Revisiting Roosevelt’s ‘Four Freedoms’

Eleven months before the Japanese would draw the U.S. into global war, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed Congress on Jan. 6, 1941, and laid out a worldwide vision of four freedoms.

We still talk a lot about freedom, but we seem to mostly talk about having individual freedom to do what we want to do, especially in the business world. Roosevelt had a vision of greater freedom, a freedom that comes from a “good society” that is concerned about the freedom of all, not just oneself.

To read of these four freedoms, one is moved to ponder whether we still seek them for our nation and for the world. And did we use all of the military action of the past decade to bring these freedoms to others?

President Roosevelt, as reproduced from the W.W. Norton web site:

“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.

“To that new order we oppose the greater conception — the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.

“Since the beginning of our American history, we have been engaged in change — in a perpetual peaceful revolution — a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly adjusting itself to changing conditions — without the concentration camp or the quick-lime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.

“This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women; and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

“To that high concept there can be no end save victory.”

From Congressional Record, 1941, Vol. 87, Pt. I.

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