Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the “Four Freedoms”

“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.”

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, State of the Union Address, January 6, 1941

If there is a basis for security and prosperity in the post-Cold War era, it strikes me that FDR’s words prior to the Cold War still point in the right direction.

Something I’ve been pondering lately is the extent to which politics in my lifetime has been, and continues to be, a struggle by Democrats to preserve FDR’s legacy and by conservative Republicans to dismantle it now that no depression exists to call into question the efficacy of the “invisible hand” of the unrestrained and unregulated market.

Although hardly a novel observation, I think there is a great deal of truth in it. I also think it accounts for the lack of innovation that many liberals, progressives, and Democrats feel. We’re not doing anything new — our job today is to fight to hold ground, not extend the territory covered by Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms,” not to mention his “Second Bill of Rights.”

But I feel a welcome ferment on the rise. Some progressives are exploring market-oriented approaches to New Deal-style social justice, eschewing bureaucracy and “welfare state” style approaches. Here I’m thinking especially of the example provided by Matt Miller and his book, The Two Percent Solution, which should be required reading for Democrats and progressives of all descriptions.


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