Two Cheers for the Four Freedoms

A few weeks ago I outlined my objections to libertarianism and threatened to discuss other conceptions of freedom. With the next national election less than a year away and the Democratic Party looking for a popular, unifying message, the Dems could do worse (and probably will) than go back to Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms.

In case you weren’t around for his State of the Union address on January 6, 1941, this is how he described them:

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.

Bravo! But I have issues with this concept of liberty also.

Roosevelt’s first two freedoms affirm rights granted under the First Amendment. On the plus side, Roosevelt wants these rights for everyone in the world. On the minus side, he forgot to include three other First Amendment rights: a free press, peaceable assembly, and the ability to petition government. My guess is his PR flacks admonished him to keep things simple, so the other rights were omitted. But they should be included in any modern version of the Four Freedoms.

The third freedom isn’t mentioned in the Constitution, and represents a radical departure from the economic libertarianism that still has a chokehold on our politics. From an ethical, moral, and religious perspective, though, who can argue against everyone in the world having clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, nutritious food to eat, a roof over their head, and warmth when it’s cold?

The fourth freedom is a worthy aspiration, but good luck with that! Historians haven’t missed the irony that Roosevelt proposed the Fourth Freedom less than a month after introducing the Lend-Lease bill, under which US military production soared. On FDR’s watch America not only became the arsenal of democracy, but built the most apocalyptic weapon in history.

Despite these shortcomings, I think the Four Freedoms would be a great place for the Democrats to start when developing a positive, unifying message for 2018. I’ve mentioned how I’d modify the first two. I’d modify the third by adding commitments to education, infrastructure, and health care. And I’d modify the fourth by redoubling efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation, the production of poison gas, and the cultivation of lethal germs. To put a bow on it, I’d call for transforming the military into the world’s number one crisis response team, dedicated to saving more lives than it takes.

Earlier in the same speech, Roosevelt told Congress:

The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.

Jobs for those who can work.

Security for those who need it.

The ending of special privilege for the few.

The preservation of civil liberties for all.

The enjoyment — the enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

Hey Democrats, clue for you! This kind of messaging beats “we’ve got a policy for that” every time.

Running on a Four Freedom-based platform won’t win over the 35% of the population with an authoritarian mindset— i.e. Trump’s base — but the Democrats shouldn’t waste time trying to persuade unpersuadables. They should aim at their own base, independents, and even conservatives troubled by the Republican Party’s authoritarian turn. If enough of those voters are encouraged by this vision, it will be a good year for the Democrats despite the Republicans’ built-in electoral advantages.

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.