Elevate Difference

The Ursula Franklin Reader: Pacifism as a Map

Within the world of Ursula Franklin’s essays, idealism is not naïve, but an appropriate manifestation of consistent ethics. While deeply optimistic about the possibilities for social change, the writings of this Canadian scholar-scientist point out the dangers of settling for less than a total transformation of our social structures. She calls us not only to stand by our beliefs, but also to get more creative in how we live our beliefs.

In 1949, Franklin immigrated to Canada from Germany, where she had received her Ph.D. in experimental physics. From the beginning of her career, she was committed to the use of science for peace, and as the first female professor of science at the University of Toronto, she acutely felt the need for gender equity.

Pacifism comprises the solid foundation of Franklin’s thinking. Her commitment to pacifism is rooted both in her religious beliefs—she is a Quaker—and the sure knowledge that the means used will shape the outcome. The book includes a thorough description of the religious basis for pacifism among members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), which will be helpful to readers. The imperatives of pacifism do not apply only to the religious, but for all citizens concerned with true justice.

The essays in this volume, written over more than twenty-five years, outline pacifism as a stance that requires actively working to transform the causes of war. This entails not only refusing to take up arms, but also—and more profoundly—transforming the view of the world that allows some to be called “enemies.” The result is a call for creative, prophetic rethinking of social structures and policies. Prescriptive solutions are not offered, perhaps due to Franklin’s strong belief in local solutions that grow out of genuine community and solidarity.

In her writing, Franklin stresses the importance of examining the means used to achieve social change—or any objective. Hierarchical, imperial approaches will not result in equality, nor can violence lead to nonviolent societies. Her focus on process becomes countercultural when addressing the “us versus them” mentality that dominates not only our governments, but also our cultures, where the global marketplace overwhelms local economies.

Franklin defines peace as the presence of justice and the absence of fear. Significantly, the absence of fear is not limited to fear of attack by an external “enemy,” but includes the fear of economic insecurity that comes from lack of access to food, shelter, and dignified work. She highlights the “interdependence of security”—in other words, there cannot be security for one nation without security for all, and there cannot be peace for one nation without peace for all. As she writes, “Life is not a football match; problems are not resolved by winning.”

As a scholar, Franklin has written extensively on the social challenges of technology. Part of her deep concern for technology lies in the cultural shift away from positive technologies (such as the ways of artisans) and toward mechanistic technologies that take power away from ordinary people. Like philosopher Jacques Ellul and activist Vandana Shiva, she asks that we consider how a given technology affects the common good and the pursuit of justice.

This challenging and inspiring collection of essays offers an invitation to be creative participants in our local and global communities, working for the common good while insisting that our governments do likewise.

Written by: Lisa Rand, August 14th 2009

I already told Lisa this, but it seems worth saying publicly that this is an excellent review and very illuminating. It's such a shame that I'd never heard of Ursula Franklin before, and I've since added this to my wish list. Sounds absolutely fascinating. Thanks Lisa!