On this day in 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his Four Freedoms speech. It was actually the 1941 State of the Union address. It’s a good list:
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of worship
- Freedom from want
- Freedom from fear
Now let’s think about these Four Freedoms in a modern context. Freedom of speech is still pretty good here. It has taken a beating over the years, but I don’t think it is any longer true that someone would get thrown in jail for passing out anti-war pamphlets. Just the same, I wonder if any subversive speech started to get traction, whether the government wouldn’t find that it was like shouting fire in a crowded theater.
Freedom of worship is certainly under attack — but not as the conservatives say. It is under attack from conservatives themselves. See, for example, pretty much anyone who is running to get the Republican presidential nomination.
In general, in the US, we don’t care about freedom from want. This is the country of the myth of the rugged individual. And on the right, everyone has fallen under the spell of Ayn Rand. If you want in America, they claim, it is your own damned fault. It has nothing to do with a rigged system. And we completely ignore the way our system is set up to help those who already have a great deal of money. Republicans claim to care about redistribution of income. But they only care about it when the redistribution goes down. When it goes up (which is most of the time), they don’t even believe it exists.
As for fear, well, I think we are the most fearful people on the planet. Both parties push fear, but the Republicans are the ones who make a brand out of it. And it’s amazing to think: they’ve managed to convince their base that the bravest thing is to be constantly afraid.
If FDR were alive today, he would weep. Of the Four Freedoms, the two we had are roughly the same; and the two we didn’t have are even further away from us.