The Ways and Power of Love is a classic work in the science-and-love dialogue. Although Sorokin is known for his work in sociology, he also established the Harvard Research Center for Creative Altruism due to his conviction about the power and importance of love. This review refers to the 2002 edition published by the Templeton Foundation Press; the book was originally published in 1954.
Sorokin begins this large volume by considering seven aspects of love, including the religious, ethical, ontological, physical, biological, psychological and social. While the book often cites spiritual and religious figures and ideas, the majority of Sorokin's interests revolve around the psychological and social aspects of love.
In his chapter, "The Five-Dimensional Universe of Psycho-Social Love," Sorokin provides a heuristic device for understanding various dimensions of love. One dimension is love's intensity, whereby love is considered to have low or high intense forms. The second dimension is extensivity, by which Sorokin means to denote the scope of love from love of oneself only to love of the whole universe. The third dimension of love is its duration, which refers to the time during which love is expressed - from a moment to an entire lifetime. The fourth dimension is purity, by which Sorokin means that the love that is free from egoistic motivation is purest. The fifth dimension is love's adequacy, by which Sorokin means the objective consequences of one's action in comparison to one's subjective goals. Using this five dimensional theme, Sorokin can explore the varieties of love by characterizing them as exemplifying certain types. For instance, some love may have low intensity but very high extensivity. Or love may have great high purity but a very short duration.
Sorokin considers love to be a type of energy, and he believes that the increase in the production of love energy to be of chief concern in our times. Love, as a commodity that can be produced, might be increased through a variety of ways. "Love, its properties, its empirical dimensions, the relationships between its dimensional variables, and, finally, the problems of the efficient production, accumulation, and distribution of love energy -- all of these open a vast, little known, and desperately field of exploration. At the present time mankind perhaps needs to explore this field more than any other" (46).
In a chapter exposing the benefits of love, Sorokin lists the
following: love stops aggression, love begets more love, love increases human vitality and longevity, love is an element in curing disease and sickness, love integrates the psyche of an individual, and love becomes a creative force for good in social movements.
In the second part of the book, Sorokin addresses basic mental and personal structures of humans as the relate to love. "The ultimate task of these studies is to find out the efficient ways of making persons more creative and altruistic. In order that this purpose may be fruitfully advanced, one has to have an adequate theory of the mental structure of the human personality and of the energies generated in operating through the human organism" (83).
Sorokin's own theory of human personality is that humans have four energies: the biologically unconscious or subconscious level, the biologically conscious level, the socio-culturally conscious, and what he calls the "supraconscious." The author is most interested in the supraconscious of an individual, by which he means that which manifests the greatest creative victories and what is most typically linked in humans with the divine. Theistic individuals often attribute this supraconscious as either God working through them or God inspiring in them to do some particular activity. It is this supraconscious intuition that informs the highest human creativity in virtually all the fields of inquiry, from religion to science. Sorokin appeals to the ideas and saints in a variety of religious traditions as evidence of those who acknowledge this supraconscious in the world. The perfectly integrated creative genius most in touch with the supraconscious is one in whom the five aspects of love operate at a high level. This means that "supreme love can hardly be achieved without a direct participation of the supra-conscious and without the ego-transcending techniques of its awakening" (125).
In the book's third section, Sorokin addresses various ways in which altruism might grow. To do this, he examines logical arguments, empirical evidence from various individuals throughout history, and testimonials. Sorokin places the great altruists of history in a three-fold typology.
The first, what he calls "fortunate altruists," are loving and friendly from childhood. The most important factor to understanding fortunate altruists is that these individuals were raised in a good family that loved them and expected them to be loving. "It is much easier to grow in the family garden a large crop of creative altruists from newborn babies that it is to transform a grown-up egoist into an altruist" (205).
The second type of altruists, whom Sorokin calls "late altruists," become altruistic because of a sharp turning point later in their lives. It appears that a deep inner war in the mind and values of the late altruist becomes the driving force that brings them to decide to act altruistically. Sorokin also finds that, although altruists participate in a variety of living situations, the overwhelming majority of outstanding altruists were born and raised in ordinary socio-cultural environments.
The third type of altruist, what Sorokin calls the "intermediary type." These individuals turn to altruism at various points in life, and these turnings reflect milder transition periods.
Sorokin argues that merely accepting the truth of certain values as important is not enough for an individual to become an altruist. Rather, altruists are deeply permeated by the value of altruism, and this is evident in their ideas, emotions, feelings, volitions and actions. When altruism is purely intellectual and when it does not permeate one's heart, emotions, and volitions, it does not produce loving results.
Part four is the longest section of The Ways and Power of Love. In it, Sorokin notes various techniques for the altruistic transformation of persons and groups. "The 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 . . . to be effective, the methods must vary in accordance with the many conditions and properties of the individuals and groups" (287). Several chapters are given to listing what comes to be 26 different techniques for enhancing altruism.
Subsequent to examining these techniques, Sorokin offers a chapter on various techniques of yoga, followed by the techniques of the monastics. He concludes with the techniques of "contemporary free brotherhoods," such as Mennonites, Hutterites, and others.
The fifth and final part of the book Sorokin addresses the questions of in-group and out-group altruism. Unfortunately, in-group altruism tends to generate an out-group antagonism. "The more intense and exclusive the in-group solidarity of its members," argues Sorokin, "the more unavoidable are the clashes between the group and the rest of humanity" (459). The universal or more extensive aspect of love ends up clashing with the narrow tribal in-group love. What is preferred is the universalization of altruism. "The universal sublime love is the supreme value around which all moral values can be integrated into one ethical system valid for the whole of humanity" (486). This means that tribal solidarities must be transcended if inter-human warfare is to be eliminated from the world.
The Ways and Power of Love is an essential text for those engaging in the dialog between theologies of love and science. Stephen G. Post writes in the introduction that this book is Sorokin's greatest work and "a classic text that transcends the limits of any particular era" (xxvii). The strengths of the text are many; the insights are vast. Unfortunately, however, some of the work is unsystematic and at the sections seem disconnected. The reader is left with the impression that, although Sorokin's insights ring true intuitively, there is a great deal more work to be done in carefully arguing and scientifically testing the various hypotheses he forwards.
Thomas Jay Oord