A few years ago I blogged a lot about the cultural views of Pitirim Sorokin, the Russian emigre and Harvard sociologist. Recently I stumbled across the blog of the radical historian Morris Berman, who favorably cites Sorokin’s work. I hadn’t thought about Sorokin in a while. In brief, Sorokin believed that all cultures toggled between Sensate (dominated by material concerns) and Ideational (dominated by spiritual concerns), with periods of Idealistic (a balance of the two). In Sorokin’s view — note well that he’s speaking as a sociological theoretician, not as a religious thinker — the West has been deep into a Sensate phase for centuries, and is headed for a crack-up and subsequent rebalancing. From Berman’s bit:

Sorokin’s predictions for this end-game scenario (remember, he’s writing this nearly seventy-five years ago) were as follows:

1. The boundary between true and false, and beautiful and ugly, will erode.  Conscience will disappear in favor of special interest groups. Force and fraud will become the norm; might will become right, and brutality rampant. It will be a bellum omnium contra omnes, and the family will disintegrate as well. “The home will become a mere overnight parking place.”

2. Sensate values “will be progressively destructive rather than constructive, representing in their totality a museum of sociocultural pathology….The Sensate mentality will increasingly interpret man and all values ‘physicochemically,’ ‘biologically,’ ‘reflexologically,’ ‘endocrinologically,’ ‘behavioristically,’ ‘economically’…[etc.].”

3. Real creativity will die out. Instead, we shall get a multitude of mediocre pseudo-thinkers and vulgar groups and organizations. Our belief systems will turn into a strange chaotic stew of science, philosophy, and magical beliefs.  “Quantitative colossalism will substitute for qualitative refinement.” What is biggest will be regarded as best. Instead of classics, we shall have best-sellers. Instead of genius, technique. Instead of real thought, Information. Instead of inner value, glittering externality.  Instead of sages, smart alecs. The great cultural values of the past will be degraded; “Michelangelos and Rembrandts will be decorating soap and razor blades, washing machines and whiskey bottles.”

4. Freedom will become a myth. “Inalienable rights will be alienated; Declarations of Rights either abolished or used only as beautiful screens for an unadulterated coercion. Governments will become more and more hoary, fraudulent, and tyrannical, giving bombs instead of bread; death instead of freedom; violence instead of law.” Security will fade; the population will become weary and scared.  “Suicide, mental disease, and crime will grow.”

5. The dies irae of transition will not be fun to live through, but the only way out of this mess, he wrote, is precisely through it. Under the conditions outlined above, the “population will not be able to help opening its eyes [this will be a very delayed phase in the U.S., I’m guessing] to the hollowness of the declining Sensate culture…. As a result, it will increasingly forsake it and shift its allegiance to either Ideational or Idealistic values.” Finally, we shall see the release of new creative forces, which “will usher in a culture and a noble society built not upon the withered Sensate root but upon a healthier and more vigorous root of integralistic principle.” In other words, we can expect “the emergence and slow growth of the first components of a new sociocultural order.”