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FDR’s Four Freedoms

February 3, 2013


At a time when most of Europe and Asia were engulfed in the Second World War, and before the United States entered that war, on January 6, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made the following remarks in an address to Congress:

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.


The first two of these freedoms are embodied in the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution. The last two are not codified in the Constitution and remain lofty goals that have not been achieved either in this country or in the world as a whole, as was envisioned by Roosevelt. They were subsequently further articulated in Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights in January 1944 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948, after FDRs death. Neither of these documents carry the force of law in either the United States or the world as a whole..

After WWII, we experienced the Cold War, with fears of nuclear catastrophe, a seemingly endless arms race and conflicts including Korea and Vietnam. Wars over resources, religions and ideologies, instead of winding down and ending as FDR sought, have multiplied and spread throughout the world. The United States, from which many of these noble ideals were most eloquently expressed, has often become a major stumbling block, rather than a facilitator of their realization. Instead of reducing military armaments, this country has become their largest arms exporter to other countries worldwide. Rather than an end to war, we have seen the development of wars with seemingly no purpose and no end. The War on Terror is one example of this.

Where Roosevelt sought to create a world where people lived together free of want and fear, we now act as a nation as if the world is full of evil people, countries and terrorists who we can neither adequately identify nor contain. This fear has become so rampant that many have begun to acquiesce in the erosion of the original Bill of Rights and the freedoms contained therein to ensure that another tragedy like 9/11 does not occur. Even attempting to address the inequalities and inequities causing the third and fourth freedoms to elude accomplishment becomes distracted by an all-consuming, albeit misguided, attempt to preserve what sense of safety we might still have.

While the nature of war continues to evolve, causing fewer deaths among American soldier in battle, its inherent harshness is not spared those upon whom we wage it. But it also becomes increasingly difficult to determine if we are actually accomplishing anything other than huge expenditures to blow up and then rebuild other nations while making their people bitter at their treatment at our hands and creating more enemies to fight in the future. Just because Americans are dying in smaller numbers does not make these wars any more just, especially when they are started under false pretenses and are offensive rather than defensive in nature. The people being killed are no less deserving of living with the four freedoms than we are. Roosevelt knew that and included all nations and peoples in his vision.

So why can we not achieve these Freedoms, more than 70 years since FDR first enumerated them before our entry into the latest War to End All Wars? Why, instead of trying to deliver the promise of Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear, do we seem intent in our actions on achieving the exact opposite? Is it really so hard to choose between building things and blowing them up, healing and feeding people rather rather than bombing them and destroying their crops? Should we not be working together rather than competing by stealing valuable resources and hoarding them for ourselves? Is chopping a dollar off a gallon of gas in New York really worth impoverishing millions elsewhere in the world and exposing them to meaningless premature deaths due to wars, disease and starvation?

I truly wish our government, and the governments of other nations, would work to achieve these four freedoms. Wasting time, effort and valuable resources in destroying people and things should be changed into productively taking care of our needs at home and the needs of people in other societies. I’m not a religious person, but I’d say it is high time we turned our swords into plowshares in order for us all to live better lives on this planet. By building each other up rather than tearing each other down, we can defeat the greed and destructiveness we treat each other and the planet with on a daily basis. Roosevelt felt it was a world attainable in his time and by his generation. Let us not see pass even one more generation before accomplishing this mission and creating a just society for all mankind.


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  1. Great discussion and description of the lack of success of FDR’s Second Bill of Rights. It would be an incredible thing to see it implemented in the US. As a firm believer that if we come together we can heal ourselves and actually become empowered, I am a supporter of these ideas. Thanks for spreading the message of Hope. – “D”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your central question speaks well to the core difference in ruling worldview between conservatives (Man is inherently evil and has to be tamed, ruled, shamed into doing what’s best for all) and traditional liberals (Man is inherently free and should be rebuked or punished only after violating the rights of another). The hard right’s response to those who would seek “freedom from want” is “work harder; make better choices and stop asking the government for help.” For those who seek freedom from fear, they would say “pull yourself up by your bootstraps; suck it up; and stop giving those criminals Miranda rights.” As if no one was ever poor or damaged due to any circumstances outside their own control. I don’t know how a modern FDR would get through to these people. But reminding Americans that we have had that vision and held those ideals in our past, as you have done with this piece, could only help.


  3. Well said. Many people are tired of the fear-mongering. Not only that but we live our lives in a state of fear of the govt. We’ve accepted that as a given. What if we didn’t?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wouldn’t it be nice to find out?


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