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Forum Philosophicum

Volume 18, Issue 2, Autumn 2013

Russian Philosophy

Katharina Breckner
Pages 231-249
DOI: 10.5840/forphil201318214

Semyon Frank: An Apotheosis of Democracy in the Name of Personal Service

This essay introduces Semyon Lyudvigovich Frank as a philosopher who deservedly may be called a revolutionary thinker: he introduced a remarkable social ontology that foregrounds service. His oeuvre presents service as the supreme principle of personal and hence social life. The singular personality is seen as being there to creatively serve itself: his view of man focuses on the human soul as being there to bring forth creative action—to serve those who will come after, the community, society, and the Christian Churches. Service, then, is the source for freedom as a derivative principle. Consequently, and in opposition to the fundamental idea of the “Charter of Human Rights,” freedom in Frank has no absolute value, but only a functional one. It is justified by the ontological principle of service. All governmental organization is, ideally, the organization of freedom, the planned, systematic formation of free, spontaneous cooperation. Spontaneous cooperation makes up part of his concept of sobornost’, the empirical substrate of social culture. Frank would have agreed with Karl Popper’s notion of the “open society,” yet he would have certainly added that accessibility and transparency, be they spiritual or social, emanate from the principle of the universality of service. The true ontological meaning and the true source of democracy is, in his eyes, not the rule of all, but the service of all.