Wednesday, January 6, 2016

FDR's Four Freedoms at 75

Like its inspiration, the Sovereign's Gracious Speech from the Throne, the U.S. President's State of the Union Address occurs at the beginning (or close to the beginning) of the American congressional session and seeks to set the agenda for it. (Since the adoption of the 20th Amendment in 1933, this has occurred in January of each year.) But 75 years ago today, on January 6, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed Congress with a speech of more than passing significance. Still 11 months prior to American entry into the Second World War, FDR nonetheless departed from the isolationist orientation of so many of his fellow citizens and called upon them to recognize and promote worldwide four fundamental freedoms that he argued ought to exist "everywhere in the world." The Four Freedoms FDR enumerated were freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear:

"In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb."

Progress toward the universal achievement of these Four Freedoms - even toward a universal commitment to trying to achieve them - has been mixed at best. that is true not just globally but even within our own society, which in FDR's time was still characterized by legally institutionalize racism, among other ills. And it was only with the War on Poverty and the Great Society that the New Deal's aspiration to guarantee freedom from want began to seem likely to be achieved here in the US. Worldwide, progress in these areas has been real, but partial.

Then came the 1980s and American society began its ideological retreat from the national and global solidarity which underlie the Four Freedoms. How many of the current Republican candidates for President, for example, can one even imagine seriously advocating the Four Freedoms or actually trying to promote them nationally and globally if elected?

(The above photo shows the text of the Four Freedoms memorialized at Four Freedoms Park on roosevelt Island in New York City's East River.)

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