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Sobornost (Russian: Собо́рность "Spiritual community of many jointly living people") is a term coined by the early Slavophiles, Ivan Kireevsky and Aleksey Khomyakov, to underline the need for cooperation between people at the expense of individualism on the basis that the opposing groups focus on what is common between them. Khomyakov believed the West was progressively losing its unity. According to Khomyakov this stemmed from the west embracing Aristotle and his defining individualism; whereas Kireevsky believed that Hegel and Aristotle represented the same ideal of unity. Khomyakov and Kireevsky originally used the term sobor to designate cooperation within the Russian obshchina, united by a set of common convictions and Orthodox Christian values, as opposed to the cult of individualism in the West.
As a philosophical term, it was used by Nikolai Lossky and other 20th-century Russian thinkers to refer to a middle way of co-operation between several opposing ideas. This was based on Hegel's "dialectic triad"—thesis, antithesis, synthesis—though, in Russian philosophy, it would be considered an oversimplification of Hegel. It influenced both Khomyakov and Kireevsky, who expressed the idea as organic or spontaneous order.
The synthesis is the point where sobornost is reached causing change. Hegel's formula is the basis for Historicism. Nikolai Lossky for example uses the term to explain what motive would be behind people working together for a common, historical or social goal, rather than pursuing the goal individualistically. Lossky used it almost as a mechanical term to define when the dichotomy or duality of a conflict is transcended or how it is transcended, likening it to the final by product after Plato's Metaxy.
Slavophil ideas of sobornost made a profound impact on several Russian thinkers at the verge of the 19th and the 20th century, though in the strict sense of the word those thinkers cannot be placed among direct successors of the Slavophil line. Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900) developed the idea of vseedinstvo, unity-of-all, a concept similar to that of sobornost and closely connected with his doctrine of Godmanhood. Solovyov characterized the essence of the approach in the following way: “Recognizing the final goal of history as the full realization of the Christian ideal in life by all humanity... we understand the all-sided development of culture as a general and necessary means for reaching that goal, for this culture in its gradual progress destroys all those hostile partitions and exclusive isolations between various parts of humanity and the world and tries to unify all natural and social groups in a family that is infinitely diverse in make-up but characterized by moral solidarity”. The term “sobornost” appeared again in the works of Vladimir Solovyov’s follower Prince Sergey Trubetskoy (1862-1905). In Trubetskoy’s interpretation sobornost means a combination of the religious, moral and social element; it is regarded as an alternative to individualism and socialist collectivism. In Trubetskoy’s works the idea of sobornost quite clearly becomes part of the solidarity and altruism discourse. In one of his major works, On the Nature of Human Consciousness, Trubetskoy wrote: “Good will, which is the basis of morality, is called love. Any morals, based on principles other than love, are not true morals… Natural love is inherent to all living beings. Descending from its supreme manifestations in the family love of man, from animal herd instincts to elementary propagation processes, everywhere we find that basic, organic altruism, owing to which creatures inwardly presuppose each other, are drawn towards other creatures and establish not only themselves, but other creatures as well, and live for others”.
Kireevsky asserted that "the sum total of all Christians of all ages, past and present, comprise one indivisible, eternal living assembly of the faithful, held together just as much by the unity of consciousness as through the communion of prayer". The term in general means the unity, togetherness that is the church, based on individual like-minded interest.
Starting with Vladimir Solovyov, sobornost was regarded as the basis for the ecumenical movement within the Russian Orthodox Church. Sergei Bulgakov, Nikolai Berdyaev, Pavel Florensky were notable proponents for the spirit of sobornost between different Christian factions. The Pochvennichestvo perspective of sobornost held that it means conforming oneself to the truth rather than truth being subjective to the individual as opposed to their being, no facts but only perspectives or points of view.
Nikolai Lossky explained that sobornost involved
- "the combination of freedom and unity of many persons on the basis of their common love for the same absolute values."
Semyon Frank (1877-1950) distinguished three forms of sobornost:
" 1. A conjugal-family unity based on love.
2. Sobornost in religious life as a communion through a common attitude towards this or that spiritual value. In the given context sobornost can be considered a counterpart of solidarity on the basis of joint service and a common belief.
3. Sobornost in the life of a certain multitude of people sharing a common fate – above all, a common past and common cultural and historical traditions'."
Sobornost is in contrast to the idea of fraternity, which is a submission to a brotherhood as a benefit to the individual. Sobornost is an asceticism akin to kenosis in that the individual gives up self-benefit for the community or ecclesia, being driven by theophilos rather than adelfikós. As is expressed by Kireevsky's definition of sobornost as "The wholeness of society, combined with the personal independence and the individual diversity of the citizens, is possible only on the condition of a free subordination of separate persons to absolute values and in their free creativeness founded on love of the whole, love of the Church, love of their nation and State, and so on.
- С. И. Ожегов и Н. Ю. Шведова, ТОЛКОВЫЙ СЛОВАРЬ РУССКОГО ЯЗЫКА / S. I. Ozhegov and N. U. Shvedova Explanatory Dictionary of the Russian Language ISBN 5-902638-07-0
- Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-271-01441-5
- Efremenko D., Evseeva Y. Studies of Social Solidarity in Russia: Tradition and Modern Trends. // American Sociologist, v. 43, 2012, no. 4. – NY: Springer Science+Business Media. - p. 354-355.
- Solovyov, V.S. 1989. ‘Idoly i Idealy’ [Idols and Ideals] In: Solovyov V.S. Sochinenia v Dvukh Tomakh [Works in Two Volumes]. Moscow: Pravda. Vol. 1. - p. 617-618.
- Trubetskoy, S.N. 1994. ‘O Prirode Chelovecheskogo Soznania’ [On the Nature of Human Consciousness]. In: Trubetskoy S.N. Sochinenia [Works]. Moscow: Mysl. - p. 587.
- Ninian Smart, John Clayton, Patrick Sherry, Steven T. Katz. Nineteenth-Century Religious Thought in the West. Cambridge University Press, 1988. Page 183.
- Sciabarra, Chris Matthew (1995). Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0-271-01441-5. page 28
- Frank, S.L. 1992. ‘Dukhovnye Osnovy Obshestva’ [The Spiritual Foundations of Society]. Moscow: Respublika. - p. 58-59.
- Lossky History of Russian Philosophy Kireevsky 26
- Sobornost News a website devoted to the promotion of unity according to the principle of sobornost.
- "Sobornost: Experiencing Unity of Mind, Heart, and Soul in Union with the Holy Trinity" by Catherine Doherty, author, and foundress of the Madonna House Apostolate.