By S.L. Frank
Semyon Ludvigovich Frank (1877-1950) wrote major works on epistemology, ontology, philosophy of religion, and social philosophy. As a youthful Marxist, he was arrested and banned from major Russian cities for his radical activities. Becoming dissatisfied with Marxism, he soon turned to idealism and then to religious philosophy. Professor of Philosophy at Moscow University until 1922, when he was expelled to the West, Frank worked in exile until his death in London in 1950.
The Spiritual Foundations of Society is Frank’s attempt to examine society as a type of spiritual being, to develop an ontology of society. Two ideas are central to his vision of future social thought. The first of these, sobornost’ (from the Russian sobirat’: to gather), is the living, inner, organic unity of all human societies. Its primary form is the family unit. Opposed to sobornost’ is obshchestvnnost’ (obshchyi: general or common), the mechanical aspect of society in which the separate parts act to mutually limit and constrain one another.
The second idea is the principle of service as the most general expression of the ontological essence of man and therefore the highest normative principle of social life. According to Frank, all human right are grounded in one innte right—the right to fulfill obligations, the opportunity to serve. Thus, Frank reconciles the principles of solidarity and individual freedom through common subordination to the principle of service.
Though writing in the late twenties, Frank addresses fundamental concepts of the ground of social life applicable to all periods of history. His introduction of concepts from the Russian tradition enables us to see problems in a new light, and his approach—focused on concepts of community and service—challenges the now dominant materialistic and naturalistic theories of the nature of social life.
S.L. Frank (1877–1950) was a leading figure in the fascinating flowering of Russian philosophical thought that spanned roughly the first five decades of this century. Frank was expelled from Russia in 1922 and worked in European exile until his death in London. His most important works are The Object of Knowledge (1915), an examination of the limits of abstract knowledge; The Soul of Man (1917), a work of philosophical psychology; The Foundations of Social Being (1930), a work of social philosophy; The Unknowable (1939); The Light Shineth in Darkness (1949), an exploration of the nature of evil in the world; and Reality and Man (published posthumously in 1956), a metaphysics of human being.
—From the translator’s preface