Ways and Power of Love

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* Book: Sorokin, Pitirim A. The Ways and Power of Love: Types, Factors, and Techniques of Moral Transformation. Boston: Beacon Press, 1954

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"We now direct attention more closely to the solutions Sorokin proposed. Whereas in the past cultural transitions have occurred at the whim of chance and Fate, we must now, he argued, think in terms of intentional change, of active steps to produce an Idealistic culture. This would involve a simultaneous transformation of individuals and society, but with the former as more primary.

Under the rubric of “Idealism” Sorokin understood the broad Platonic view of the unity of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Inseparable from these, he believed, is the principle of Love. For personal and social transformation, Sorokin placed primacy on Love.: “An increase in our knowledge of the grace of love has become the paramount need of humanity.” It is to the topic of stimulating and harnessing Love as a transforming power that he devoted arguably his greatest and most mature work, The Ways and Power of Love. The book represents a summary and distillation of research conducted at his Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism in the early 1950s.

The word, ‘love,’ of course, has many meanings. The kind of love that interested him in this research is agape — unselfish or disinterested (not uninterested) love or loving-kindness. Agape love is to be explicitly distinguished from sentimentalism. It’s something loftier, gentler and more hopeful than feelings of pity or compassion.


Agape love is to be distinguished from that righteous indignation often expressed as angry, even violent action performed in the name of love, compassion, and justice. It is also not to be confused with expansive government social programs and bureaucracy. Although properly-administered government programs serve valid purposes, they are no substitute for agape love and individual actions performed for its sake.

In the end, for cultural transformation to be truly aligned with agape love, interventions must, Sorokin argued, be inspired and directed by a realm of truth and knowledge superior to that given by merely rationalistic modes of thought.

Drawing on many sources, including historical research, biographies of great moral reformers, studies of ordinary ‘good samaritans,’ and consultation with other social scientist, Sorokin included in Part 4 of Ways and Power an extensive analysis of alternative means for altruistically transforming individuals and Society.


He was emphatic that no single solution would work:

- The foregoing chapters clearly show that altruistic formation and transformation of human beings is an exceedingly delicate, complex, and difficult operation. There is no single magic procedure that can successfully perform it. Neither is there a standard set of operations equally applicable to all persons and groups. To be effective, the methods must vary in accordance with the many conditions and properties of the individuals and groups. In addition, even the effective method must be supplemented and supported by a respective transmutation of the culture and social institutions of the persons and groups undergoing the altruistic change.

Pitirim Sorokin on the Four Techniques to Stimulate Authentic Love in Society

Excerpts selected by Satyagraha [1]:

Altruization Through Fine Arts and Beauty

Pitirim Sorokin:

"Fine arts can and do serve the task of altruistic ennoblement as well as that of cognition of truth. … By its nature the fine art masterpiece represents a marvelous unity which arouses simultaneously our intellectual, emotional, affective, volitional, and vital energies. … Art can teach many … suprarational truths which cannot be communicated by words and concepts. … [A] masterpiece of painting or sculpture, the Parthenon or a great cathedral, uplifts us in the realm of creative spirit more efficiently than a statistical diagram, mathematical formula, or a chain of impeccable syllogisms can do. …

In mankind’s great and rich treasury of art masterpieces, however, including the beauty of the sunset, of starry skies, and of millions of natural phenomena, there always can be found the special art medium fit for altruistic transfiguration of a given person or group. Sometimes it lies in ‘the small voice’ of the sun reflected in a pool of water, or in a little tune of a beautiful folksong or in the joyful play of children, not to mention the chefs-d’oeuvre of the great artists and masters. With discernment the fine arts can and should be used much more than they are used now, for mental, moral, and the ‘total’ education of mankind. Additional merit of this technique is that it works in a most enjoyable way, free from the pains and fatigue of many other techniques. (Ways and Power of Love, Ch. 17)"

Altruization Through Individual Creative Activity

"The creative urge represents the focal point of human personality. … great creative achievements are inspired by the supraconscious and are executed by the conscious mind working under the guidance of the supraconscious genius which resides in the creative person. In a small degree the voice of the supraconscious speaks also in modest creative efforts. The creative urge is thus in a sense the holy of holies of every person. It is also the most distinctive mark of his individuality, of his conscious egos, and especially of his egoless self. Creativity and individuality both mean something new, something different from what already exists and from other persons. … a free display of the creative urge is one of the main forms of man’s freedom. Free manifestation of the creative urge is therefore one of the main ingredients of man’s happiness, self-respect, and peace of mind. Frustration of the creative urge means an undermining of his individuality, his freedom, and his happiness….

[The creative] individual or group is deflected from many mischiefs, squabbles, and enmities by the much more absorbing creative thoughts and deeds. The very nature of their constructively creative work tends to ennoble them mentally and morally. They increasingly become the instrument of the best conscious activities and of the supraconscious forces, and decreasingly the animal organisms controlled by discordant biological drives and by disharmonious, narrow egos. …

[A frustrated creative instinct] is possibly one of the important factors in … unrest, and interindividual, intergroup, and international tensions — war included — of our age. … The widening [of creative opportunities] is urgently needed not only for altruistic purposes and for mitigation of our ‘wars of everyone against everyone,’ but also for physical and mental welfare and the cultural progress of humanity. After all, “the Supreme Creator” is possibly the most important characteristic of God. Creativity is also the most important life mission of man. It is man’s royal road to the supraconscious, as well as of the supraconscious to man. It [unites] the mortal human being with the Immortal Cosmic Creator. Why then not open this royal road for all human beings?" (Ways and Power of Love, Ch. 17)

Altruization Through Private and Public Prayer

"Prayer is one of the most accessible and fruitful ways for spiritualization and altruization of human beings and groups. The more of this sort of prayer, the better for all of us. Supplication, worship, prayer are no superstition; they are acts more real than the acts of eating, drinking, sitting or walking. It is no exaggeration to say that they alone are real. …

The main objective of … prayer is a dissolution of one’s lilliputian egos, interests, and aspirations in the “Thy will be done,” in the infinitely greater Supreme Being, however it is called and conceived. Altruistic prayer strives to free the supraconscious in man from the shackles of his little egos for the union with the Supreme Supraconscious. Such prayer tends to turn our organism and our unconscious and conscious mind into an instrument of the supraconscious in us and, through that, of the Cosmic Supraconscious. …

[Pierre] Marinier correctly remarks that: “It is a discipline for unification of self with self and self with the world. Modern man often claims to reject it because it appears in conjunction with creeds or dogmatic conceptions to which he cannot adhere. But psychological value of prayer is independent of these creeds in their dogmatic form. … Modern man by refusing to pray deprives himself of the most fecund forces from his past and from his secret being. These forces remain unused, even repressed, while the individual, whose consciousness is no longer linked to the universal, flounders at the superficies of himself in an illusion of liberty — which conceals profound dissociation and despicable ignorance. For the vast majority of us, prayer meanwhile remains the only (I would say one of the few) practical road to physical and moral recovery, to reconciliation with our ancestors, to comprehension and acceptance of the real, to liberty itself….” (Ways and Power of Love, Ch. 18)

Altruization Through Contemplation and Meditation

"In [contemplation] words, verbal terms, and concepts cannot help much; if anything, they can rather mislead by replacing the total living grasp of the inexpressible whole by one of its differentiations embodied in verbal definition. For these reasons [it] is often going on in silence, without any words or verbal concepts. …

It is at the moments when the ‘chosen and anointed’ are possessed by the supraconscious that the great religions are born, the eternal moral verities are uttered, the superhuman moral deeds are done, the true prophecies are spoken, the incurables are cured, the hopeless sinners are redeemed, the moral and spiritual mission of humanity is set forth, and its foundations are laid down.

What is still more significant here is the fact that many of these [heroes of spirituality and love] discover, teach, and practice their verities without a serious labor of their conscious mind …. The hour of the supraconscious grace over, they … are often surprised at the thoughts, words, and deeds done by them in the state of supraconscious [contemplation] and creativity. …

[T]hese peaks … are reached only by the very few…. For the rank and file only much lower forms of moral meditation and creativity are available…. [H]owever, these forms should neither be depreciated nor discounted in their influence. Such a rational meditation assumes the forms of the examination of conscience, of thinking of one’s moral mistakes and improvements, of cultivation of the spirit of friendship and mutual aid, of scientific plans for improvement of one’s own and of others’ moral standards, for decreasing criminality, poverty, and disease, for increasing social service agencies, co-operative organizations, schools, recreation centers, youth organizations, religious institutions, community charities, and the like. Earnest thinking and doing along these planes lead the thinking individuals and the community to a notable ennoblement of their civic virtues and moral standards. In their totality these good thoughts and deeds, performed by millions, exert an enormous influence upon everyone and all. … [M]editation and moral creativity of the rank and file have inestimable importance for the altruistic progress of mankind." (Ways and Power of Love, Ch. 18)


(Full list of) Techniques for Altruistic Transformation of Individuals and Society

Source: Sorokin, Pitirim A. The Ways and Power of Love: Types, Factors, and Techniques of Moral Transformation. Templeton Foundation, 2002 (originally published, Beacon Press, 1954); pp. 289-290. [2]

1. The technique of change of the individual's organism and of its processes, including the utilization of biological drives for altruistic ends, training in postures, movements, and in regulated respiration.

2. The technique of conditioned reflexes and of coercive mechanical drilling, reinforced by punishment and reward.

3. The technique of pains and pleasures meted out to the person and his dearests.

4. The technique of altruization by public opinion pressure.

5. The technique of separation of the inimical parties.

6. The technique of utilization of a third party.

7· The technique of pacification through common enemy or common friend and cause.

8. The technique of setting a heroic moral example.

9· The technique of rational persuasion and scientific demonstration of advantages of friendship and disadvantages of enmity.

10. The technique of reinforcement of altruistic actions by emotional and unconscious forces, including the psychodramatic and sociodramatic techniques.

11. The technique of direct life experience.

12. The technique of altruization through the fine arts.

13. The technique of exposure to love of others.

14. The technique of individual creative activity.

15. The technique of collective creativity, group enhancement, and group therapy.

16. The technique of good deeds.

17. The techniques of integration and reintegration of one's egos, values, and norms of conduct.

18. The techniques of self-identification.

19. The technique of private and public prayer.

20. The technique of conscience examination.

21. The technique of private and public confession.

22. The technique of the private, public, and collective vow.

23. The techniques of psychoanalysis.

24. The technique of supraconscious meditation and creativity.

25. Auxiliary techniques of silence, repetition of short formulas, ecstasy, and " kwats."

26. The techniques of rearrangement of group affiliations."


Sorokin on the Supraconscious


"From the above we see that Sorokin often alludes to the supraconscious. He doesn’t explicitly define this term, however, and indeed maybe it’s intrinsically undefinable. We might simply “black-box” it and consider it in a purely functional sense: as that (whatever it actually is) which is the source of our greatest creative thoughts and inspirations. As a source of conscious thought it is not necessarily itself thought; it’s possibly significant, therefore, that he uses the word supraconscious and not superconscious. Whereas the latter implies a superior form of consciousness, the former suggests a level of reality beyond consciousness.

Perhaps it would be better here to think in terms of a “supraconscious realm,” which is not a single thing, but a constellation of related concepts that include: a higher personal unconscious (including possible biological components), a Higher Self (understood in a metaphysical or spiritual sense), God, Nature, Natural Law, Logos, Objective Reality, Universal Mind and/or a World Soul. Sorokin wisely avoids committing himself to a particular metaphysical position; it’s sufficient only to allow that this deeper reality from which our greatest inspirations spring is governed by the principles of Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Peace and Love. This is the Platonic view deeply engrained in the Western tradition — and, of course, also found in Eastern philosophy and religion."