Pitirim Sorokin on Cultural Recurrences

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The Inherent Immanency of Cultural Recurrences

Sorokin Library:

"Sorokin explains cultural recurrences insofar as they occur, by three major premises. First, society changes always. But its major forms have exceedingly limited possibilities of variation. The extreme dominance of one form makes that particular form unpalatable, such as, freedom can become anarchy and control can become tyranny. When this unpalatibility grows greatly the significance of its logical-meaningful integration weakens. With its creative fund exhausted it ceases to serve the respective society as a gainful force. Waning of the significance of that form sets in. As this weakness, other forms, at once old, and also new, begin to grow, and the culture takes on new life and a new meaning.

"when such a system of truth and reality ascends, grows and becomes more and more monopolistically dominant, its false part tends to grow, while its valid part tends to decrease. ... In this way the dominant system prepares its own downfall and paves the way for the ascendance and domination of one of its rival systems. . . . The new dominant system undergoes again the same tragedy" (Dynamics, Vol 4, p. 743).

Social Change (Zimmerman' Concluding Remarks on Sorokin's Philosophy of History)

What is the most general relation of time to man's culture? In that respect a philosophy of history by a sociologist ought to be different from one by an historian. We should expect an historian to be more specific and a sociologist more general. We might think that the historian would speak of specific change in a dynasty but the sociologist would try to enunciate general principles concerning the creation and decay of dynasties.

It is clear that Sorokin is only dealing with modern integrated societies and cultures of the "civilization" types as Toynbee classifies them. These types have been characteristic in parts of the world for the past seven or eight thousand years. Sorokin finds the relation of these civilizations to time a very involved one. It would be simplest to say there are small changes, large changes and super changes. It is in the nature of these civilizations to change. A vast number of smaller changes make for a large change; and a few larger changes make for a super change. In a "meaning sense" it is the super changes only, in Sorokin's suggestion of cycles or recurrences, which clearly reverse themselves. The smaller changes ordinarily are integrational and can appear more or less linear for a short period of time, at least.

The smaller changes may tend to have motives of different types from the larger ones. The eventual breaking of a grand system spews out a vast amount of material for new intermixed but disjointed congeries. But these congeries eventually tend to move towards similar colorations or new social systems which have logical-meaningful integration. In so doing they take on both the "goodness" of the logical-meaningful system and its eventual weaknesses.

In a most general sense this is Sorokin's Philosophy of History, or broad idea of the relation of time change to human events. It is a very complicated one but the complexity is inherent in the material of the study. If it is true, as Sorokin believes (his data show it to be), the problem of sociological analysis becomes very much more complicated than ordinarily pictured. Method in sociology will have to be improved greatly to deal with the necessary complex analysis. A given event at one time may be in the process of getting impetus from a number of cross currents. If we have to decide "what next" then we ought also to commence visualizing what could be next after "what next".

Even if Sorokin's ideas on social change as marked in time are much in error, his analysis should give many social thinkers a lesson in procedure. Most past thought concerning the transition from the present to the future has been very prone to error. Even a small correction in social analysis could be of value."