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Nikolaj Alekseev's sobornost' and Sergius Hessen's solidarity

two ideas of sociability in Russian émigré Neo-Kantianism

Mikhail Zagirnyak(Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University)

pp. 189-208


The Russian philosophers Sergius Hessen and Nikolai Alekseev, developed their social philosophy concepts in emigration. Hessen put solidarity at the heart of his concept, whereas Alekseev based his system on the concept of sobornost’. Despite differences between these notions, which originated from disparate philosophical traditions, the axiology of South-west neo-Kantianism underlies both. Analysing these notions will aid in identifying points of theoretical convergence and philosophical dialogue between the two concepts formulated in the intellectual space of Russian Emigration.


1 | Problem setting

11In the second half of the 19th century, socialistic collectivistic models were gaining popularity along with liberal individualistic models of society. Essentially, there are two distinct types of such philosophical concepts. Sociological nominalism holds that social institutions, associations, and phenomena can be reduced to relationships between individuals. Sociological universalism, on the other hand, maintains that an individual is a cog in the machine, a comparatively insignificant element of social and cultural development. The ethics of duty as reflected in the axiology of Southwest Neo-Kantianism aids in bridging the gap between sociological nominalism and universalism.

2Affirmed within the axiology of Southwest Neo-Kantianism, the opposition between eternal values and historical reality presents the history of culture as a process of values being actualised. Correlating an axiological interpretation of history with the ethics of duty links human freedom to participation in the formation of culture. Heinrich Rickert discriminates between natural determinism and cultural indeterminism (cf. Rickert 1910–1911, 25–26). To be free, an individual should embrace his or her destiny, that is, contribute to the production of culture. An individual who is not aware of his or her duty does not overcome natural determinism and cannot participate in the development of culture, thus losing his or her right to liberation. In Southwest Neo-Kantian axiology, a person becomes free only when contributing to culture (cf. Rickert 1910–1911, 17).

3Culture is created not by a single person but by society. Humans are mere participants in the social whole – the collective entity that is the agent of history. The object of history is culture. The efficiency of cultural content generation depends on the quality of interactions between individuals as well as on their social cohesion. Diverse social phenomena are a form of actualisation of a priori values in cultural reality. How social interactions are regulated determines the essence of a culture. This makes the problem of interactions between the individual and society as well as between the individual and social phenomena central to the evolution of culture.2 The dependence of cultural development on the effectiveness of social interactions lends urgency to the problem of social order. From a functional perspective, the law generates ways for people to interact in society and to develop a social structure thatlets everyone make the most of oneself in producing cultural content.

4The concepts that employ an ethics-of-duty-based axiological connection between society and culture encourage studies of sociability. Sociability is a notion relating to the make-up of social relationships, whose structure and functionality depend on how much free will there is in society and how this society perceives it in a certain historical period. Studying socio-cultural phenomena through the prism of sociability helps to understand and explain these phenomena as results of the self-fulfilment of individuals. The meaning embedded in the notion of sociability is closely connected with the understanding of the role of an individual in the development of society.

5In this article, I will demonstrate fundamental similarities in the construal of sociability by the Russian philosophers Sergius Hessen3 and Nikolai Alekseev.4 Alekseev and Hessen are first-wave Russian émigrés, who did not accept the results of the Russian Revolution. They expressed their attitudes to the events of 1917 and Soviet Russia in their émigré works. Their models of historical development were aimed towards overcoming the post-revolution socio-cultural catastrophe. In pondering alternatives to the communist project run in Russia, they justified their dissent from Bolshevism and the Bolshevist vision of historical development.5Both Alekseev and Hessen drew on the axiology of Southwest Neo-Kantianism to explain socio-cultural dynamics. They developed their socio-philosophical concepts in line with the Neo-Kantian interpretation of society, which is largely a development of the Kantian anti-naturalistic programme based on juxtaposing the natural with the moral, and natural determinism with freedom of duty. This paradigm implies a certain interpretation of the concepts of the individual, society, culture and corresponding social phenomena. All the above justifies a comparative analysis of Hessen’s and Alekseev’s socio-philosophical constructs. The two philosophers believed that they were solving the same problem – that of explaining social phenomena. They both considered free will the key to the development of culture and society and defined the potential multitude of social interactions as the realm of individual self-fulfilment. Explaining social phenomena required understanding sociability. For the purposes of this study, I think it is appropriate to compare how the two philosophers were solving the problems of sociability. Doing so will help to establish what conceptual framework they used in their thorough investigations of the philosophy of law.

6Although the term “sociability” is never mentioned by either philo|sopher, the notion “solidarity” used by Hessen and “sobornost” employed by Alekseev have a very similar meaning. To elucidate some aspects of these notions, I will consider each, following the plan below:

  1. identify structural elements of solidarity and sobornost';
  2. analyse fundamental similarities in how Alekseev’s and Hessen’s philosophies solve the problem of sociability. The problem con|sists of two elements: society’s awareness of the personal contri|bution of each individual to cultural development and the creation of optimum conditions for such a contribution.

2 | Why compare Alekseev’s and Hessen’s models of sociability?

7These two models were chosen principally for three reasons:

  1. Hessen and Alekseev were both influenced by Neo-Kantian phi|losophers during their time in Germany (for more detail, see (Dmitrieva 2007, 147, 152–153, 155–158). The signs of this in|fluence can be traced throughout their philosophical writings.
    From 1905 to 1909, Hessen spent seven semesters in Freiburg and Heidelberg (Hessen 1999a, 730–731), stating that he atten|ded Rickert’s lectures in Freiburg. In 1909, Hessen defended his thesis On individual causality [Über individuelle Kausalität]. The work was supervised by Rickert. Hessen turned to Rickert’s axio|logy to create his own socio-philosophical system, within which he would develop the concept of solidarity. For two years from 1908, Alekseev attended lectures and seminars at the Universities of Berlin, Heidelberg, and Marburg. In Heidelberg, he studied philosophy from Wilhelm Windelband and was in contact with Max Weber. In emigration, he started to gravitate towards Eura|sianism. Building on the ideas of Southwest Neo-Kantianism, he devised his own concept of sobornost'.
  2. In emigration, Hessen and Alekseev worked and met again in another distinct intellectual space, interwar Prague.
    In 1921, Alekseev was appointed Secretary of the Russian Facul|ty of Law at the Charles University in Prague. He headed the Department of Public Law until 1931.
    Hessen lived in Prague from 1924 to1935. From 1923 onwards, he contributed as an editor to the periodical Russian school abroad [Russkaja škola za rubežom]. He worked as a professor of pedagogy at the Russian Pedagogical University in Prague from 1924 to 1928. Both philosophers published their major works in Prague. Hessen’s eight-part series The problem of legal socialism [Problema pravovogo socializma] appeared in Prague in the jour|nal Sovremennye zapiski (Hessen 1924–1927). That period was associated with the most important strand of his reflection – the study of legal socialism (Hessen 1999a, 749). In his own words, the problem was central to his research. Another principal topic was the philosophical framework of pedagogy. The correspon|ding stage of his work culminated in the publication of The foundations of pedagogy [Osnovy pedagogiki]6 in 1922. Remark|ably, he called the Czech variant of the book more authentic (Hessen 1999b, 750). Two of Alekseev’s most outstanding works – The foundations of the philosophy of law [Osnovy filosofii prava] (Alekseev 1998a [1924] and Theory of the State [Teorija gosu|darstva 1931]7 (Alekseev 1998b) – were published in Prague.
  3. Hessen and Alekseev emerged as original philosophers in emigration, in the 1920s-late 1930s. They knew each other well and were in continuous discussion. This is confirmed in their own comments about their works.
    Although Hessen and Alekseev had similar views on free will and self-fulfilment and were convinced that they were working on the same problem, their treatments of the being of social associations were very different. They harshly criticised each other (Hessen 1999d, 506–507; Alekseev 1998c, 280)8. Without providing a rationale for the being of social associations and institutions, it is impossible to solve either philosophical legal problems or purely legal ones. Alekseev demonstrated how the notion of private property was affected by the distinction between natural and legal persons in medieval society (Alekseev 1998c, 256). He criticised Hessen for his incorrect definition of feudal property as the property of a collective legal person (Alekseev 1998c, 280). Hessen retorted that he had never argued that feudal property was collective property (Hessen 1999d, 507). As mentioned above, both philosophers saw free will as central to cultural and social development and social interactions, and as the realm of individual self-fulfilment; both deemed it necessary to develop their own understanding of sociability.
    Alekseev and Hessen based their socio-philosophical concepts on a Neo-Kantian vision of society. The ethics of duty underlie the formation of human freedom. In performing his or her duty, each person becomes a social subject, an equal co-participant in the formation of culture. This paradigm inevitably shapes an idea of the individual, society, and culture.

3 | Sobornost' in Alekseev’s philosophy

8Alekseev uses the Neo-Kantian opposition between historical reality and eternal values to elucidate the process of cultural development. He believes that different interpretations of the notion of “value” create different cultures and social phenomena (Alekseev 1930, 8). In carrying out their creative work, people contribute to the production of cultural content. Alekseev defines cultural development as spiritual life – the actualisation of the sacred and the valuable in historical reality. Spiritual life is a reciprocal process of continuous improvement of individuals as social subjects and social institutions, which exist only through the medium of individuals comprising a culture (Alekseev 1998b, 442). His philosophical system gives absolute priority to the problem of coordinating the actions of individuals. Throughout his philosophical career, Alekseev would constantly calibrate his ideas about the correlation between individual free will and the general logic of cultural development.

9Before the October Revolution, Alekseev defined the diversity of social phenomena as variants of communication between individuals (for more detail, see Zagirnyak 2017, 2020). Social phenomena are thus not entities but relationships. Entities are the subjects of the ontology of culture, whereas relationships are interactions between subjects (Alekseev 1919a, 84). Alekseev’s pre-revolutionary works interpret the diversity of social phenomena as variants of communication between individual people, who are the only subjects of social relationships (Alekseev 1919b, 131). The state is nothing more than a tool for supporting established procedures of social communication in line with an interpretation of free will traditional for the given culture (Alekseev 1918, 10).

10All social phenomena are mere variations of the social infrastructure make-up and a search for an optimum ratio that would facilitate the self-fulfilment of each person as a participant in the production of cultural content.

11In Prague, Alekseev became sympathetic towards Eurasianism, which encouraged him to revise his views on the status of social phenomena. In his book Theory of the state, Alekseev writes, in contradiction to his former beliefs, that social phenomena cannot be reduced to relationships between individuals after all, for they have their own development goals (Alekseev 1998b, 442). The goals of cultural development thus cannot be reduced to the life goals of an individual (Alekseev 1998a, 153).

12In The Foundations of the Philosophy of Law, Alekseev proposes the following solution that made it possible to keep individual free will intact and explain the existence of common cultural development goals. He shows that each person actualises the meaning of his or her life only when becoming a participant in the creation of culture (cf. Alekseev 1998a, 189–190). Therefore, the development of culture is unthinkable without personal freedom (cf. Alekseev 1998b, 375). People and their freedom remain the central goal of cultural development. The preservation of free will by a person who contributes to the content of culture is possible because of the focus on the supra-individual, which manifests itself in sobornost'. Alekseev cites individual creative work as a fundamental condition for socio-cultural development. Unwilling to reject this thesis, which he obviously held dear, Alekseev suggests treating cultural development as a “reciprocal process” of improvement (Alekseev 1998a, 192). The philosopher admits that legal persons cannot act unless they are independent living entities capable of embracing values (Alekseev 1998a, 93). All such acts are performed on behalf of legal persons and in their names. A legal person is different from a natural one in that it cannot have the status of an agent or carrier of acts, yet it can serve as a value (Alekseev 1998a, 93). Individuals make decisions in its name.

13Why do individuals identify themselves as elements of a social whole? Alekseev answers this question by linking the state to the development of the nation. To this end, he invokes Lev Karsavin’s concept of the symphonic [sobornyj] subject.

14According to Karsavin, individuals see their lives as uninterrupted continua and single out moments of their existence by correlating their being with cultural values (Karsavin 2002, 368). Indi|viduals can exercise free will only because the supreme supra-individual will – the will of culture as a free subject – is manifested in the being of individuals. Since individuals have their own significance, supra-individual will can be actualised only in the creative work of individuals. Thus, the problem of cultural development is in effect that of the correlation between individual creative work and cultural development.

15The state ensures the unity and wholeness of culture when creating symphonic will (Karsavin 2002, 384). The ultimate result achie|ved by the state is the nation – an organised and harmonised hierarchical unity (Karsavin 2002, 369) that exists in the form of a state (Karsavin 1993, 415).

16Alekseev uses Karsavin’s definition of the state as a means to unite society into a “nation”. He uses the terms “people” and “nation” interchangeably to denote the state as society existent in history (Alekseev 1998b, 402). Having linked the nation to the state, he creates a tool for interactions between the individual and culture. Alekseev manages to combine Karsavin’s ideas with the Neo-Kantian postulate of creative work performed by individuals as equal co-participants in the creation of cultural content. For example, Windel|band writes that cultural content is a product of the creative work of individuals. People are free when they perform their duty, whatever the case may be.9 Yet the life of a human as a social being has meaning only if he or she contributes to the fulfilment of the duty of society, that is, the creation of a system of culture.10 Notably, Karsavin believes that culture develops through the creative work of individuals and symphonic persons. The hierarchical superiority of the latter does not make them any more valuable than the former (cf. Kar|savin 1993, 410).To explain interactions between individuals and social phenomena, Alekseev introduces the notion of sobornost'. In his system, sobornost' is a tool for individuals and social phenomena to communicate during the production of cultural content, which correlates the development of culture with the meaning of the life of an individual. Alekseev still gives priority to individual free will as a condition for the emergence, existence, and functioning of social phenomena. He coins the term “cultural multi-human person”. Un|like an empirical person, this person exists through individuals comprising it, as a collective (sobornoe) unity (Alekseev 1998b, 442). Within this unity, each person understands the goal of cultural development and thus can interact with other individuals when performing creative work. He or she recognises them as co-participants in actualising cultural values in historical reality (cf. Alekseev 1938, 162).

17In one of his later works, The Concept of the State [Idea gosudarstva 1955] which was published in New York in 1955, Alekseev returned to this thought. He wrote that he adhered neither to sociological nominalism nor to sociological universalism since the key role in the development of culture was played by interactions between the individual and social phenomena (cf. Alekseev 1955, 404–405). Whether a person sees his or her life as part of the development of culture depends on the functioning of social institutions.

4 | Solidarity in Hessen’s philosophy

18Like Alekseev, Hessen draws on Rickert’s theory of values when constructing his socio-philosophical concept (for more detail, see Zagir|nyak 2018, 2019). Hessen explicitly linked his first works to Ri|ckert’s philosophy (Hessen 1999b, 47–49). Later, in Prague, Hessen continued to develop the values-historical reality opposition, which was proposed by the German philosopher.

19Hessen interprets cultural development as an interaction between tradition and goal-tasks. The connection between the notions of “goal-task” and “tradition”, which was established in the article “The idea of the nation”, aids Hessen in explaining cultural development (Hessen 1999b, 91–93). The notion of “goal-task” based on Rickert’s concept of value refers to a possible development trajectory of a certain sphere of culture with inexhaustible content (Hessen 1995, 32). The tradition is a systematisation of all existent goods – the actualisation of certain aspects of the goal-task in historical reality. The goal-task and the tradition interact through the creative work of an individual. Thus, the development of culture crucially depends on whether each person has the opportunity to exercise his or her free will (Hessen 1995, 31). This means that there are goals of cultural development that are valuable in themselves (Hessen 1995, 32) even in complete isolation from an individual. This status of culture precludes social phenomena from being ontologically reduced to the level of relationships between individuals.

20Hessen demonstrates that each person is aware that his or her life is not a sequence of discrete events but the progression of development in the pursuit of purposes-tasks. People are conscious of the finitude of their empirical existence and see their lives in a certain community as part of a certain culture. As social subjects, people view cultural reality as a space where new aspects of the tradition can be actualised (see Zagirnyak 2021, 1117–1120). Individuals may put their lives in the context of social and cultural development and thus obtain a worldview that links individual people in their personal being to the being of the World, within which they dwell (Hessen 1935, 320). There are no other ways to produce cultural content. That is why Hessen calls free will the key criterion of cultural development.

21In his series of articles named The State of Law and Socialism [Pravovoe gosudarstvo i socialism 1924–1927],11 Hessen considers social phenomena as auxiliaries that help people in exercising their free will (Hessen 1999d, 174). Social phenomena can have their own development goals, but they cannot change the priority value and goal of their existence – the exercise of free will (Hessen 1999d, 398–399). Otherwise, utopias emerge that have catastrophic consequences for free will because they are capable of justifying any means used to achieve goals. A culture embarks on a journey of self-destruction when free will ceases to be its central principle.

22Hessen advances a very important thesis: individuals can be free only when they see themselves as active participants in the production of cultural content. Thus, a person should treat others as co-participants in this process rather than seek isolation and focus on self-development within the narrow limits of his or her givenness (Hessen 1999c, 94). But what serves as a permanent criterion of the compatibility of social phenomena and an individual’s possibilities of self-fulfilment and self-actualisation?

23To answer this question, Hessen develops the concept of general will, which dates back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Thanks to the general will, each person takes part in setting goals of development that go beyond individual aspirations (Hessen 1999d, 201–202). The general will is a process of change and continuous harmonisation of numerous individual strivings; it contributes to the effectiveness of cooperation and lets each person see himself or herself as a co-participant in the actualisation of the goal-task in the tradition.

24Solidarity is the principle of interaction and interdependence between individuals (Hessen 2012, 81). According to Hessen, it is a mechanism that makes the formation of the general will more effective, ensures the freedom of each person, and gives everyone equal opportunities for self-fulfilment. Unlike Alekseev’s sobornost', Hes|sen’s solidarity is both a concept instrumental in analysing how efficiently freedom is institutionalised in an actual legal system and the required criterion of the compatibility of social phenomena and individual self-fulfilment possibilities. Hessen reckons that sobornost' is a controversial notion (Hessen 1932, 434). A possibility of balancing the individual and the whole in supreme synthesis is embedded in this notion (Hessen 1932, 428). He uses the word integrative [integracionnyj] as a synonym for sobornyj (Hessen 1932, 424) to denote the equilibrium between parts and the whole. This equilibrium makes it possible to harmonise social phenomena.

25Social phenomena, however, merely constitute the realm of individual self-fulfilment and freedom. Hessen emphasises that existing associations and institutions express certain interests of people. A person is part of various social wholes or unions, which intertwine within a single person and never fully belong to anyone (Hessen 1999d, 369).

26For individuals, the diversity of social phenomena is a mean to contribute to the tradition. People can also have their own development goals, which cannot be reduced to the interests of a single individual. Culture is a search for compromises between social phenomena and individual people. These compromises are reached through solidarity.

27Hessen links solidarity to the practical dimension of social law. In doing so, he evokes Eugen Ehrlich’s sociology of law. Ehrlich considered the law as a phenomenon of development and evolution of social relationships: the regulation of any social entity is the law (Ehrlich 2011, 93–94).

28 The law emerges through the harmonisation of multifarious legal orders created by social associations and institutions. For Hessen, the concepts of social law include explanations why the state is losing its monopoly on the production of social order: Léon Duguit’s solidarism, syndicalism as interpreted by Hubert Lagardelle, and G. D. H. Cole’s Fabianism. Cole calls the modern state an organisation coordinating social associations and institutions (Cole 1920, 88). Lagardelle suggests achieving social justice outside the walls of parliament through syndicates and by introducing new regulations and algorithms of social interactions (Lagardelle 1906, 124–125). In Duguit’s sociology of law, the state loses its monopoly on legal regulations because this function can be performed by other social institutions and associations (Duguit 1921, 19–21).

29In his The Idea of Social Right [Ideja social'nogo prava 1932], Hes|sen envisaged a legal framework for interactions between individuals and social associations as well as individuals and social institutions. His model of society ruled by social law is a system of sets represented by legal orders. The size of each set is the number of constituent individuals. Any relationship between these equal sets is possible – intersection, subordination, or disunity. An individual who is or wants to be part of such a social entity must abide by established legal rules. This gives rise to several questions. How can a person identify himself or herself as a social subject? When complying with a legal order, does he or she have an opportunity to become aware of his or her creative work as participation in a single sociocultural process? Will legal pluralism not result in a fragmented society and culture, with each fragment adhering to its own interpretation of free will?

30Society is a combination of existing legal orders (Hessen 1999d, 394). The state coordinates all of them to preserve the unity of society as well as of culture. The result of coordinating multifarious legal orders is the general will. The state harmonises relationships between individuals, social groups, and institutions and thus contributes to the unity of society.

31Hessen believes that the state as the representative of society as a whole is needed to control legal orders. Any legal order is an open system that furthers the interests of an individual and proposes ways of self-fulfilment but never determines his or her essence. This is what a supra-legal element of personality is (Hessen 1999d, 381): social functions do not exhaust personality. Individuals look for regulations to be guided by in their interactions with other people so that free will can be exercised in the best way possible. When pursuing self-fulfilment, they choose a combination of legal orders that offers effective algorithms and infrastructure. Each legal order makes sense only as a realm of self-fulfilment of individuals contributing to socio-cultural development. The supra-legal element of personality prevents the reduction of an individual to a combination of functions and makes the emergence of new institutions and associations possible.

32Hessen employs the concept of solidarity in analysing social cohesion. He maintains that the state creates a framework for the development of social associations and institutions. Social unity is a realm where many legal orders co-exist coordinated by the state. The state preserves the cohesion of society and ensures the compatibility of each individual with society and culture. In exercising his or her free will, each individual contributes to culture. The efficiency of cultural development depends on the congruence of individuals when exerting their free will. Having developed in the conditions proposed by the state, solidarity ensures socio-cultural unity.

33For Hessen, sobornost' is a synonym of integration. The notion is used to denote a mechanism for social development; its religious-philosophical functions are abandoned in favour of a legal context. In his treatment of social law, Hessen shows that it is perfectly possible to compare sobornost' to solidarity as legal concepts that help analyse social cohesion (Hessen 1932, 428).


34What is similar in Alekseev’s and Hessen’s solutions to the problems of sociability? Both thinkers drew on Neo-Kantian axiology, namely, the opposition between values and historical reality. With this in mind, they were exploring the relationship between the individual and society as well as between the individual and culture.

35My findings show that there are strong similarities between the two solutions: the status of the individual is defined from the perspective of an anti-hierarchical personalism. People are free only as co-participants in cultural development.

36Hessen and Alekseev agree on the following.

  • Firstly, they concurred in the opinion that the opposition between the natural and the free is an appropriate framework for identifying the functions of social phenomena.
  • Secondly, they both view individual free will as the key to cultural development.
  • Thirdly, each free person can see himself or herself as part of cultural development and has an opportunity to perform creative work only when interacting with other individuals.
  • Fourthly, although social phenomena created in culture are mere tools for the self-fulfilment of the individual, they have their own development goals.
  • Fifthly, to extrapolate one’s goals to society and harmonise them with the goals of culture, the individual needs the mechanism of solidarity/sobornost'. My analysis confirms similarities between the functions of solidarity and sobornost' as tools to create the ontology of the being of social phenomena (it is heavily dependent on the adopted interpretation of free will).
  • Sixthly, sobornost'/solidarity is a tool to achieve unity through social justice.

37The modern understanding of sociability holds that social phenomena depend on the functionality of an individual as a social subject. Thus, sociability indicates the degree of development of culture as a system of conditions created for the self-fulfilment of an individual. My findings demonstrate that the notions “solidarity” and [sobor|nost'] are synonyms of sociability.

38The use of different terms to denote sociability is explained by the context in which Alekseev and Hessen built their concepts:

  • Alekseev uses the Eurasian interpretation of sobornost' proposed by Karsavin;
  • Hessen’s understanding of solidarity was influenced by the ideas of the sociology of law (Ehrlich), solidarism (Duguit), and Fabianism (Cole).

39In both systems, Neo-Kantianism provided socio-cultural optics for structuring historical and philosophical materials as well as for implementing new convergences.

40Considerable similarities in Hessen’s and Alekseev’s solutions to the problem of sociability make it possible to implement their proposals regarding legal-order organisation in regulating interactions between social phenomena and individuals. As I attempted to de|monstrate, these proposals are alternative forms of the principles of Neo-Kantian philosophy of culture.


  • 1 The article was supported by grant No. 19-011-00927, The Concept of Conciliarity in the Philosophy of the Russian Emigration: a Comparative Historical Investigation from the Russian Foundation for Basic Research. Mikhail Zagirnyak, PhD, Research Fellow, Academia Kantiana, Institute for the Humanities, Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University, Russia
  • 2 As Sergey Yachin cogently put it, the “axiological reason” determines the features of sociability in society models (Yachin 2017, 56).
  • 3 Sergius Hessen (1887–1950) was the son of Joseph Hessen, a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Russia (active in the Russian Empire in 1905–1917), co-editor of the newspaper Reč (which was published in Russia from 1906 to 1918) and the émigré newspaper Rul' (published in Berlin in 1920–1931). In emigration, Hessen was on friendly terms with the philosopher Fjodor Stepun, who recruited him as a contributor to the journals Sovremennye zapiski (Paris, 1920–1940) and Novyj Grad (Paris, 1931–1939), as well as with the legal scholar Bogdan Kistyakovsky and the philosopher and sociologist of law Georgy Gurevich. In Sovremennye zapiski, Hessen propounded his key socio-philosophical and legal philosophical ideas. He proposed the concept of social law, which combined the tenets of liberalism and socialism imbued with Southwest Neo-Kantian axiology. In explaining socio-cultural dynamics, Hessen drew on Rickert’s opposition between eternal values and temporary reality. True to the axiological principles of Southwest Neo-Kantianism (see Hans 1950, 297), Hessen was critical of both religious philosophical attempts to explain the rationale behind socio-cultural development (Hessen 1999d, 232) and Eurasianism, which he compared to Fascism (Hessen 1925, 499).
  • 4 Nikolai Alekseev (1879–1964) was the son of a lawyer. In 1906, he graduated from the Faculty of Law at Moscow University. As a student and later professor, he was friends with Pavel Novgorodcev, who assisted him in 1911 in taking a master’s degree in law. In 1912–1917, Alekseev was a professor at the Imperial Moscow University. In 1921, he was invited by Novgorodcev, the dean of the Russian Legal Faculty at the Charles University in Prague, to head the Department of Public Law. In Prague, Alekseev befriended local Eurasianists (Petr Savickij, Vladimir Ilyin). In 1926, he made his debut in the Eurasianist press (Alekseev 1927a, 1927b, 1927c, 1927d, 1927e, 1928a, 1928b, 1929). The second most significant periodical for Alekseev was the Put' edited by Nikolaj Berdjaev. The journal published Alekseev’s interpretation of Russian history. He put forward the concept of ideocracy – the state of truth and justice. Alekseev understood justice in a Neo-Kantian vein as an eternal value that has historical manifestations. In 1930, YMCA-press, which was heavily criticised by Eurasianists, published his work Religija, pravo i nravstvennost' [Religion, law, and morality] (Alekseev 1930). In the book, he presented a model of cultural development as a process of actualisation of values, which people embrace thanks to religion. This publication marks Alekseev’s ideological rift with Eurasianists. As Dmitrij Taratorin writes, Alekseev, just as Lev Krasavin, kept his distance from the advocates of the movement (Taratorin 1998, 628). Unlike Hessen, Alekseev developed Southwest Neo-Kantian axiology within a religious philosophical understanding of the history of society and culture.
  • 5 Except the Smenovechvtsy (Nikolaj Ustrjalov, Pavel Bobriščev-Puškin, Roman Gul, Sergej Lukjanov, and Juri Ključnikov) and the Parisian Eurasianist group (Petr Suvčinskij, Dmitrij Svjatopolk-Mirskij, Nikolaj Klepnin, Petr Arapov, Konstantin Rodzevič, Sergej Efron), which contributed to the newspaper Eurasia, the Russian émigré community opposed the Soviet state.
  • 6 The book was republished in 1995 (Hessen 1995). I used the more recent edition for this article.
  • 7 The book was republished in 1998 as Sovremennoe položenie nauki o gosudarstve i ee bližaijšie zadači [The current situation of the study of the state and its immediate objectives]. I used the more recent edition when preparing this article.
  • 8 Here and throughout this article I use not the 1928 (Alekseev 1928) edition, but the 1998 reprint (Alekseev 1998c).
  • 9 Cf. “…er verlangt nur, dass welches auch im einzelnen Fall die Pflicht sei, diese getan werde”. Windelband, W. (1907), Präludien, Tübingen, 385
  • 10 “Die Pflicht des Individuums ist, im Dienste der Gesellschaft zu stehen, aber in dem Sinne, daß diese in gemeinsamer Arbeit ihr Kultursystem erzeugt.” Ibid.
  • 11 Hessen reworked the series of articles "Problema pravovaogo socializma I: evoljucija liberalizma" (Hessen 1924–1927) into a work entitled The State of Law and Socialism. This work was first published in 1999 (Hessen 1999d).


Alekseev Nikolaj Nikolaevič (1928) Sobstvennost' i socializm: opyt obosnovanija social'no-ekomičeskoj programmy evrazijstva. Paris, Evrazijskoe knižnoe izdatel'stvo.

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Publication details

Published in:

Martin Erik, Mrugalski Michał, Flack Patrick (2022) Neo-Kantianism as an entanglement of intellectual cultures in Central and Eastern Europe: Neukantianismus als Verflechtung von Wissenskulturen Mittel-und Osteuropas. Genève-Lausanne, sdvig press.

Pages: 189-208

Full citation:

Zagirnyak Mikhail (2022) „Nikolaj Alekseev's sobornost' and Sergius Hessen's solidarity: two ideas of sociability in Russian émigré Neo-Kantianism“, In: E. Martin, M. Mrugalski & P. Flack (eds.), Neo-Kantianism as an entanglement of intellectual cultures in Central and Eastern Europe, Genève-Lausanne, sdvig press, 189–208.