Four freedoms really at risk in America?

I found a photo that reminded me of Norman Rockwell‘s “Freedom from Want,” and wrote about it.

Then I ran into a tweet from Texas educator Bonnie Lesley:

That in turn led to an Alternet post, displayed at Reader Supported News (RSN), by a guy who claims that, compared to 1941 and the progress made on the Four Freedoms, all four of them are in danger, in America, today.

Could that be right?  In was in his State of the Union address in January 1941 that Roosevelt described the four freedoms he said the U.S. should work to secure around the world — this was clearly a philosophical foundation-laying for going to war on the side of Britain, and against Germany, in the World War that was already raging, but which the U.S. had managed to stay out of for five years in Asia and two years in Europe.

Near the end of the speech on January 6, 1941, Roosevelt explained why freedom needed to be fought for, what was important to us, as Americans in the freedom of others in other nations.

Here is an excerpt of the speech, the final few paragraphs:

I have called for personal sacrifice, and I am assured of the willingness of almost all Americans to respond to that call. A part of the sacrifice means the payment of more money in taxes. In my budget message I will recommend that a greater portion of this great defense program be paid for from taxation than we are paying for today. No person should try, or be allowed to get rich out of the program, and the principle of tax payments in accordance with ability to pay should be constantly before our eyes to guide our legislation.

If the Congress maintains these principles the voters, putting patriotism ahead of pocketbooks, will give you their applause.

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

Norman Rockwell's

Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom from Fear,” 1943 painting based on FDR’s 1941 State of the Union address, “The Four Freedoms.” This painting was used on posters urging Americans to buy War Bonds.

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 under- standings 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 quicklime 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 and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

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

War Bonds poster showing all of Rockwell's

Posters showing all four of Rockwell’s paintings also were printed for the War Bonds Drive. Image from the digital collection of the libraries at the University of North Texas

This speech inspired Norman Rockwell to create a series of paintings in tribute to the four freedoms, which paintings were used as posters for War Bond drives.

Paul Bucheit argues we’re losing those four freedoms, which we as a nation fought to secure, in the Pacific, in the Atlantic, in Africa, Europe and Asia:

The 2013 version shows how our freedoms have been diminished, or corrupted into totally different forms.

  • Freedom from want? Poverty keeps getting worse. . .
  • Freedom from fear? The new Jim Crow. . .
  • Freedom of worship? Distorted by visions of the Rapture. . .
  • Freedom of speech? No, surveillance and harassment. . .

Mr. Bucheit offers longer explanations.  I don’t think I agree completely, but I’m interested in your opinion:  Are we losing the Four Freedoms we fought for?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Bonnie Lesley, @EdFocus on Twitter.


Herblock cartoon, August 13, 1951, whatever happened to freedom from fear?

“Say, whatever happened to ‘Freedom from Fear?'” Herblock cartoon in the Washington Post, August 13, 1951, on McCarthyism and the hunt for communists in government jobs. CJR290 image; click image for more information.

8 Responses to Four freedoms really at risk in America?

  1. James Kessler says:

    And lets not forget the gop’s targeting our freedom to vote. From their voter id bills to their voting restrictions to their new one…truing to get rid of the 19th amendment


  2. Jim says:

    i have the Four Freedoms framed and on our living room wall. I’ve been looking for a nice, but inexpensive photograph or painting of FDR to go next to Dr. King in my office but haven’t found one.

    One would be wise to ask what movements and organizations most threaten each of the freedoms. Al Qaeda certainly threatens our freedom from fear. But West Point recently published a scholarly, in-depth study of domestic terrorist organizations. It got almost no media coverage. So while Americans are well aware of the Islamic terrorist, they are largely ignorant of the knuckle-dragger next door.

    The other freedoms?

    Who most threatens our freedom of religion? The noise machine on the far right claims it’s liberalism. I beg to differ. Rockwell’s painting is not of a Baptist camp meeting, a Roman Mass or a Pentecostal snake-handling service. It depicts Christians, Jews, a Muslim and some obvious skeptics. That’s real freedom of religion. Not the sort that would force children to offer some token, rote Christian prayer at the start of a school day. (As Indiana State Senator Dennis Kruse has suggested.)

    Who most threatens our freedom of speech? I may be missing something here but I don’t see too much censorship in America. I am glad, though, that there are some restrictions on things like pornography. Not bans, mind you, but parental warnings and placement of certain material behind the counter. Is there censorship of ideas in America? I’ll let others here hash that one out.

    Who most threatens our freedom from want? Clearly, undoubtedly — it’s the Tea Party, anti-government right and those who would perpetuate income inequality, poverty and joblessness. Has anyone compared the rate of pay between employees and CEOs in 1975 with today? Or compared today’s American differential with that of the Japanese?

    Just some random ramblings. Thanks for the article, Ed. It’s wonderful.



  3. JamesK says:

    Hence why the GOP needs to be out of power for a good long while.


  4. I’ve heard it argued, Ed, that these developments are largely the result of government policies implemented over the past 30 years. If so, the trends would seem likely to continue unless the policies are changed.

    See, for instance, The State of Working America. 12th Edition.


  5. Ed Darrell says:

    Poverty is increasing. The middle class is shrinking. Is this a temporary fluctuation, or a more sinister development?

    Businessweek has the figures:


  6. Freedom from want? I have been reading that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, that wealth is being concentrated in the hands of the richest 1% of the population, that the mean wage is stagnant or decreasing for the rest of us, and that the middle class is shrinking. I think the situation is getting critical.


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