Harvard sociologist’s words from 1950s still relevant today

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To the Editor:

These words were spoken by professor Pitrim A. Sorokin (1882-1968) in the mid-1950s, and they are even more relevant today than they were in that day:

“Man the Killer is again at large. ‘The worst of the beasts’ once more prowls on this planet, more insane than ever before, more destructive than the greatest earthquake, and more cunning than the devil. Carefully polished, scientific up to his fingertips, brotherly-humanitarian in his civilized looks, big hearted in his highfalutin talks, Man the Killer … has become the Death of Man’s Body, the Death of Man’s Spirit … and the Death of Man’s Beautiful Dreams. …

“In the 20th century, the destroyer’s henchmen have been promoted to the enviable positions of monarchs, presidents and absolute dictators in the empires, of the high prelates and dignitaries in the religious bodies, of the powerful leaders of labour and agriculture, of the presidents of the greatest universities and foundations, of the potentates of the richest business corporations, of the dictators of the press, radio, television and movies, of the decisive moulders of public opinion, even of the most influential moral authorities.

“And especially striking is the success of his ethics of murder. He strongly disapproves of the killing of only one or a few individuals. He calls such actions “felonious crimes” and mercilessly punishes their criminal perpetrators.

“In contrast to that, [he] is most enthusiastic about the killing of thousands and millions. He calls these mass slaughters by the reverent names of ‘patriotic wars’, ‘heroic revolutions,’ ‘noblest crusades of liberation’ … all honourable and saintly, all blessed by God, sanctified by ethics, justified by law and glorified by the arts and sciences.”

This man founded the department of sociology at Harvard, and was elected president of the American Sociological Association in 1965.

Alex Ewashen