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Revisiting FDR’s Four Freedoms

Revisiting FDR’s Four Freedoms

Hint: they’re not all freedoms, and they’re still relevant eighty years later.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms are still known today mainly because of the Norman Rockwell art that illustrated the concepts. FDR delivered his Four Freedoms speech on January 6th, 1941, exactly 80 years before the Capitol incursion used now by FDR’s even-more-leftist heirs to curb liberty.

FDR’s goal was to drum up support for the Allies in the war in Europe, which America had not yet entered, as well as for his New Deal programs.

FDR listed the four freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear – together, but as Sesame Street used to say, “one of these things is not like the others.” Two of these things are not like the others.

The difference first can be noticed linguistically: two on the list are “freedom of” and two are “freedom from.” But of course, this isn’t just a matter of prepositions. The first two are liberties and the second two are protections that can often be opposed to freedom.

The question for every country on earth is how to balance these opposing forces.

Today’s left only supports those first two liberties in situations where it benefits them. That is, they support their free speech and their own favored religions plus atheism. Otherwise, they actively work against those things for the right or for anyone who would disagree with them. So freedom of speech and religion are merely tools for them, means to ends, and the goal is to protect whatever supports power for the left and squelch anything that does not.

The two “freedom froms” are their statements of protective goals with the idea of getting people to give the left more power. “Freedom from want” is considered by the left to be the government largess that guarantees government assistance in nearly every facet of life. Who will pay? Why the corrupt and undeserving rich. “Freedom from fear” – which FDR explicitly linked to freedom from wars – has expanded to something approximating “no hurt feelings for minorities and other designated victim groups.” It is a policy to be instituted even (or maybe especially) at the expense of the first two freedoms on the list. With COVID restrictions, we can add “freedom from risk of disease, even if the risk is small that the disease will be serious for healthy individuals under 70.”

I will add a third “freedom from” that suits our times: freedom from knowledge, particularly knowledge of history. The left counts on that lack of knowledge to get people to swallow their promises and their reframing of history as a tale of white badness and uniquely American evil.

I’ll close with some thoughts from a person who might seem to be a surprising source: the poet Robert Frost, who had long pondered the dilemma. There is a tie-in to FDR again (in the excerpt that follows, Frost uses “justice” in the traditional sense that is opposed to the leftist “social justice” sense):

Frost was convinced that the conflict between justice and mercy in human affairs is an eternal and universal moral problem of humanity, and not merely a contemporary political partisan concern…

With these facts in mind Frost’s criticism of the New Deal as “nothing but an outbreak of mass mercy,” is clearly more than mere partisan politics. In 1936, in the midst of attacks on [his collection of poetry] A Further Range by the political Left, Frost wrote to Ferner Nuhn, a young New Deal acquaintance and friend of Henry Wallace, that “strict justice is basic” for a free society, and freedom implied that some people succeeded and others failed. The winners reaped the rewards of their talents and efforts, but what about the losers? Frost acknowledged that government “must do something for the losers. It must show them mercy. Justice first and mercy second. The trouble with some of your crowd is that it would have mercy first. The struggle to win is still the best tonic. . . . Mercy . . . is another word for socialism.” Frost believed that what was commonly called “distributive justice,” the attempt to spread the wealth of society to the masses, through graduated in-come taxes and other such devices, was really distributive mercy misnamed. Frost drew out for Ferner Nuhn the logical consequences of a system of socialistic mercy:

“The question of the moment in politics will always be one of proportion between mercy and justice. You have to remember the people who accept mercy have to pay for it. Mercy means protection. And there is no protection without direction. A person completely protected would have to be completely directed. And he would be a slave. That’s where socialism pure brings you out.”

[Neo is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at the new neo.]


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nordic_prince | April 6, 2021 at 10:19 am

The first two come from the Bill of Rights – the second two come from FDR’s imagination.

    Yes. However, the first two and the third apply to everyone. That is, for each person to be able to speak freely, worship freely, and to even walk through the valley of the shadow of death, that person just needs to be left unhindered. These freedoms when viewed abstractly put no burden on anyone else.

    The third one for many adults (although certainly a minority) does require assistance. And, of course, how does one define “want.” (Heck, I really want a seaside cottage in a sunny and very warm client.) In any event, the third one puts a burden on some people to serve others

      Paul in reply to Ira. | April 6, 2021 at 10:59 am

      I always wanted a pony. Why did nobody ever give me a pony?

        UJ in reply to Paul. | April 6, 2021 at 2:29 pm

        I can’t remember, is having a pony a right or a privilege? This is how many folks on the left can magically invent parts of the Constitution that aren’t actually there.

          henrybowman in reply to UJ. | April 6, 2021 at 3:15 pm

          My money is on it being there. You have to clean a pony’s penumbra of “beans” every couple months, and ponies have at least two large emanations every day.

FDR apparently didn’t have a very good understanding of the government’s relationship to the people who consent to allow that government to exist. As in, “you work for us, not the other way around”.

henrybowman | April 6, 2021 at 3:31 pm

Negative freedoms are those that require no contribution from anyone else, they only demand their noninterference. Positive freedoms are those that require someone else to provide you potentially unpaid goods or services, that is, they require the slavery of someone else; in other words, socialism.

The US constitution prescribes only negative freedoms. Contrast this to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which from roughly Article 22 on, begins to prescribe nothing but positive, socialist rights. Capped off with the penultimate article, the escape clause allowing a government to limit those rights in pretty much any fashion it declares proper (something you will not find in the actual text of the US Constitution, which deals in absolutes such as “Congress shall make no law” and “shall not be infringed).

The UN Declaration was drafted by a delegation to which the US representative was — wait for it — Eleanor Roosevelt.

how about “freedom for governmental interference with every aspect of my life.”?

Anyone interested in reading more of Robert Frost’s notions of liberty might go here:

A person completely protected would have to be completely directed. And he would be a slave.

That makes no sense to me. The slave is the person paying for that protection, not the person receiving it.

    GWB in reply to randian. | April 7, 2021 at 8:29 am

    If you receive protection from someone else you will have to do as they say, will you not? Not all slaves are purely economic slaves.