I’m singing a song of freedom, To all people wherever they may be! The Four Freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear

Have a look at Bing Crosby (1942: Holiday Inn) in this video and really listen to the lyrics. What you hear him singing about is the Four Freedoms. You may not know what they are if you’re under 80, but back in that day, everyone in America, in the World, knew about them.

In an address known as the Four Freedoms speech (technically the 1941 State of the Union address,  January 6, 1941) US President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed four fundamental freedoms that people “everywhere in the world” ought to enjoy:

  1. Freedom of speech and expression
  2. Freedom of worship
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear

The concept of the Four Freedoms became part of the personal mission of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (US Amabassador to the UN) and her inspiration for the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, General Assembly Resolution 217A (1948). Indeed, these Four Freedoms were explicitly incorporated into the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which reads,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed the highest aspiration of the common people,….”

President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech inspired a set of four paintings called the Four Freedoms, by Norman Rockwell. These were published in The Saturday Evening Post  (February 20, February 27, March 6 and March 13 in 1943) accompanied by matching essays on each of the Four Freedoms.  The “OURS . . . to fight for” meant not only in war, against dictators like Hitler and Mussolini, but in peace, against anyone that would deny these to people here at home, and anywhere in the world.

The first two concepts you might be familiar with, they’re Constitutional.  But you might not have heard of those last two.  People were, still, in 1941, 12 years after the Market Crash, going through the Great Depression.  Some work from overseas war contracts had created a few jobs, but at the time of FDR’s speech, we hadn’t been bombed at Pearl Harbor (Dec 1941), and most people saw no way out of the economic morass.  (Holiday Inn was being edited when the Pearl Harbor attack happened, and the song sequence in the movie was added to the film just before final cut and released to an America that was then at war).

People living through the Great Depression understood Want and Fear. Just like today, they were huge issues. FDR understood this, and that’s why he created the Medicare, Unemployment Insurance, Social Security, and Welfare programs.  The poster below, which most people think is about Thanksgiving, really isn’t.  It’s about a dream of an America where no one is hungry, where no family is torn apart by want (or war), where people can freely express themselves, and their thanks to God.

Freedom from Want

The most significant inspiration for the inclusion of the right to an adequate standard of living in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (Article 25) and Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was the Four Freedoms speech by US PresidentFranklin Roosevelt, and specifically freedom from want.

Article 25 of the UDHR recognises the right to an adequate standard of living, stating that:

“(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All Children, whether born in or out of wedlock shall enjoy the same social protection.”

All of that thinking came out of the Depression. After the war, nations that had been almost completely destroyed, like France, Germany, Japan, most of Europe, or deeply impacted, like Britain, China, Russia, realized they had to do all they could to secure the welfare of their people. They had to pull together to make a better society, for everyone. For most of these countries, universal healthcare, better regulation of the financial sector, and stricter control of those key industries upon which the welfare of all were dependent became standard.

In America, because of the Post War wealth, and the relatively smaller impact of war (because our country wasn’t a battlefield and it wasn’t in the war as long as members of Commonwealth Nations) politicians pushed in the other direction. Over time, politicians (on both sides) have chipped away at all the safety nets FRD (and the American people who lived through the Depression or died in WWII for) knew would insure all four freedoms, but especially Freedom from Fear, and Freedom from Want.

In America, it became far more important that a few people live in great plenty, even if that meant a great many people lived with little safety or few of their basic needs met.  Ultimately, that Post War mentality led to the breakdown of much of the 1930s financial regulations that had specifically been created to prevent another crash. And, in 2008  another crash, has led to another greater depression.

As a tribute to all the fought for the Four Freedoms, on many fronts, we’re going to run all four of the freedom essays here this week, so you can read the thinking then and consider it versus now. Starting tomorrow we’ll post Booth Tarkington’s Freedom of Speech. For now, we’ll leave you with most famous of the Four Freedoms paintings — Freedom from Fear which was published  March 13, 1943 in The Saturday Evening Post with a matching essay by Stephen Vincent Benét.

This painting is the only one of the Four Freedoms that was not newly created. It had actually been created to depict the Battle of Britain but gone unpublished by The Saturday Evening Post.  If you look closely, you’ll see the newspaper headlines begins “Bombings Kill. . .”  And ” Horrors Hit. . .” Rockwell had a certain distaste toward this image because he felt the idea that American children were resting safely in their beds as Europe burned was a smug theme, but it could also be looked at a concerned father and mother, thinking of other children being bombed in their beds, and wondering what the future might hold for America and American children if they didn’t fight and win not only the War, but the Four Freedoms for all.

Guess we all know the answer now.

This Fourth of July, we leave it to you to decide, if the Four Freedoms set forth in 1941 have been achieved in the US, or anywhere. And we encourage you to fight on, and encourage others around the world when you see them fighting on, with these word from FDR:

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.

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