Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Fighting for the Four Freedoms

It is has been called the best State of the Union address of all time. That was President Roosevelt’s speech seventy-five years ago, on January 6, 1941. It is the one popularly known as the Four Freedoms address.

The four freedoms that FDR delineated in his eighth State of the Union speech, as you likely know well, are freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. (Here is the link to hearing FDR articulate those four freedoms.)
The beginning of the new year 75 years ago saw the Western world in turmoil—much worse than now in 2016. WWII had begun in Sept. 1939 with Germany’s invasion of Poland, and by June 1940 Germany had taken over much of Europe.

In July, Germany launched air attacks on England, bombings that lasted for months. Then Germany, Italy, and Japan formed the Axis Alliance in Sept. 1940. The situation was certainly grave for America’s allies across the Atlantic.

But Americans did not want to get involved in war again.

In that 1/6/41 address, Roosevelt sought to provide a rationale for why the U.S. should abandon the isolationist policies it had followed since WWI—such as refusing to join the League of Nations in 1920.

The four freedoms as propagated by FDR were not just for the U.S. They were explicitly his goal or vision for “everywhere in the world,” as he repeatedly said.

While FDR’s call for freedom from fear was primarily a call for “a world-wide reduction of armaments” along with the other three it became the center of attempts to rally public support for the war.

Artist Norman Rockwell made the “four freedoms” and support of the war even more popular with his noted paintings in 1943.

Just four days after his Jan. 6 speech, FDR proposed the Lend-Lease program, which was enacted two months later. It gave the President power to sell or lend food and armaments to the United Kingdom and other Allied nations—and later to the U.S.S.R.

There were still more than 4½ years of devastating war after FDR’s Jan. 1941 speech. But in Dec. 1948 the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, incorporating the four freedoms in the preamble.

But one wonders how many more people of the world enjoy those four freedoms now than 75 years ago. In this country, the first two freedoms are basically strong: after all, they are guaranteed in the Constitution.

But is there actually any more freedom from want and freedom from fear in the U.S. now than there was in 1941?

Fighting for those freedoms domestically is important for us to do—as well as working for them globally as part of the human race.

Freedom from want is needed by so many people around the world—and in this country, partly because people keep wanting more and more. But combatting income inequality and providing jobs with a living wage for everyone are two current imperatives.

Of course, fear of terrorism has been heightened in the past few months—by one incident in California and by heated political rhetoric of presidential candidates playing on people’s fears.

But the fight for freedom from fear is not done best by using weapons or violence. As Malala Yousafzai emphasizes,
As 75 years ago, there still needs to be an emphasis on the four freedoms that FDR espoused. And we need to consider wisely the best way to fight for those freedoms.


  1. As usual, your blog epistles are short, succinct, and to the point! I remember well the days I taught about WW2 to my 7th-12th Grade students. Some of the atrocities were played out during films I showed the classes. It would especially behoove us to work hard for the Four Freedoms, because we have our own domestic terrorists working against us in so many ways. I don't need to mention christian extremists in our midst! Thank you! Dak!

    1. Thanks, George, it was good to hear from you, and I appreciate you being the first one to respond this morning.

  2. An interesting list. Sad than several are advocating for the elimination of 6 of the Bill of Rights - including the First.

    1. I haven't heard of anyone wanting to eliminate any of the Amendments in the Bill of Rights -- although former Justice Stevens has suggested a change to the wording of the Second Amendment (as I mentioned in a blog article some time ago--and which I thought was a good idea).

  3. Thanks for reminding us of Roosevelt's 4 Freedoms. As you mention, there are people now who are trying to whip up FEAR in people's minds--and hoping to do it for personal gain, as in winning the elections.***I just finished a book called Radical by Maajid Nawaz, who details how he himself was recuited as an Islamist whose goal is to govern the world. He takes the reader through to his awakening. He is now using the same tactics to convince young people over the world to go in the direction of freedom and democracy. His organization is Quilliam, est. in 2008 as the world's first counter-extremism organization. We will discuss Maajid Nawaz's book Radical next Wed. January 13 from 1:00-2:30 at Vital Conversations, led by David Nelson.

  4. The article about Stevens is found here http://theviewfromthisseat.blogspot.com/2015/04/happy-95th-birthday-justice-stevens.html

  5. I was struck by the wisdom of the exact terminology of "freedom of worship." Today we loosely talk about "freedom of religion," which frequently enough means the 'freedom' to impose religious mores on outside groups. This, of course, is the open road to religious warfare. When religious groups exert political force and public opposition against secular policies they do not like they must realize that any such conflict can become a two-way street, and make of their religion a political target. An example of this very thing happened in California a few years ago where the Mormon church exerted great public pressure against gay marriage, and then was surprised to discover that it had created political backlash against the Mormon church. The history of religious opposition to new developments in society is long, and embarrassing. Inventions from forks to anesthesia have been greeted by religious opposition. The defeats of the church were so profound that now they are largely forgotten.

    This is not to say that churches can have no voice on secular issues, but how that is expressed, and the subjects on which it is expressed must be carefully considered. For instance, the vehement insistence that marriage is a religious rite between one man and one woman has ended up being a significant factor in the decline of marriage in modern America. Many young adults have believed that part of what they heard, and therefore decided they want nothing to do with marriage. Indeed, in recent decades Christians have done such a good job of "making My name stink among the gentiles" that the percentage of Christians in America is in decline. Even the once mighty Southern Baptist Convention has been losing members for years. Jesus is more popular than His church, and His church members have done a lot to make that happen.

    When Jesus began his ministry, He announced He was for the poor, those in prison, and those in debt. He promptly got a lot of political blowback. I bring this example to point out that getting blowback is not in itself bad. There are times to be a prophet crying in the wilderness. We just need some discernment to make sure we are not raising a stink about forks and anesthesia!

  6. Both Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Worship are based in another idea, Freedom of Conscience. And FDR's description of Freedom of Worship is a narrow one, limited only to worship of God in various denominations, and not allowing of other objects of worship or having none at all, whether atheism or agnosticism.

    Religious majorities tend to expand those things that they treat as contrary to their understanding of the will of God, and to seek government enforcement of their understanding. To maintain our freedoms, we need to continually oppose those who would use their religion to impose constraints on the freedoms of others.

  7. Here's an article from the Nishi Nihon Shimbun about Roosevelt's speech. Thought you might find it interesting.

    1. This is an excellent piece that deals with the complexity of the issues better than I was able to do in my article. I much appreciate whoever posted this article, and I wish I knew who it was in order to thank him or her directly.