ko shedevry. Like Mozart, Pushkin wrote only masterpieces.)

The Russian word for masterpieces, shedevry, is the same as and is derived from the French. (Makes me think of the French used by the aristocracy in War and Peace.)

The Mozart piece brought to mind the comparison between Mozart and Pushkin made in the textbook from my college Russian course, and the course itself.





I was eager and thrilled to be able to take introductory Russian in my sophomore year at Brandeis University. The course was taught by Charles E. Gribble. Professor Gribble, who held a doctorate from Harvard, began his teaching career at Brandeis. When I took the course with him, he was in his late twenties. At that time, Professor Gribble was in the preliminary phase of founding an important publishing house for Slavicists: Slavica Publishers. He was the firm’s editor for thirty years.

I was motivated to study Russian for several reasons:

I had discovered the works of the Russian émigré scholar Pitirim A. Sorokin in my senior year in high school. I was totally engrossed in books of his such as Leaves from a Russian Diary. This led to a fascination on my part with Russian culture.

At the time, the Soviet Union was regarded with outright hostility, fear, and suspicion. Being by nature a contrarian, I tended to think differently. Politics aside, I saw, as did Sorokin (to quote from one of his works), “an essential similarity or congeniality in a number of important psychological, cultural, and social values” between the USA and the USSR: vast territories with all that implies (such as various climates, topography, and regional characteristics); rich natural and human resources; major cultural and urban centers; the fact that both countries were world powers; and so on. I was a sort of Slavophil without knowing it.

Russia as I imagined it was a country with vast expanses like us and a multiplicity of nationalities and ethnic groups and with a rich, continually growing culture, including Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (whom at this stage of my educational development I had not yet read) and composers such as Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich (whose works I had already become acquainted with and admired — in fact, Shostakovich’s fifth symphony almost in and of its itself made me a Slavophil). Just like America, Russia was huge, diverse, all encompassing, culturally fertile; and with a vibrant economy. And, I felt intuitively, a rich language.




My previous language study had consisted of a year or two of French in junior high school (a complete waste); four years of high school French, on the basis of which I was placed into third year French at Brandeis University; and two years of high school Latin. Romance languages.

It was a thrill for me to be studying a Slavic language and one with a different alphabet.

Learning the Cyrillic alphabet, in both cursive and print form, was a stumbling block for me, a hurdle to be overcome. It often felt like I was back in the first grade learning my letters and being taught to sound out words phonetically.

Our professor, Charles Gribble, knew the author of the textbook we used, Alexander Lipson, personally. Lipson taught at either MIT or Harvard; I forget which.

Lipson’s first year Russian textbook was in developmental form; it hadn’t yet been published. It consisted of pages that had been copied and bound, but not in book form. Without covers.

It was a clever and entertaining text, besides being well conceived from a pedagogical standpoint.

I was fascinated to find that Russian had cases — six of them — like Latin. (I love studying grammar and cannot understand why modern day self-appointed language “experts,” as they style themselves, want to emend or simplify, essentially emasculate — in the name of political correctness or conforming to their misguided, benighted theories of how language and English composition should be taught — language instruction. See Addendum below.)





The genitive case (possessive) in Russia was introduced early, as follows. There would be an entertaining reading with a lot of words ending in –ого (-ogo), indicating the Russian form for a noun such as doctor’s used in a phrase such as “the doctor’s office.” Even Russian proper nouns have a possessive form, so that “Tolstoy’s house” becomes “Дом Толстого” (dom Tolstogo).

In the next or a subsequent chapter of Lipson’s textbook, the genitive case and its usage and endings would be formally introduced and explained. Since one already had a rudimentary familiarity with it in the previously encountered reading, one assimilated the grammar point with ease. This is sound pedagogy. It’s how we learn the grammar of our native language.





Despite being motivated, I had difficulty with the course.

Some of the students had already taken Russian in high school, which, in the case of a language like Russian with a steep learning curve, put me at a competitive disadvantage, so to speak.

Nevertheless, I persisted. I tried very hard. I spent hours in the language lab, but — despite my best efforts — I always seemed to be a couple of lessons behind the rest of the class.

Professor Gribble said he would take into account class attendance and effort in grading. He kept his word. I got D on practically every quiz and exam. My final grade for the 6 credit course was C.

I have always had a very high aptitude for foreign languages. In French and Latin classes in high school, I was usually (but not always) the best student in the class. The same was the case when I took Spanish as a postgraduate student at Columbia University.

So how does one account of my struggles with introductory Russian? My former therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp, Jr., had an explanation. He regarded it as a case of what one might call “learning inhibition.” When a student feels uncomfortable with the classroom setting and the instructor. This was true of my experience with Professor Gribble. Strangely enough, he was actually a good guy. I went to a web site containing his obituary at

and it was clear that this was the case. (The obituary mentions his concern for and rapport with students.) In the following year (I did not enroll for second year Russian), I would occasionally run into Professor Gribble in the snack bar. He was always pleasant and seemed interested in how I was doing.





Alexander Lipson died in 1980 at the age of fifty-one. He was the author of a three part textbook, A Russian Course, which in its prototype/preliminary form, we had used as our text in Professor Gribble’s course.

In a review published in The Slavic and East European Journal of the book Alexander Lipson in Memoriam (1994), Catherine V. Chvany refers to Lipson as follows:

… language pedagogue extraordinaire, maverick entrepreneur, linguist’s linguist, travel tour designer, and enfant terrible. Though Lipson never completed his own Ph.D., members of his now gray-haired cohort have claimed in my hearing they learned more from Alex Lipson — about language, about Slavic, and about teaching — than from any of their professors.

She also notes “Lipson’s broad interests [which reflected] Lipson’s profound if irreverent knowledge of Russian literature and culture.” One could sense this in the text of his we used, which was much more fun and informative than most language textbooks. And, often, downright funny.

For instance, I will never forget how Chapter One began:

Хулиганы сидят в парке весь день и курят. (Khuligany sidyat v parke ves’ den’ i kuryat; Hooligans sit in the park all day and smoke.)

This was a mockery of Soviet attitudes towards deadbeats.

Another chapter had a reading devoted to the topic of навозные мухи (navoznyye mukhi): manure flies. This was a satire on life on the Soviet колхоз (kolkhoz; collective farm). After this chapter, the Russian word for fly, муха (muka), was permanently implanted in my mind.

Then, there was the aforementioned chapter with a reading on Pushkin. It included a short poem by Pushkin, “Ты и Вы” (“Thou and “You,” 1828) that was accessible to first year students and from which I got a feeling for the enchanting musicality and the sensuality and power of Pushkin’s verse.


Пустое вы сердечным ты
Она, обмолвясь, заменила
И все счастливые мечты
В душе влюбленной возбудила.
Пред ней задумчиво стою,
Свести очей с нее нет силы;
И говорю ей: как вы милы!
И мыслю: как тебя люблю!


Pustoye “Vy” serdechnym “Ty”
Ona, obmolvyas’, zamenila
I vse schastlivyye mechty
V dushe vlyublennoy vozbudila.
Pred ney zadumchivo stoyu,
Svesti ochey s neye net sily;
I govoryu yey: kak vy mily!
I myslyu: kak tebya lyublyu!


She substituted,
by a chance,
For empty “you” — the gentle “thou”;
And all my happy dreams, at once,
In loving heart again resound.
In bliss and silence do I stay,
Unable to maintain my role:
“Oh, how sweet you are!” I say —
“How I love thee!” says my soul.


Russian — as with the French tu and vous or Spanish tu and usted — has two forms (formal and familiar) of the second person pronoun.



— Roger W. Smith

   November 18, 2017






Addendum :


The 1960’s, a learned friend of mine once opined, was the Golden Era of American education. I would not dispute this. I experienced it in English and history courses, in foreign language courses, and in mathematics instruction. To get an idea of how low conceptions of foreign language pedagogy have sunk since Alexander Lipson’s time, one might take a look at the following article:

“Toppling the Grammar Patriarchy,” by Carmel McCoubrey, op-ed, The New York Times, November 16, 2017


“Sorokin” («Сорокин»)


русский перевод см ниже

Для загружаемого документа Word, содержащего текст этого сообщения, см. Ниже.




My essay about the Russian-American sociologist Pitirim A. Sorokin which follows is approximately 4,000 words long. A downloadable Word document, which contains the text of the essay in both English and Russian — is available above.







by Roger W. Smith



The following essay about the Russian-American sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin (1889-1968) comprises an email of mine which was occasioned by a message I received a few days ago from a reader of this blog.






Thanks for contacting me about Pitirim A. Sorokin. I am glad you discovered my blog posts about him.

Sorokin is one of my intellectual and personal heroes. I have always admired him. Greatly. He is one of my intellectual idols. I revere him on account of his works; his deep and earnest thought; his sincerity; his originality; the excitement which I felt upon encountering his works as an intellectually curious and intellectually hungry adolescent; and the fact that he always gave me the feeling of being a kindred spirit, one whose views could not be pigeonholed and who wasn’t afraid to take unpopular positions. (Sorokin used the oxymoron Conservative Christian Anarchist to describe his Weltanschauung — world view. Conservative Christian Anarchist was used by Henry Adams to describe himself, as Sorokin noted.)





I discovered Sorokin in my local public library at age 17 when I was a senior in high school. (It seems that practically every important book I ever read was discovered by serendipity, as was the case in this instance.) There was a book on the library’s shelves which caught my eye: “The Crisis of Our Age” by one P. A. Sorokin, whom I had never heard of.

“This looks interesting,” I thought.

Philosophy of history.

“The Crisis of Our Age” was an intensely stimulating and exciting read for a 17 year old with an interest in history and, especially, the history of ideas (in contrast to event-based history, which has never had much interest for me).

I could not put the book down, devoured it. It was a very rewarding intellectual exercise for me at that stage in my intellectual development. It challenged me, stimulated me mentally, and greatly expanded my intellectual horizons. I was introduced to numerous big words which I dutifully looked up, greatly expanding my knowledge of abstract words used in academic writing and discourse. (“Syncretism” is one I recall.) The book enlarged for me the mental landscape and scope of my knowledge of intellectual history.

History was one of my best subjects, and I wound up majoring in it in college. The book was not actually history, and it was anything but the usual dry academic tome or fact-laden historical monograph. It was a mélange of historical, cultural, social, and intellectual history plus interpretive analysis by Sorokin. It was supposedly an objective sociological work, a condensed version of the author’s four volume magnum opus, “Social and Cultural Dynamics.”

It was anything but objective, despite the statistical charts and data, collected laboriously by the author and research assistants, which supposedly provided the “scientific” (or social scientific) underpinnings for his findings. For “findings,” one should perhaps substitute pronouncements or sweeping assessments.





Over the course of time, I learned about Pitirim A. Sorokin’s personal life.

He was born in 1889 among the Komi, a Uralic ethnic group in the northeast of European Russia. He was orphaned at an early age and eventually became a student at a teacher’s college. He was arrested and imprisoned in 1906 for anti-czarist revolutionary political activities. Upon the outbreak of the so called February Revolution (in March 1917), he became a founder of the Russian Peasant Soviet, which was dispersed by the Communists. He was, from the beginning of the Revolution, vehemently opposed to Communist leaders such as Lenin and Trotsky.

He was arrested twice by the Bolsheviks and was condemned to death, but was freed on Lenin’s orders and allowed to return to his academic activities as a professor at the University of St. Petersburg. In 1922, he was banished from the Soviet Union. He emigrated to the United States in 1923 and, in 1930, was invited to become the first professor and chairman of the Sociology Department at Harvard University. He retired from teaching duties in 1955, but continued to write. He was a controversial figure and vigorously opposed trends in the Harvard sociology department after stepping down as chairman.





Sorokin had pretensions to be a scientist – a social scientist – and believed he was using the scientific method. He larded his books with statistics; but the “science” and statistical analysis somehow never seemed convincing, and it appeared that what he really was, was a social philosopher, not a social scientist.

The scientific slant, such as it was, in his thinking and writing undoubtedly came from his studies at the Psycho-Neurological Institute in Petrograd and the University of St. Petersburg under scholars such as Ivan Pavlov. He became, in the words of Sorokin biographer Barry V. Johnston, “an empirical neopositivist.”

I agree with critics such as Arnold Toynbee who found fault with Sorokin’s methodology and accused him of creating a tautological work, a massive tautology. Essentially, they said, he decided what he was going to say first, then engaged in pseudoscientific research to prove what was for him a foregone conclusion, with shoddy methodology and biases that predetermined what his research would find. Then, the critics seemed to be saying, he propagated simplistic, self-evident conclusions. The art of the Idealistic period (e.g., the Middle Ages) was spiritual in its focus and nature. The art of our present, Sensate era is not spiritual; there is much nudity and erotic content. And so on. The present, Sensate era is overly materialistic and has become decadent (plus the factor of aggression and bloodshed between nations), but a new, more spiritual era will right things, so to speak, because history is cyclical. The focus of the Idealistic Middle Ages was otherworldly. The Ideational period shows a mixture of Idealistic and Sensate elements and represents a transitional phase.






Sorokin saw history as cyclical and as alternating periodically between recurring phases: Ideational, Idealistic, and Sensate. To illustrate what Sorokin meant by these three types of cultures or cultural phases predominating at various periods in history, a timeframe helps:

Ideational — the High Middle Ages represented such a culture in full flower. “Its major principle or value was God.”

Sensate — it began roughly with the sixteenth century and is based on the premise or ethos that “True reality and value is sensory”; it reached its apogee (and unleashed monstrous destructive forces) in the twentieth century.

Idealistic — a mix of the above two cultural types; represented by European culture in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. “Its major premise was that true reality is partly super sensory and partly sensory.” St. Thomas Aquinas is one exemplar of such thinking.

It should be noted that Sorokin believed that these three cultural forms alternated rhythmically over all historical time. He includes examples from antiquity as well.





Shoddy methodology? I would say yes. But, for an intellectually curious high school student, this was indeed exciting stuff — it seemed profound. And, I have great respect, as stated above, for Sorokin the man and scholar. He wasn’t afraid to attack big themes, and some of his work is profoundly original and important in its implications.

Sorokin counterattacked his critics caustically. He loved a good fight. Despite expressing profound admiration for Arnold Toynbee’s oeuvre, he felt, not surprisingly, that Toynbee’s works were conceptually and methodologically flawed in several important respects wherein Sorokin thought his own works surpassed Toynbee’s. (Ditto for the work of another philosopher of history, Oswald Spengler, whose works Sorokin found to be unpersuasive and methodologically flawed.)

It has been said that Sorokin was an arrogant scholar. Perhaps so. Nevertheless, I found much to like and admire about him.






On the first day of freshman orientation at Brandeis University, my mother accompanied me to the campus and spent the day with me. We sort of took in the whole place. Among other things, I had to check out the library, which met with my approval. The first thing I did was to go to the card catalogue. “Let’s see if they have Sorokin’s works,” I said to her. They did, several works. I was pleased, and my mother beamed, showing that she shared my enthusiasm vicariously.

In my freshman year, I took English Composition. For our first assignment, we were told to write a paper in which we were instructed to “define style,” which I tried mightily to do. (I didn’t quite understand what underlay the assignment.) In the next class, the instructor singled out my paper for criticism. I thought it was pretty good, and one or two other students in the class (notably Ricardo Millett, an exchange student from Panama who went on to have a distinguished academic career) felt so too.

In the paper, I quoted a passage from “The Crisis of Our Age” as an example of what I considered an excellent, distinctive style:

The crisis is here in all its stark and unquestionable reality. We are in the midst of an enormous conflagration burning everything into ashes. In a few weeks millions of human lives are uprooted; in a few hours century-old cities are demolished; in a few days kingdoms are erased. Red human blood flows in broad streams from one end of the earth to the other. Ever expanding misery spreads its gloomy shadow over larger eras. The fortunes, happiness and comfort of untold millions have disappeared. Peace, security and safety have vanished. Prosperity and well-being have become in many countries but a memory; freedom a mere myth. Western culture is covered by a blackout. A great tornado sweeps over the whole of mankind. (“The Crisis of Our Age,” pp. 14-15; note: the book was published at the beginning of World War II)

The instructor, Robert Stein (a chain smoker known to students as “C plus Stein”), read the passage out loud in class and pounced on me for making such a claim. He drew a red line through my paper and wrote something like “No!” in the margin. Purple prose, he said. Exactly the OPPOSITE of excellence of style. (The freshman comp Bible in those days was Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.” Sorokin would probably have had difficulty passing a course of theirs.) I was taken aback by Stein’s criticisms and his take on Sorokin the writer.






Sorokin does have a characteristic style which could easily be parodied, should one care to. He uses jargon and his own private verbiage, “Sorokinisms” (“intellectual chewing gum” for example), when he feels it will serve his purposes. He will use big words (which is not necessarily a “sin”), actual or near neologisms, and words and phrases drawn from various languages, especially (and notably) Latin — he was addicted to Latin mottoes. He can be guilty of “overwriting.” Yet, his style is basically clear, punchy, and arresting. He wants, above all, to communicate.

He obviously had linguistic ability. His native language was Komi (a language spoken in the northeastern European part of Russia). I was interested to read that, as Sorokin wrote, in later life, he had forgotten it. He was, of course, fluent in Russian from his school days on. He knew both German and Latin — knowledge of the former served him well for sociological studies — and undoubtedly other languages (apparently including Italian) as well. He learned English after emigrating in the mid-1920’s. Some of his faults as a stylist — and I feel that in many respects he was actually an excellent writer — may have been attributable to imperfect knowledge of English.






I wrote a research paper on Sorokin for the freshman comp course. One day I encountered Mr. Stein in the college snack bar. Despite being regarded as a prickly and difficult teacher, he found my writing to be good and showed respect for me. “Why are you so hung up on Sorokin?” he asked. He apparently knew a former Harvard student who had studied under Sorokin (or knew someone who had) and from that person had learned that Sorokin was regarded as something of a crackpot at Harvard. This surprised me, and though I was not about to alter my views, I did later learn more about Sorokin that seemed in accord with what Mr. Stein had said. A few anecdotal factoids emerged:

— Sorokin could be “over the top” as a lecturer in that the whole course – he taught a required course at Harvard, Social Relations, which was popular and heavily subscribed – was devoted to his theories. He was said to regard himself as a great thinker up there with Aristotle and who knows else?

— Some graduate students (according to their reminiscences) found him difficult to have as an academic advisor. (But not all; he was beloved by some former students.)

— Sorokin had been ousted as department chairman in a bitter power struggle with Talcott Parsons. They detested one another and each had contempt for the other’s theories and methodologies. Their approaches were diametrically opposed, Parsons being the classic dry social scientist, Sorokin the quixotic figure writing jeremiads. (“Quixotic” was a term my former therapist actually used to describe him.)

— Sorokin wasn’t even teaching by the time I took Mr. Stein’s course. He was still writing and lecturing, but he had already retired from Harvard. (He retired from teaching in 1955 and continued on as director of a research institute at Harvard which he had founded until 1959).





Not knowing that Sorokin had already retired, I asked my older brother, who was attending Harvard, whether he knew of Sorokin. He did not, but he said that if Sorokin was still teaching at Harvard, we would certainly attend one of his lectures together. Needless to say, this never came about.

My father also attended Harvard at a time when Sorokin, who taught at Harvard from 1930–1955, was teaching there. My father’s transcript indicates that he took Social Relations 1a and Social Relations 1b, a two semester sequence comprising a required core course, in the 1948-1949 academic year. I am certain that the course would have been taught by Sorokin. But my father (who may or may not have been aware of my interest in Sorokin, I don’t recall) and I never discussed Sorokin.






Influenced by Sorokin, I chose sociology as my major at Brandeis. I had some excellent sociology professors (notably Gordon Fellman and Lewis A. Coser, whom Sorokin new personally), but the courses were a letdown and I changed my major to history. Sorokin was NEVER mentioned. Sociology on a grand scale it was not (although we did read sociologists such as Durkheim and Max Weber who wrote seminal works of a similar scope).





Insofar as my extracurricular reading of Sorokin was concerned, I progressed from theoretical works, e.g., “The Crisis of Our Age” — which was based on the Lowell Lectures which Sorokin delivered at Harvard University in 1941; the book was actually a condensed version, aimed at the general reading public, of what Sorokin considered his major scholarly work — to reading autobiographical works of his.

“Leaves from A Russian Diary” (1924; enlarged edition with afterword, 1950), which details Sorokin’s experiences as a revolutionary opponent of the Czarist government, an official in the short lived Kerensky government, and an anti-Bolshevik, was a work that I could not put down. It has a cogency and dramatic interest, being written at white heat, so to speak, that make it compelling. It reads like a novel, a sort of “Les Misérables” minus about a thousand pages. l feel that it is an underrated book and could never understand why it never achieved a wide readership. For me, it is the best book on the Russian Revolution, the only one I practically ever read about it, in fact. It made me feel what the revolution must have been like. I regard it as a classic, and I felt it was very well written, much more so than when Sorokin was writing as a scholar.






“Russia and the United States” was another one of my first Sorokin books. It was not readily available, but our college library had it and, as was customary for me, I read it on my own, independently of coursework. The book held my interest from start to finish.

I have always felt that “Russia and the United States” is one of Sorokin’s best books, modest though it may be in scope. In fact, I think that the fact that Sorokin was not overreaching in this book is part of its value and appeal. Also, Sorokin got it right. It’s a sensible book, written at a time when the Soviet Union was regraded with outright hostility, fear, and suspicion, and written by a scholar (Sorokin) who had been banished from the USSR, barely escaping execution, because of his fervent anti-Communism.

I read the book at a time, the mid-1960’s, when the Cold War was at or near its zenith, when the USSR was regarded as our mortal enemy. I myself had rarely harbored anti-Russian feelings, but I was keenly aware, along with everyone else, of the political undertones. When Khrushchev stood beaming in a cornfield during a visit to the USA in the late 1950’s and pictures were published in newspapers the next day, one of our teachers told us, “Don’t let him fool you. You can never and should never trust him.”

What Sorokin said, basically, in “Russia and the United States,” which was published in 1941 — meaning that it was written before the USSR became our wartime ally — was that a careful study of the lineaments, so to speak, of the two countries would reveal that they actually had much in common as countries and societies, and that the two nations would eventually become less hostile to one another over time because of commonalities.

As Sorokin put it, the two countries “exhibit an essential similarity or congeniality in a number of important psychological, cultural, and social values”: vast territories with all that implies (such as various climates, topography, and regional characteristics); rich natural and human resources; major cultural and urban centers; the fact that both countries were world powers; and so on.

This seemed counterintuitive at the time, but I sensed then that Sorokin was right, and history proved him right, insofar that the Cold War came to an unexpected end. I myself had always admired the USSR – if not as a political entity – as a country with vast expanses like us and a multiplicity of nationalities and ethnic groups with a rich, continually growing culture ranging from Tolstoy and Dostoevsky to Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky. Just like America. Huge, diverse, all encompassing, culturally fertile; and with a vibrant economy.






Sorokin’s autobiography, “A Long Journey,” came out when I was in college. I had to read it. I am so glad I acquired and read it when I did. It is truthful and revelatory, not in the sense of a confessional, but in the sense that Sorokin is straightforward and unafraid to tell it as he saw and experienced it, without worrying about how this or that comment or remark about others might be received. Underneath the academic theorizing, he was a simple man with simple tastes and plain, unvarnished, almost childlike, feelings. (He took great pride in a garden of his at his home in Winchester, Massachusetts, which won awards from horticultural societies; he came of peasant stock and was proud of it.)

It ranges in subject matter from Sorokin’s days as a revolutionary, to his becoming an emigre, his early teaching career in Minnesota, his Harvard years, and, interestingly, his family life, his love of music (he was a good friend of Boston Symphony Orchestra music director Serge Koussevitzky), his love of the outdoors, and disputes with scholars. He was miffed when, as an emeritus, he submitted a paper to the American Sociological Review that was rejected. He is unapologetic about opinions of his which often ran counter to prevailing academic and intellectual fashions. It makes for interesting reading. Dull he is not.






I have perused over the years but have never read as carefully as I would have liked “Social and Cultural Mobility” and “The Sociology of Revolution.” The latter work, written by Sorokin in the early 1920’s when he was a refugee in Czechoslovakia, asserts that all revolutions are disasters in the making which result in the unleashing of violent and destructive forces in lieu of social amelioration. “A society which has never known how to live,” Sorokin wrote, “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.” This is characteristic Sorokin. He was not given to dry summations or mealy-mouthed pronouncements. (Note: I have, since this writing, read “The Sociology of Revolution.” It is a remarkable work which, despite somewhat “old fashioned’ scholarship, has not become outdated or less valid despite having been published almost a hundred years ago.)







In the mid-1970’s, I was in a second rate bookstore in lower Manhattan one Sunday and found a remaindered copy of a book of Sorokin’s that had been posthumously published by a university press: “Hunger as a Factor in Human Affairs.” T. Lynn Smith, a former academic colleague and friend of Sorokin’s, had lovingly prepared the book for publication, along with Sorokin’s widow, Elena P. Sorokin, the translator. The book contained wonderful illustrations of Sorokin and his family from his wife’s collection. What’s more, it was a compelling read.

“[Hunger as a Factor in Human Affairs] was written by Sorokin during the Russian famine of 1919-1921 while he was still in Russia. It was written by a starving and freezing scholar in the midst of a famine that he felt was caused by the revolution to which he was very hostile. Banished from the Soviet Union in 1922, Sorokin managed to smuggle out some proofs which lay untouched until 1972 when Sorokin’s wife Elena began [a] translation.” (

“Hunger as a Factor in Human Affairs” — titled in the original Russian “Golod kak faktor: vliyaniye goloda na povedeniye cheloveka i sotsial’nuyu organizatsiyu zhizni” (Hunger as a factor: the impact of hunger on people’s behavior, social organization of life) — was a compelling book not simply because of the circumstances under which it was written but owing in part to conclusions derived from them. Sorokin, then a professor at the University of Leningrad, wrote it under conditions of great privation during the Russian famine. The book concludes with remarks by Sorokin that seem to have wide applicability: that, when food is scarce, government control and repression increase. Sorokin, noted for his colorful, pithy phrasing, concludes with the words “Caveat consules!” (let the consuls beware).

The book was a revelation for me. Often, I have found with writers in general that their early works are among their best. This was certainly true of Sorokin. One could see him here, in one of his first books, in a “pristine” state — when he was perhaps less preachy and less addicted to writing in a sometimes overblown fashion, in the manner of a grand scholar — at his best. It is a provocative, original, and groundbreaking work, and one from which the conclusions can be extrapolated and applied to various governments and economic conditions. Sorokin’s main point was stated as follows on the penultimate page:

Ceteris paribus, with the increase of the wealth of a country and a decrease of famine, and if there is an average proprietary differentiation, the curve of compulsory statism will decrease under any power and form of government, and vice versa.

In other words, there is an inverse relationship between scarcity or abundance of food and the degree of individual freedoms permitted versus the lack of it. Think of the United States, where food has always been abundant, famine conditions have never been known, and individual freedoms are greater than those permitted in most of the world.






I also read “The American Sex Revolution,” also while in college, which is a hopelessly outdated book. But, at least Sorokin was bold enough to tackle the subject.




— Roger W. Smith

   February 2017; updated April 2019






Addendum: The same points which Sorokin made in his seminal work “Golod kak factor” (translated into English by his wife and published posthumously in the United States in 1975 as “Hunger as a Factor in Human Affairs”) are made in an article by Sorokin entitled “Impoverishment and the Expansion of Governmental Control” which was published in the American Journal of Sociology in 1926 (American Journal of Sociology, vol. 32, no. 2, Sept. 1926) shortly after Sorokin had arrived in the United States and been appointed a professor at the University of Minnesota.

In the article, drawing on examples from various historical periods and civilizations, Sorokin makes incisive points with wide applicability about governmental control, noting that, when there is a yawning gap between the relative economic conditions of the rich and the poor and when food is scarce, government control and repression increase.

This article is posted here as a downloadable PDF file.








Addendum: Please note that I have many articles about Pitirim A. Sorokin and some articles by Sorokin that I would be willing to share. My email address is available in the “About” section of this site. — Roger W. Smith






Pitirim A. Sorokin, autobiographical (from “Sociology of My Mental Life”)

Pitirim A. Sorokin, autobiographical (from “Sociology of My Mental Life”)







 Роджер У. Смит



В представленном ниже эссе о русско-американском социологе и социальном философе Питириме Александровиче Сорокине (1889-1968) приведено электронное письмо, написанное мной в ответ на сообщение, полученное несколько дней назад от читателя этого блога.






Спасибо, что написали мне о Питириме Александровиче Сорокине. Я рад, что вы прочли посты о нем в моем блоге.

Сорокин – мой герой, как ученый и как личность. Я всегда им восхищался. Он один из моих интеллектуальных идолов. Я преклоняюсь перед ним за его работы; глубину и серьезность его мысли; его искренность; его оригинальность; воодушевление, которое я ощутил, познакомившись с его работами, которые оказались интересными в интеллектуальном плане, они утоляли мой юношеский интеллектуальный голод; я как будто встретил родственную душу, человека, взгляды которого и сегодня не потеряли свою актуальность и который не боялся отстаивать непопулярные мнения. (Сорокин описывал свое Weltanschauung (мировоззрение) при помощи оксюморона «консервативный христианский анархист». Как отмечал Сорокин, «консервативным христианским анархистом» называл себя Генри Адамс.)





Я впервые познакомился с работами Сорокина в местной публичной библиотеке, когда мне было 17 лет, и я учился в старших классах. (Наверное, практически все стоящие книги, которые я когда-либо читал, попались мне под руку совершенно случайно, и это как раз такой случай.) На полке в библиотеке мое внимание привлекла книга с названием «Кризис нашего времени» П.А. Сорокина, о котором я никогда не слышал.

«Это интересно», – подумал я.

Философия истории.

Книга «Кризис нашего времени» оказалась мотивирующим и захватывающим чтением для 17-летнего юноши, интересующегося историей и, в частности, историей идеологии (в отличие от истории на основе событий, которая меня никогда не интересовала).

Я не мог оторваться от этой книги, наслаждался ею. На том этапе моего интеллектуального развития это был чрезвычайно полезный опыт. Книга стала вызовом, мотивировала меня, позволила расширить интеллектуальные горизонты. Я старательно искал в словарях значения новых слов, и в результате существенно расширил словарный запас за счет абстрактных слов, которые используются при написании научных работ и ведении интеллектуальных дискуссий. («синкретизм» – одно из таких слов.) Книга расширила мой кругозор и знания в области интеллектуальной истории.

История – один из моих любимых предметов, который я выбрал в колледже в качестве профильного. Нельзя сказать, что это книга по истории, она точно не похожа на привычный сухой академический труд или перегруженную фактами историческую монографию. Это синтез исторической, культурной, социальной и интеллектуальной истории с интерпретативным анализом Сорокина. Предположительно, это объективное социологическое исследование, краткая версия четырехтомной монографии автора «Социальная и культурная динамика».

Но эта книга – точно не объективная работа, несмотря на все статистические таблицы и данные, кропотливо собранные автором и его ассистентами, которые, вероятно, предоставили «научную» (или социально-научную) базу полученных им результатов. «Результатами» стоит, наверное, считать высказывания или радикальные оценки автора.





С течением времени я узнал о личной жизни Питирима А. Сорокина.

Сорокин родился в 1889 году в республике Коми, уральской этнической группе на северо-востоке европейской России. Он осиротел в раннем возрасте, а повзрослев стал студентом учительского колледжа. В 1906 году он был арестован и заключён за анти царскую революционно-политическую деятельность. В начале так называемой февральской революции (в марте 1917 года) он стал основателем Русско-крестьянского Совета, который был отменён коммунистами. В начале революции Сорокин был ярым противником коммунистических лидеров как Ленин и Троцкий.

Сорокин дважды был арестован большевиками и был приговорён к смертной казни, но по приказу Ленина он был освобождён и получил разрешение вернуться к своей научной деятельности в качестве профессора в Санкт-Петербургском университете. В 1922 году он был выслан из Советского Союза. Он эмигрировал в Соединённые Штаты Америки в 1923 году, и стал профессором социологии в Университете Миннесоты, где он преподавал с 1924 по 1930 год. В 1930 году он был приглашен президентом Гарвардского университета Абботтом Лоуренсом Лоуэллом, чтобы стать председателем и основателем нового отдела Социологии в Гарвардском университете. В 1955 году он ушёл с преподавательской деятельности, но продолжал писать. Он был спорной фигурой и активно выступал против тенденций в социологическом отделе Гарварда даже после ухода с поста председателя.


Сорокин претендовал на звание ученого – социолога – и полагал, что использует научный метод. Его книги переполнены статистикой; но «наука» и статистический анализ никогда не казались убедительными, поэтому на самом деле он был социальным философом, а не ученым-социологом.

Научный уклон в его размышлениях и работах, несомненно, связан с его учебой в Психоневрологическом институте в Петрограде и в Санкт-Петербургском университете под руководством таких ученых, как Иван Павлов. Он стал, по словам биографа Сорокина Барри В. Джонстона, «эмпирическим неопозитивистом».

Я согласен с критиками, такими как Арнольд Тойнби, который раскритиковал методологию Сорокина и обвинил его в создании тавтологических работ, серьезной тавтологии. По сути, они говорили, что он сначала решал, что именно хочет сказать, затем приступал к псевдонаучному исследованию, чтобы доказать заранее известный вывод, используя ненаучную методологию и ошибочные суждения, которые заранее предопределяли, какой именно результат будет получен в ходе исследования. Затем, говорили критики, он выдавал банальные и очевидные выводы. Искусство идеалистического периода (например, Средних веков) было духовным по своей цели и сути. Искусство настоящей, чувственной эпохи не духовно; в нем много обнаженного и эротического содержания. И так далее. Настоящая, чувственная эпоха чрезмерно пропитана духом материализма и декадентства (плюс фактор агрессии и кровавой вражды между нациями), но новая, более духовная эра все исправит, так сказать, потому что история циклична. Идеалистическое Средневековье было сосредоточено на потустороннем мире. Идеациональный период – это смесь идеалистических и чувственных элементов, это переходная фаза.





Сорокин видел историю как цикличное развитие, как периодическую смену повторяющихся фаз: идеациональной, идеалистической и чувственной. Проиллюстрировать, что именно Сорокин подразумевал под этими тремя типами культур или культурными фазами, преобладающими в разные периоды истории, можно при помощи временных рамок:

Идеациональная культура – Классическое Средневековье стало периодом расцвета такой культуры. «Его основной принцип и ценность – Бог».

Чувственная культура – этот период начался примерно в шестнадцатом веке, главная идея чувственной культуры: «Настоящая реальность и ценность лежит в сфере чувственности»; своего апогея она достигла в двадцатом веке (и выпустила на волю чудовищные разрушительные силы).

Идеалистическая культура – это смесь двух описанных выше типов; примером является европейская культура тринадцатого и четырнадцатого веков. «Основная идея в том, что в настоящей реальности сочетаются сверхчувственная и чувственная стороны». Св. Фома Аквинский – один из примеров такого мировоззрения.

Сорокин считал, что эти три типа культуры циклично сменяют друг друга в ходе исторического развития. Он также приводит примеры из античности.






Ненаучная методология? С этим я бы согласился. Но для любознательного учащегося старшей школы это был действительно интересный материал – он казался мудрым и глубоким. И, как я писал выше, я уважаю Сорокина как личность и как ученого. Он не боялся работать с крупными темами, некоторые его работы и выводы являются действительно оригинальными и глубокими.

Сорокин саркастично нападал на своих критиков. Он любил хорошие схватки. Естественно, он чувствовал, что работы Тойнби не выдерживают критики. (То же касается и другого специалиста в философии истории, Освальда Шпенглера, чьи труды Сорокин считал, что неудивительно, неубедительными и методологически слабыми.)

Говорили, что Сорокин был заносчивым ученым. Возможно. Но я вижу много причин, чтобы им восхищаться.





В день знакомства для первокурсников в Брандейском университете моя мама сопровождала меня в студенческий городок и провела со мной целый день. Мы хотели разведать обстановку. В частности, я должен был ознакомится с библиотекой и я оценил ее по достоинству. Первое, что я сделал – пошел в картотеку. «Разрешите посмотреть, есть ли у вас работы Сорокина»,– сказал я сотруднице. У них было несколько работ. Я обрадовался, а мама просто просияла, почувствовав мой энтузиазм.

На первом году обучения я выбрал курс литературной композиции на английском языке. Нашим первым заданием было написать работу, в которой нужно было «дать определение стиля». Я выполнил задание с большим усердием (я не очень понял суть задания). На следующем уроке преподаватель выбрал мою работу для анализа. Я решил, что это хороший знак, еще пару студентов в классе подумали то же самое (в частности, Рикардо Миллет, студент по обмену из Панамы, который впоследствии сделал успешную научную карьеру).

В работе я процитировал отрывок из книги «Кризис нашего времени» как пример того, что я считал отличным, выразительным стилем:

Кризис наступил во всей своей суровой и бесспорной реальности. Мы находимся в эпицентре бушующего пожара, который сжигает все дотла. За несколько недель разрушаются миллионы человеческих жизней; за несколько часов уничтожаются древние города; за несколько дней исчезают с лица земли целые королевства. Красные реки человеческой крови разливаются по всей земле. Под мрачную тень горя и страданий попадают все большие и большие территории. Благосостояние, счастье и комфорт миллионов людей исчезают. Мира и безопасности больше не существует. Во многих странах благосостояние и процветание – не более чем воспоминание, а свобода – всего лишь миф. Это полное затмение Западной культуры. Мощное торнадо захлестнуло все человечество. («Кризис нашего времени», стр. 14-15; примечание: книга была опубликована в начале Второй мировой войны.)

Преподаватель, Роберт Штайн (заядлый курильщик, которого студенты называли «C плюс Штайн»), вслух прочел отрывок на уроке и набросился на меня за такое утверждение. Он красной ручкой перечеркнул мою работу и написал что-то вроде «Нет!» на полях. «Высокопарный слог, – сказал он. – Нечто ПРОТИВОПОЛОЖНОЕ совершенству стиля». (В те времена библией первокурсника, изучавшего литературную композицию, была книга «Элементы стиля» Странка и Уайта. Сорокин вряд ли успешно прошел бы этот курс.) Меня застигла врасплох критика Штайна и его мнение о Сорокине как о писателе.






У Сорокина нет характерного стиля, который при желании можно было бы легко скопировать. При необходимости он использует жаргон и им самим придуманные слова, «сорокинизмы» («интеллектуальная жвачка», например). Он использует сложные слова (что само по себе не является прегрешением), неологизмы или нечто похожее на них, а также слова и фразы, взятые из разных языков, в частности (чаще всего) из латыни – он обожал латинские изречения. Его можно обвинить в «витиеватости». Но его стиль в целом можно охарактеризовать как понятный, эффектный и запоминающийся. Прежде всего, он стремится донести информацию.

У него, очевидно, были хорошо развитые лингвистические способности. Его родным языком был язык коми (используется на северо-востоке Европейской части России). Мне было интересно узнать, что как писал сам Сорокин, он с годами забыл этот язык. Конечно, еще со школьных лет он свободно говорил на русском языке. Он знал немецкий и латинский – знание последнего пригодилось ему при проведении социологических исследований, – а также другие языки (в том числе итальянский). После эмиграции в середине 1920-х он приступил к изучению английского. Некоторые его стилистические ошибки – а я убежден, что во многих аспектах он был замечательным писателем – можно объяснить его недостаточными познаниями в английском.






В рамках курса литературной композиции я написал исследование о Сорокине. Однажды я встретил г-на Штайна в буфете колледжа. Несмотря на репутацию строгого и придирчивого учителя, он хорошо отозвался о моей работе и уважительно отнесся ко мне. «Почему вы так увлечены Сорокиным?» – спросил он. Он, видимо, был знаком с бывшим студентом Гарварда, который учился у Сорокина (или знал кого-то, кто учился у него), и от него узнал, что Сорокина в Гарварде считали чудаком. Это удивило меня и хотя я не был готов изменить свои взгляды, позже мне стало известно больше о Сорокине, что подтверждало слова г-на Штайна. Появилось несколько отдельных неподтвержденных фактов:

– Сорокин мог «перегибать палку как лектор», в результате чего весь курс – а он преподавал в Гарварде обязательный курс, общественные отношения, который был популярен у студентов

– был посвящен его собственным теориям. Говорили, что он считал себя великим мыслителем, наравне с Аристотелем и неизвестно кем еще…

– Некоторые студенты-аспиранты вспоминали, что с ним сложно было общаться как с научным руководителем. (Но не все; некоторые из его бывших студентов любили его.)

– Сорокина сняли с должности заведующего кафедрой в результате сложного противостояния с Толкоттом Парсонсом. Они с презрением относились к теориям и методологиям друг друга. Их подходы были диаметрально противоположными: Парсонс был классическим сухим социологом, а Сорокин – эксцентричным чудаком, который писал наполненные эмоциями работы (мой бывший врач называл его «сумасбродом».)

– Когда я записался на курс г-на Штайна, Сорокин уже не преподавал. Он все еще писал и читал лекции, но уже ушел из Гарварда (он перестал преподавать в 1955 году и продолжал работать директором исследовательского института в Гарварде, который был основан им в 1959 году).





Я не знал, что Сорокин уже не преподает, и спросил старшего брата, который учился в

Гарварде, знает ли он Сорокина. Он не знал, но сказал, что если он все еще преподает в Гарварде, мы обязательно сходим на одну из его лекций вместе. Стоит ли говорить о том, что сделать это нам не удалось.

Мой отец также учился в Гарварде в тот период, когда там преподавал Сорокин (он преподавал в Гарварде с 1930 по 1955). Судя по записям отца, он посещал 2-семестровый курс общественных отношений 1a и 1b, в который входил обязательный базовый курс, в 1948-1949 учебном году. Я уверен, что этот курс вел Сорокин. Но мы с отцом (я не помню, знал ли он о моем интересе к Сорокину) никогда не обсуждали Сорокина.






Находясь под влиянием Сорокина, я выбрал социологию своей основной специальностью в Брандейском университете. Я учился у замечательных профессоров-социологов (в частности, у Гордона Феллмана и Льюиса А. Козера, которых Сорокин знал лично), но курсы меня разочаровали, и я сменил специальность, выбрав историю. Сорокина НИКОГДА не упоминали. Фактически, это не была социология в полном масштабе (хотя мы читали аналогичные по области действия фундаментальные труды таких социологов, как Дюркгейм и Макс Вебер).






Что касается моего знакомства с трудами Сорокина вне учебного курса, после прочтения теоретических работ, таких как «Кризис нашего времени» — которая была основана на лекциях Ловела которые Сорокин читал в Гарвардском университете в 1941 году; книга книга была фактически является предназначенной для широкого круга читателей краткой версией книги, которую Сорокин считал своей фундаментальной научной работой — я приступил к чтению работ, написанных им собственноручно.

Я не мог оторваться от книги «Страницы из русского дневника», в которой Сорокин описывает свой опыт революционно настроенного оппонента царского режима, чиновника временного правительства Керенского и антибольшевика. Книга убедительна и драматична, в ней чувствуется напряжение, которое делает ее интересной. Это практически роман, можно сказать «Отверженные» без пары тысяч страниц. Я считаю, что эту книгу недооценивают, и не понимаю, почему ею не заинтересовалась широкая аудитория читателей. Как по мне, это лучшая книга о российской революции, фактически единственная книга, которую я прочел на эту тему. Благодаря ей я почувствовал, какой была революция. Я считаю эту книгу классикой, к тому же она отлично написана, гораздо лучше, чем Сорокин писал, как ученый.






«Россия и Соединенные Штаты» – следующая из первых прочитанных мной работ Сорокина. Ее не было в свободном доступе, но я нашел ее в библиотеке нашего колледжа и, как обычно, прочел самостоятельно, не в рамках учебы. Я с интересом прочел книгу от начала до конца.

Я всегда считал, что «Россия и Соединенные Штаты» – это одна из лучших работ Сорокина, хоть и небольшая по объему. Тот факт, что Сорокин тут не перегибает палку, повышает ее ценность и привлекательность. Сорокин все правильно изложил. Это разумная работа, написанная в период, когда Советский Союз ассоциировался с открытой враждебностью, страхом и подозрительностью, написанная ученым (Сорокиным), которого выслали из СССР, которому едва удалось избежать казни, так как он был ярым антикоммунистом.

Я прочел эту работу в середине 1960-х, на пике холодной войны, когда СССР считался смертельным врагом. Я едва ли испытывал антироссийские чувства, но, как и все вокруг, был в курсе политических настроений. Во время визита в США в 1950-х Хрущев с широкой улыбкой стоял посреди кукурузного поля, а на следующий день эти фотографии были во всех газетах. Тогда один из наших преподавателей сказал нам: «Не позволяйте ему обмануть вас. Ему нельзя доверять».

В работе «Россия и Соединенные Штаты», которая была опубликована в 1941 году – то есть до того, как в военное время СССР стал нашим союзником – говорится, что если тщательно изучить особенности двух стран, то окажется, что между этими странами и их общественной жизнью очень много общего, благодаря чему их народы через время станут менее враждебными друг другу.

Сорокин утверждал, что две страны «обладают похожими или одинаковыми психологическими, культурными и общественными ценностями»: обширные территории со всем, что к ним прилагается (разные климатические зоны, рельеф и региональные характеристики); богатые природные и людские ресурсы; крупные культурные центры и города; тот факт, что обе страны являются мировыми державами; и так далее.

В то время это звучало парадоксально, но я чувствовал, что Сорокин был прав, а впоследствии его правоту доказала сама история, когда холодная война неожиданно прекратилась. Я всегда восхищался СССР, если не как политической единицей, то как страной с обширными территориями, как и наша страна, с многообразием национальностей и этнических групп, с богатой развивающейся культурой, начиная с Толстого и Достоевского и заканчивая Мусоргским и Чайковским. Точно как Америка. Огромная, разнообразная, всеобъемлющая, с богатой культурой и бурно развивающейся экономикой.






Автобиография Сорокина «Долгое путешествие» была опубликована, когда я учился в колледже. Я просто обязан был ее прочитать. Я очень рад, что приобрел и прочел ее. Это правдивая и откровенная работа, речь не о признаниях, а об откровенности автора – он не боится рассказывать правду о событиях, не переживая о том, как будут восприняты те или иные комментарии или замечания о других людях. Если отвлечься от научных теорий, он был простым человеком с простыми вкусами и простыми, открытыми, почти детскими чувствами. (Он гордился своим садом в Винчестере, Массачусетс, который был удостоен наград от садоводческих сообществ; он гордился своими крестьянскими корнями.)

В автобиографии описаны различные события – времена, когда Сорокин был революционером, эмиграция, начало преподавательской карьеры в Миннесоте, его годы в Гарварде и, что интересно, его семейная жизнь, любовь к музыке (он дружил с дирижером Бостонского симфонического оркестра, Сергеем Кусевицким), любовь к свежему воздуху, дискуссии c учеными. Он был раздражен, когда, будучи профессором в отставке, подал работу в American Sociological Review и получил отказ. Он не склонен извиняться за свои взгляды, которые часто идут вразрез с преобладающими научными и интеллектуальными настроениями. Книга получилось интересной, скучной ее точно не назовешь.






Я просмотрел, но так и не прочел с должным вниманием, как бы того хотел, «Социальную и культурную мобильность» и «Социологию революции». В «Социологии революции», написанной Сорокиным в начале 1920-х, когда он был беженцем в Чехословакии, автор утверждает, что все революции являются катастрофами в действии, которые приводят к высвобождению мощных разрушительных сил вместо улучшения ситуации в обществе. «Общество, которое никогда не знает, как жить», — пишет Сорокин, — «которое неспособно провести адекватные реформы, а вместо этого бросается в объятия революции, должно заплатить за свои грехи смертью существенного количества людей». Это характерное для Сорокина высказывание. Он не любил сухих выводов или туманных высказываний. (Примечание: со времени написания этой статьи я прочитал «Социология революции». Это замечательная работа, которая, несмотря на несколько «старомодную» стипендию, не устарела и не стала менее действительной, несмотря на то, что была опубликована почти сто лет назад ». )








Однажды в воскресенье в середине 1970-х я зашел в книжный магазин в Нижнем Манхеттене и обнаружил там уцененный экземпляр книги Сорокина, которая была опубликована посмертно университетским издательством — “Hunger as a Factor in Human Affairs” («Голод как фактор, влияющий на поведение людей»). Т. Линн Смит, в прошлом коллега и друг Сорокина, подготовил книгу к печати вместе с вдовой Сорокина, Еленой Петровной Сорокиной, переводчиком. В книге размещены замечательные фото Сорокина и его семьи из коллекции его жены. Это захватывающая книга.


Сорокин написал «Голод как фактор, влияющий на поведение людей» во время голода в России в 1919-1921 гг., пока он все еще был в России. Книга написана страдающим от голода и холода ученым в разгар голода, который, по его мнению, начался из-за революции, к которой он относился крайне враждебно. Сорокин был выслан из Советского Союза в 1922 году и сумел вывезти доказательства, которые лежали без дела до 1972 года, когда его жена Елена начала их переводить [a]. (


«Голод как фактор: влияние голода на поведение людей, социальную организацию жизнЬ» (его оригинальное русское название) это потрясающая книга, не только из-за обстоятельств, в которых она была написана, но и частично из-за сделанных выводов. Сорокин, который на тот момент был профессором Ленинградского университета, написал эту работу во время голода в России в условиях строгой секретности. Книга заканчивается выводами Сорокина, которые можно считать универсальными: если пищи недостаточно, правительственный контроль и репрессии увеличиваются. Сорокин, известный своей любовью к цветистым фразам, завершает работу словами «Caveat consules!» (консулы, будьте бдительны).


Книга стала для меня откровением. Я неоднократно приходил к выводу, что зачастую ранние работы писателей являются одними из лучших их работ. И это конечно же касается работ Сорокина. Здесь, в одной из его первых книг, мы видим его в первоначальном виде — когда он был менее нравоучительным и менее склонным к высокопарному стилю, к стилю великого ученого — это его лучшее состояние. Это провокационная, оригинальная и новаторская работа, выводы которой можно экстраполировать и применить к разным правительствам и экономическим условиям. Главная мысль Сорокина изложена на предпоследней странице:


Ceteris paribus, по мере повышения благосостояния страны и ликвидации голода, при средней дифференциации собственности, принудительный государственный контроль ослабевает независимо от типа власти и формы государственности, и наоборот.


Иными словами, наблюдается обратная зависимость между дефицитом или изобилием пищи, степенью личных свобод и их нехваткой. Посмотрите на Соединенные Штаты, где пищи всегда достаточно, условия голода никогда не возникали, а личных свобод больше, чем где бы то ни было.







Я также прочел книгу «Американская сексуальная революция», еще в колледже, которая оказалась безнадежно устаревшей. Но Сорокин хотя бы был достаточно смел, чтобы коснуться этой темы.



– Роджер У. Смит

   Февраль 2017 г.






: Сорокин использовал те же идеи в своей конструктивной работе Голод как Фактор (переведён его женой на английский язык и опубликован посмертно в соединённых штатах в 1975 году как Hunger as a Factor in Human Affairs) в написанной им статье озаглавленной “Обеднение и расширение государственного контроля” которая была опубликована В Американском журнале социологии в 1926 году (Американский журнал социологии 32, 2, сентябрь 1926 года) вскоре после того как Сорокин прибыл в Соединённые Штаты и был назначен профессором в университете Миннесоты.

В статье, описаны примеры из различных исторических периодов и цивилизаций, Сорокин использует острые идеи широко применимостью о государственным контролем, примечая,что, когда огромный разрыв между относительно экономических условий

богатых и бедных и когда не хватает еды, государственный контроль и рост репресий.

Эта статья размещена ниже как загружаемый файл PDF.






смотрите также


Primitive A. Sorokin, autobiographical (from “Sociology of My Mental Life”)

Pitirim A. Sorokin, autobiographical (from “Sociology of My Mental Life”)






Добавление: Обратите внимание, что у меня есть много статей о Питириме А. Сорокине и некоторых статьях Сорокина, которые я бы хотел поделиться. Мой адрес электронной почты доступен в разделе «About» этого сайта.

Большинство статей на английском языке.

– Роджер У. Смит






“Humanities 12, The Pre-Socratics, the Theory of Forms; Baseball”




“Humanities 12, The Pre-Socratics, the Theory of Forms; Baseball”

by Roger W. Smith



In the country of baseball, time is the air we breathe, and the wind swirls us backward, and forward, until we seem to be reckoned in time and seasons that all time and all seasons become the same. Ted Williams goes fishing, never to return to the ballpark, and falls asleep at night in the Maine summers listening to the Red Sox on radio from Fenway Park; and a ghostly Ted Williams continues to play the left-field wall, and his flat swing meets the ball in 1939, in 1948, in 1960. In the country of baseball, the bat swings in its level swoop, the ball arcs upward into the twilight, the center-fielder gathers himself beneath it, and Dixie Walker flies out to Willie Mays.


— Donald Hall, Fathers Playing Catch with Sons: Essays on Sport (Mostly Baseball)







At Brandeis University, a college with a heavy liberal arts orientation which I attended in the 1960’s, I took a year long course in my sophomore year: Humanities 12, “Nature and Value.” It was a philosophy course.

In the first semester, we studied the Greek Pre-Socratic philosophers. In the second semester, we read the works of philosophers such as Kant and Hume.

Philosophy has never been my strong point. It leaves me confused and mystified.

The professor for the first semester, the course on the Pre-Socratics, was Peter Diamandopoulos.

Professor Diamandopoulos, who died recently, was at that time a rising academic star. He became dean of faculty at that time and went on to become a university president, serving successively as the president of Sonoma State University and then president of Adelphi University. Details of Diamandopoulos’s compensation package at Adelphi resulted in a conflict of interest investigation, which got wide publicity, and his removal from his post as president.

The second semester of the course was taught by an eminent philosophy professor, Henry David Aiken, who had just left a tenured position at Harvard and joined Brandeis in the fall of 1965.

I barely recognize Professor Diamandopoulos, a Greek-American who was born on Crete, from photos on the Internet, taken in his later years. When I took his course, he had a young, pudgy face and jet black hair.

I was at a complete loss in his course. To me, his lectures made no sense. There is one and only one thing that I remember from the course: that a Pre-Socratic philosopher was known for his observation that “whatever is, is.” Of course, I didn’t remember his name, but I Googled the statement. It was made by Parmenides of Elea, a Pre-Socratic philosopher from either the late sixth or early fifth century BC.

I had a sense of reductio ad absurdum when I heard the statement repeated over and over again by Professor Diamandopoulos.

Professor Aiken, whom I had for the second semester, seemed at times to be verging on mental instability. I cannot say this with anything like certainty. I had no knowledge of his actual mental or psychological state. But he acted histrionic while lecturing. He would pound the lectern and would be almost shouting in his high pitched, squeaky voice. Again, I had almost no idea of what he was talking about and did not understand most of the readings. (Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason was just words and was basically unintelligible to me. I should make it clear that this says nothing whatsoever about Kant and a lot about my own stupidity.)

Again, as was the case in the first semester with Professor Diamandopoulos, I remember almost nothing, except that the professor repeatedly used Aristotle’s phrase Zoon politikon (political animal). He said it again and again, pounding the lectern for effect each time.

At some point in the Humanities 12 course, we read Plato’s Republic, translated by Allan Bloom. It actually made some sense to me. We also read Plato’s Timaeus, which I found to be interesting and very well worth reading.





An aside.

At the end of the second semester, there was a final exam, as usual. I had gotten a B in the first semester under Professor Diamandopoulos.

I did as well as I could – it was an essay exam. I was pretty good at writing answers to essay questions even when I knew very little, but this time I felt it was hopeless. I had learned hardly anything, had retained practically nothing, was just about as ignorant of philosophy at the end of the course as at the beginning.

In those pre Internet days, it would take a while to find out one’s final grade. We would put a self addressed postcard inside the blue book when we handed it in, with “EXAM GRADE _____ / “FINAL GRADE _____” printed in ink, to be filled in and returned by the grader.

A week or two later, the postcard came back, indicating that I had received an A for the second semester. Not even an A minus!

I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t figure out how. As I recall, my grade on the midterm, which would have been factored in when calculating the course grade, was low.

I thought about it for a few days. I had a summer job on campus. I decided that there must have been a mistake and that I had been given someone else’s grade. So, I went to the department office. Of course, none of the professors was there, but I explained the situation to the department secretary. I said to her, in so many words: “I just got back my course grade for Humanities 12b. It was a straight A. I hadn’t been doing well all year. I’ll bet it was a mistake and that my exam booklet got mixed up with someone else’s. I don’t deserve an A, and I don’t want someone else to get a lower grade that they didn’t deserve when it was intended for me.”

The department secretary looked at me kindly and said, “I think you had best let the grade stand.”





Which brings me to baseball. You may be wondering, quite rightly, how did he get there?

Well, although I was at a loss in philosophy, I did enjoy reading Plato. I remember learning about his Theory of Forms (also known as the Theory of Ideas).

I have, when engaged in idle speculation, sometimes thought about Platonic forms as they do or might apply to what I perceive in the world around me.

I have often thought of baseball teams as illustrating the Theory of Forms.

Baseball teams, as is well known, have identities — “personalities,” so to speak. I have thought this may have something to do with the stadiums they play in, e.g., Yankee Stadium, the corporate headquarters for an efficient, well oiled winning machine made up of ballplayers who function as cogs in the machine and interchangeable parts; Fenway Park, a cozy, quirky place for ballplayers with separate identities and non conformist personalities who sometimes screw up and don’t always win; and so on.

Anyway, I have thought about this more specifically in terms of the players’ POSITIONS.

Why is it that the Red Sox have always seemed to have great left fielders (but, not necessarily, great center fielders)? It seemed as if, when Ted Williams retired, there had to be another Williams caliber player to take his place. The Theory of Forms required it.

Why do the Yankees, who had one star after another in center field, never seem to have had a star left fielder?

Why do the Red Sox seem to have historically had bad fielding but good hitting infielders (second baseman after second baseman who couldn’t make the double play)?

The Dodgers an ace (or perhaps two at the same time) with future Hall of Famer credentials?

Why have the Mets never seemed able to find a good third baseman (at least until recently)?

And so on.

I am sure you get the point.

An interesting idea, or a stupid one?

You tell me.



— Roger W. Smith

     December 2016

a message to an old friend


Ella Lou Rutledge was a friend of mine from high school days. We were both very active in Liberal Religious Youth (LRY) and belonged to the Norfolk Suffolk Federation of LRY in Massachusetts.

Ella and I attended the same college, as is noted below.


— Roger W. Smith

      August 2016




from: Roger Smith

to: Ella Rutledge

January 25, 2016



I recall you enrolling as well as me for a freshman humanizes course at Brandeis on Greek poetry, Humanities 5. We both ended up in Humanities 6, Literature of the Bible.

I recall that you were there when we showed up at the door of the building for Humanities 5 and found out that the class had been canceled.

I learned a whole lot from the Literature of the Bible course. It was an easy A. Genesis; Ecclesiastes; Job; Amos, Hosea, and other prophetic books; and so on.

I definitely was in that class! They used to call me (behind my back) “the goy.”

Have you seen that Norfolk-Suffolk Federation newsletters which I posted on my blog at?

There are eleven newsletters from the years 1962 through 1964, totaling around 45 to 50 pages. Some issues are missing. You were editor for almost all of them.

[Rev.] John Coffee saved them.

Also, Phil Pierce also sent me a copy of the tribute to John Coffee at John’s memorial service. I posted it at:

And, Phil also sent me a copy of four page letter about Midwinter Conference from John Coffee to me in 1964. It is posted at:

Some people I remember well who are mentioned in the fed newsletters are you (of course), George Kaldro, Phil Pierce, Dick Ryan, Steve Cooper, Cappy Pinderhughes, John Coffee, Melissa McQuillan, Dave Klotzle, Paul Klotzle, Bob Day, Dick Barnaby, Richard Derby, Chuck Forrester (President of continental LRY), Peter Baldwin (advisor from the UUA), Bruce Elwell, Rev. Jack Hammon, Russ Weisman, Eileen Day, Charlie McGlynn, Kathy Phair, Larry Jaffa, Gordon Hall, Larkie Colebrooke, Leon Hopper (executive director of LRY prior to Peter Baldwin), Bill Moors, Dick Hood, Cal Mosher, John Ertha, my brother Pete Smith, Rev. Kenneth Patton, and Chris Adler.

There were some other names which, when I saw them, reminded me of people I knew but had forgotten about: Martha Chickering, Herb Weeks, Chandler Newton, Rick Corley, Jane Urich, Lorna Laughland, Rev. Carl Scovel, Wally Fletcher, and Jean Nichols.

The May 1963 fed newsletter had a story based on a supposed popularity poll. The headline read, “ROGER SMITH VOTED MOST IMMORAL BOY IN FED!” John Coffee cooked this up and took great delight in his joke. The joke was that I was regarded as such a straight arrow. See:

The November 1963 fed newsletter contained a review of a made up book, Pest Control in the Pripit Marshes, signed “J.C.” I was at John [Coffee’s] apartment with other LRY’ers who were visiting when he wrote this piece. Maybe you remember this.

In another issue, there is a plug for the book Growing Up Absurd by Paul Goodman. I actually got to meet Goodman a few years later in New York when I was hired to house sit in his apartment for a few days and walk his dogs while he was traveling. I was performing alternative service as a CO then.



Ellie Lou Rutledge

Ellie Lou Rutledge



Roger, 'mug shot,' Brandeis University, fall 1964.jpg


Professor Joachim Gaehde








Brandeis University Art History professor Joachim Gaehde passed away three years ago. I had not thought about him for years and learned about his death from an online obituary:

May I be permitted a few words about the professor and his course?

“Gem” is a good word for Prof. Gaehde. He was very dedicated and serious in class, but you could tell that he was a very warm person.

I learned things from his obituary that I never knew and about which, when taking his course years ago, I had no clue:

that he was a Jewish refugee from Germany;

that he had two children who survived him;

that his wife, Christa Gaehde (nee Christa Maria Schelcher), “was renowned in the field of conservation and restoration of art on paper, and worked for many of the top American museums.”

I took two courses with Professor Gaehde: one on early medieval art and one on the art of the high Middle Ages.

I loved the courses; they complemented the ones I was taking with Professor Norman F. Cantor on medieval history.

I barely passed. I got a C in one of the two semesters and a C- in the other semester.

Art history was never my strong point. I am especially bad at architecture (e.g., church architecture). I still can’t for the life of me tell what a flying buttress is.

But Professor Gaehde was a dedicated, enthusiastic teacher and a fine lecturer. He introduced us to much fine, rich, and beautiful art — particularly illuminated manuscripts, many of which are at the Morgan Library in New York City.

He would note that this or that illuminated book was at the Morgan Library, and I would be saying to myself, “that’s funny, wouldn’t they be in a MUSEUM rather than a LIBRARY?”

Professor Gaehde was not an easy grader, but I liked him and his course and got a lot from it, despite my subpar performance. It shows that grades can be a misleading indicator (sometimes) of the value of educational experience.

What I most enjoyed was the illuminated manuscripts that we learned about – mainly, the Carolingian, Gothic, and Romanesque manuscripts and the complex, fascinating Irish art, the former including the Lindisfarne Gospels and the latter the Book of Kells.

I rarely missed a lecture.



— Roger W. Smith

      June 2016

Psych 132b



The following is a true story. I haven’t thought about it for a long time.

An obituary in the The New York Times of June 25, 2016 of Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham reminded me of it, indirectly.

One paragraph of the very interesting and well written obit struck me particularly:

As a teenager, [Cunningham] got a part-time job at the department store Bonwit Teller, then received a scholarship to Harvard, only to drop out after two months. “They thought I was an illiterate,” he said. “I was hopeless, but I was a visual person.”

 I immediately thought that this was on an on target comment, a bit of perceptive self-analysis. And, I thought about myself.

Cunningham, the fashion photographer, was obviously right brained. He was not equipped — mentally, so to speak — for the Harvard curriculum. (Which does not mean he was stupid; intelligence is complex and multi-faceted.)

I am just the opposite. I am totally left brained. I can read and write very well, but at right brain tasks, I am hopeless. A complete idiot.

At Brandeis University, a liberal arts school which I attended, most of the work involved reading and writing. Heavy reading loads. Term papers. Essay exams.

At the end of the semester, there would be a three hour final exam. You were given a blue book and a few essay questions. It was like pulling teeth. You would scribble and scribble and hope to get a good grade or at least pass. I would usually fill up two or three blue books, would hand them in exhausted, would usually not finish until the three hours were up.

I tended to do well, often with very little preparation. The reason: I could write an essay on particularly any topic and spin it like a spider weaving a web, if given just a few facts, a grain of knowledge, to work with.

I also knew how to “protect” myself. Be clear, be succinct, don’t make wild statements you can’t back up, don’t stray off topic, answer the question.




In the spring of 1968, in my senior year, I took a course, Psych 132b, “Psychology of Emotions,” with Professor James B. Klee, who was a colleague of the famed psychologist Abraham Maslow.

Professor Klee was the typical psychology prof, it seemed – almost like a parody of one. He spoke in a high pitched, squeaky voice. He wore a bolo tie and causal sport jackets. He had a beard, of course.

He seemed like a nice guy, but I got nothing out of the course. Professor Klee would ramble on and on about various topics, theories, and books. I had absolutely no idea what the was talking about — he might as well have been lecturing in German. The only thing I can recall is that he spent a lot of time talking about ectomorphs and endomorphs. I could not for the life of me ascertain what the difference between the two types was, how it pertained to the lectures, or why it was important.

He worked into his lectures all sorts of theories that mystified me: religious thought as it pertained to human psychology, for example.

I never did the required reading.

The course came to an end, mercifully; the day for the final came.

As it so happened, I had no time to study. I was up all night writing a term paper for another course. I barely finished in time to pass it in and to get to campus in time for the Psych 132b final, which was at an early morning hour.

An important factor relative to all this was that three of my roommates – Ron Ratner, Tony Camilli, and John Ferris – were also taking the course. They thought it would be gut course. They had encouraged me to take it.

Ratner, Camilli, and Ferris spent the night before the final preparing for it in a joint “cramfest.” They had not done most of the reading, either. But, they did some last minute studying and pooled their slight knowledge.

We lived together in a house in Newton Highlands, MA, about twenty or thirty minutes away by car from campus.

Ratner drove me and the other roommates to campus. They told me just before leaving, “don’t worry, we’ll tell you all you need to know.”

They coached me in the car. They enumerated the books on the reading list and gave me capsule summaries of their content. I forget what most of the books were. But, one that I do recall that we had been assigned was a book by theologian Paul Tillich.

“Tillich,” they said (words to that effect). “All you have to know are three things: being vs. non-being, the concept of absolute faith, courage as an affirmation of being.” That’s not what they actually said, but their mini-lecture in the car went something like this.

I took the exam, scribbling furiously in my blue book, trying to remember what my roommates had told me. I had only that to work with. A kernel or two. A few concepts, buzzwords. But it was enough.

The grades came back. My roommates were disappointed. They all got worse grades than I did: a couple of C’s, a B minus.

I got the highest grade of the four of us: a B on the final exam and a B for the course.



— Roger W. Smith

      June 26, 2016


















my history professor, Norman F. Cantor



‘Norman F. Cantor’



Judy Cantor-Navas

to Roger Smith

July 1, 2016


Hello Roger,

Thank you very much for sending me the blog post you wrote about my father.

It was a lovely surprise. I know he would have been so pleased to have read it. It was interesting and gratifying for me to read how a student saw him, and know more of what his classes were like. And you took 3 classes with him!!

You preceived and remember a lot about his personality. He did love to tell stories and make jokes. Above all he loved to teach and to write, and to read. Besides his family, that was what was important to him, and that was what he dedicated most of his days to throughout his life. Although, as you noted, he liked watching baseball -and football- on TV. He also liked to cook, and was quite good at it.

I know that his strong opinions made him a controversial figure, but he believed in fighting for what he thought was right. In the Brandeis years, when I was a little girl, there were often students in our house. I loved living in Lexington- thanks for bringing that time back to me!







Roger Smith to Judy Cantor-Navas

July 2, 2016



Hi, Judy.

To say I was pleased to hear from you would be an understatement.

I worked hard on the essay (tribute) on your father. He meant a great deal to me as a teacher.

I noted from Facebook that you went to New York University, as did I as a graduate student. Once, in the 1980’s, I saw your dad on a street corner in the NYU neighborhood. I did not make an attempt to speak with him. He would not have remembered me.

in a Wikepeida article about your father


I read the following:

Cantor was intellectually conservative and expressed deep skepticism about what he saw as methodological fads, particularly Marxism and postmodernism, but he also argued for greater inclusion of women and minorities in traditional historical narratives.
A feeling I got about your father – I am not sure that this is right – was that he could be very liberal minded, but that he distrusted phony liberalism. In this respect, his thinking (if I have intuited correctly what it actually was) resembled mine (or, one should say, mine resembles his) and it resembles that of my hero Samuel Johnson, who was suspicious of liberal hypocrisy and had no patience with cant.

A fellow student of mine at Brandeis told me a story (I had graduated already, but he was still there) – it may be apocryphal – that in 1969 when black students took over the campus briefly and shut it down, your father put a sign on his office door saying something to the effect that he was against totalitarianism and “storm trooper” type actions, or whatever you might call them (perhaps one might say putsches) from any side, be it the right or the left. I am a liberal democrat, but I am totally against PC.

You mentioned that your father loved to cook. I was very interested to learn this.

As noted in my essay (tribute), I absolutely loved being in your father’s class. His erudition, wit, and personality.

He was a great writer.

I recently got around to actually reading his textbook, Medieval History, from cover to cover. It was something that I never did when I took his course; we were assigned sections to read. I enjoyed so much reading it at my leisure without missing anything.

Thanks again very much for your response.
Roger Smith







Norman F. Cantor — a noted medieval history professor, an inspiring teacher whose textbook on the subject reads like anything but a textbook — was THE medieval history professor of the past couple of generations.

It was my great good fortune to take several courses with Professor Cantor at Brandeis University in the 1960’s. This alone makes me grateful that I attended this particular school.

Professor Cantor passed away, sadly, in September 2004 at the age of seventy-four.

I say sadly because, in my experience, not only was he a great, popular teacher, he was the sort of person you felt you would have liked to get to know better.

I took the following courses at Brandeis — where he taught only briefly before moving on — with Professor Cantor:

Europe in the Later Middle Ages (sophomore year; spring 1966); grade A-

Civilization of the Early Middle Ages (junior year; fall 1966); grade A-

Topics in Medieval History (proseminar, 2 semesters; senior year; 1967-68); grade B+

I recall vividly the excitement I felt when I learned that Professor Cantor, who had been teaching at Columbia University and had become disgruntled with the Columbia history department, would be coming to Brandeis.

A roommate of mine, Ronald Ratner, also a history major, had learned from an older brother, who was a Columbia student, that Professor Cantor was decamping for Brandeis. “Cantor is coming to Brandeis next semester!” Ron announced.

I had recently changed my major to history, which I should have majored in in the first place. It was a natural subject for me.

My main interest was actually historiography — I liked to read good historical WRITING. I was mainly interested in how history was written and presented, more than the actual events themselves. My knowledge of history in terms of facts and chronology was then and has always been weak.

I had for a long time been yearning to learn about the Middle Ages. They have an intrinsic fascination. But there were few good medieval history professors anywhere, it seemed, even at top universities. If there even was a medieval history professor at Brandeis prior to Professor Cantor, I was not aware of it.

I can still remember much of Professor Cantor’s lectures. His witty remarks. For example:

— that knights (jousters) were like today’s professional athletes – they would retire and open a tavern with a sign outside showing them in armor;

— that St. Jerome, translator of the Bible into the Vulgate, was the sort of man who liked to sit and chat at the medieval equivalent of church coffee hours;

— that 99 percent or so of people in the Middle Ages believed literally in heaven and hell.

This last point Professor Cantor made by devising a ridiculous chart for our benefit and amusement. “You want statistics,” he said. “I’ll give them to you.” And, then he sketched a chart on the board, with made up statistics showing the percentages of medieval people who believed literally in heaven and hell, those who questioned the idea, and so on.

In appearance, he was sort of goofy looking. He wasn’t what you would call prepossessing, but he didn’t seem to care. He had the necessary confidence for a teacher; he knew he was good.

He was fit and still young when I took his courses, a former athlete, I was told. And, he was not slovenly in dress or appearance.

He had an impish wit and an infectious laugh. He delighted in taking you by surprise with a sally, but he was never mean or arrogant.

In the second course I took with Professor Cantor, in my junior year, the class met from four to six p.m. on Thursdays, once a week. It was the fall of 1966.  We had a class during the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles. The class would always have a short break at the midway point. During class on October 6, 1966, the same day as game two of the World Series, when time for the break arose, Professor Cantor adjourned the class. “I’m sorry,” he said (something to that effect), “but after all it’s the World Series and Sandy Koufax is pitching,” shrugging his shoulders (a characteristic mannerism of his) as if he were helpless to do otherwise. The game started late per East Coast time because it was in Los Angeles.

Cantor was a spellbinding lecturer. He had a folksy, down to earth speaking style and a rich voice. He spoke totally off the cuff, without notes and without a lecturer’s equivalent of histrionics.

His lectures were full of amusing and memorable anecdotes; brilliant aperçus; frequent jokes whereby he displayed formidable wit; asides intended to stir you and make you think; brilliant comparisons between one historical period and another or to the present day; considerable erudition, based on wide reading, that was brought to bear; analogies that would enable you to perceive and grasp ideas, controversies, and personalities that otherwise would have seemed remote, foreign, or strange to the modern student; and so on. He had the class eating out of his hand.

It was sheer pleasure to be part of the audience.

I had read St. Augustine’s Confessions in high school. Professor Cantor devoted considerable time to lecturing on the Church Fathers. He made the theological and philosophical disputes of the day come alive. He wrote in his textbook:

For his philosophic system [Augustine] was deeply indebted to the Platonic tradition, but his work sounded the death knell of ancient philosophy. He inaugurated a new world view. Socrates and Plato had identified knowledge with virtue: if a man knows what is good, he will do good. Augustine shows easily that this doctrine violates the realities of human life. It is obvious that men frequently know what good is but are powerless to pursue it. It is obvious, as Augustine contends, that man is not a rational animal, that will has primacy over reason, that man’s emotional, irrational tendencies preclude the following of dictates of reason.

Augustine’s doctrine, Professor Cantor contended, amounted to “religious existentialism” and prefigured modern psychology.

I said that Professor Cantor was a nice man. (His wit was sharp but gentle.) Once, I experienced this in a way that had a direct effect on me.

I was a horrible procrastinator when it came to term papers. I did write one A paper for Professor Cantor that he praised highly. But, in another course, I dashed off a paper which I completed slightly after it was due. It was too late to turn it in in class. I resolved to leave the paper in Cantor’s office without any further delay. But the building was locked. Unsure of what to do, I felt I had to somehow make it evident that I had finished the paper. So, I taped it to the front door of the history department building, affixing a note to it with big printed letters saying that the paper should be delivered to Professor Cantor’s office ASAP.

Time passed and the paper was not returned to me. A bit hesitantly, I made a trip to Professor Cantor’s office and asked him about it. “Oh, yes,” he said, “I remember that the janitor said something or other about a paper. I seem to recall that I got it, but I’ve lost it. I guess I have no alternative but to give you an A.”

Professor Cantor was aware of his popularity — like most born teachers, he had a strong ego. But he could be self-deprecating in a charming fashion.

As noted above, I took a proseminar course with him. A proseminar is a course that includes both graduate and undergraduate students. The course called for an individual student to deliver a paper on a given week, followed by class discussion. At the end of the term, Professor Cantor declared that the course had been more or less a failure. “I guess it’s mostly my fault,” he said.

Professor Cantor was brilliant when it came to describing the schools of medieval history:

The English institutional school – Cantor used the analogy of an acorn growing into a tree. The institutional school looked to the past to answer the question: how did our enlightened system of government and law come into existence?

Dialectical and sociological approaches – here, the emphasis was on history of ideas, an area in which Professor Cantor was brilliant and stimulating.

The devotional-personal school – it focused on “capturing the attitudes and mores of medieval religious leaders.” An outstanding exemplar of this approach, in Cantor’s exposition, was the English historian M. D. Knowles, who wrote a four-volume history of English religious orders. So much of what was happening in society in those days was ecclesiastical, the professor explained, that one could, by focusing on monasteries, uncover a lot of what was happening in that period. In other words, the monasteries were where you needed to look.

Cantor encouraged us to read the elegant writings of R. W. Southern, another English historian, with whom Cantor had studied. In monographs such as his The Making of the Middle Ages, Cantor explained, Southern “is able to talk of twelfth century churchmen as contemporaries and friends.”

The Annales school – – this school seems to have quickly become arid — few of its practitioners have had the brilliance of one its cofounders, Marc Bloch.

Professor Cantor introduced us to Bloch the man and his theory of history. Bloch, who was shot by the Nazis as a member of the French Resistance, wrote under duress during the Second World War an uncompleted, posthumously published book: Apologie pour l’histoire ou Métier d’historien (published in translation as The Historian’s Craft). Thanks to Professor Cantor, I read it. And read it several times over thereafter. It was an original, immensely stimulating book.

To summarize — as best as I can with only a layman’s knowledge – Bloch rejected event-based, factually based history. This appealed to me because, as noted above, I was always weak on the facts, and I found a lot of chronological narrative history to be dry and dull.

Bloch cautioned historians not to rely overly on written sources but instead to seek out the “tracks” of medieval men. So, say, one wants to know about society during the reign of some medieval king. You may get a lot of misleading information in an account of his reign written by someone from that time – a court chronicler bent on flattery and praise, say, or perhaps a churchman with a grudge against the civil authorities. Instead, you should make active use of other sources that were not left behind intentionally, but which can unravel mysteries for us: sources such as economic data, demographics, agriculture, linguistics, coins, ships, and so forth. They can tell us a lot more than the official sources can and provide mute empirical data.

Professor Cantor was always enlivening his lectures with interesting nuggets so that scholarship was vital, a monograph wasn’t just a book – it had been written by SOMEONE, an individual with strengths and limitations as a historian, writer, intellectual, and scholar, as well prejudices.

For instance, in lecturing on the English institutional school, he demonstrated that the study of the history of law – what one might think of it as a dry subject — can be immensely informative. (It was an area of study that Cantor took great interest in.) He told us about an English historical work of immense importance, the two volume The History of English Law Before the Time of Edward I by Frederic William Maitland and Frederick Pollock. Cantor said that Pollock should not have been credited as a coauthor. “Maitland wrote more than ninety-nine percent of the two volumes,” he said.

He had a keen appreciation of excellence in historical writing, indeed of writing and exposition in general. He exhibited this in his own writing, which was notably lucid. His textbook reads like a work of literature.

Once, while talking about Edward Gibbon — the first and oldest of the medieval historians whom Cantor discussed in his lecture on medieval historiography — Professor Cantor read a few passages from The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to the class. He paused at a sentence where Gibbon, who was famous for the use of parallelism, uses several semicolons. He expressed appreciation for this device, then lamented that the semicolon was not used more frequently in modern English prose.

As a side benefit, I learned a lot of vocabulary in Cantor’s courses — words hitherto unknown to me that are now familiar: hagiography, pejorative, chrysalis, debilitating, acidulous, daimonic, plenary, patristic, peroration, contumacious, prevaricate, desuetude, feckless, pusillanimous, lugubrious, procrustean. Words such as these are underlined in the precious (to me) copy of Cantor’s textbook that I still have.

He was always thinking on his feet and would keep his listeners on their toes.  He would come out with things that would occur to him as interesting or amusing that were not necessarily part of his “script.” For example, in one course we were reading portions of Steven Runciman’s A History of the Crusades. “It’s the kind of book that makes for good summer reading in a hammock,” he said.

In another class, we were given the assignment — one, as it turned out, I did very well on — of summarizing and critiquing several books on a related medieval topic. To get an idea of what kind of paper to write, he suggested we take a look at The New York Times Book Review. Then he added, as an afterthought, “the Times is the paper of the Establishment. If you read it, you will find out what they are thinking and doing.”

This is an imperfect summary of the rich and stimulating content in Cantor’s books and lectures. I have read four of his books: (1) his textbook, Medieval History: The Life and Death of a Civilization; (2) The English: A History of Politics and Society to 1760; (3) Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century; and (4) his intellectual autobiography Inventing Norman Cantor: Confessions of a Medievalist.

I hope this post will convey some of the intense pleasure and intellectual stimulation I got from his courses.



— Roger W. Smith

      June 2016


Note: Professor Cantor’s obituary has been posted on this site at: