My Progressive/Liberal Agenda, I: FDR’s Four Freedoms
As the U.S. hurtled down the path leading to its joining World WarII, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) outlined his goals for a post-war world order in a State of the Union speech to Congress called “The Four Freedoms.” Because FDR died before the war was over, this agenda was not implemented fully here in the U.S. Ironically, people from FDR’s administration wrote parts of many of the new constitutions in post-war Europe and Japan, so that Roosevelt’s vision was adopted (and sometimes improved) far more fully outside the U.S. than inside. I still find his vision compelling–an agenda that should form at least the core of any progressive/liberal platform.
Let me be clear: I am a Christian pacifist. I do not accept FDR’s assessment of the righteousness of America’s wars or their “necessity.” What I find compelling is vision of a post-war world order. I believe I can disagree with FDR on war, even war as a means to peace and security, and still agree with his vision.
I reproduce relevant excerpts of FDR’s Four Freedoms speech below and use bold face and italics to highlight the key dimensions of a progressive/liberal political platform. Delivered on 06 January 1941 to the Congress of the United States as the State of the Union.
The nation takes great satisfaction and much strength from the things which have been done to make its people conscious of their individual stake in the preservation of democratic life in America. Those things have toughened the fiber of our people, have renewed their faith and strengthened their devotion to the institutions we make ready to protect.
Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world. For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy.
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 of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.
These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.
Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement. As examples:
We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.
We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.
We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.
[Snip–FDR calls for personal sacrifice in the time of war, including paying higher taxes with the rich paying more than the poor. He also warns against war profiteering–and promises government crackdown on those who try it–completely the opposite of the way the Iraq War was made into get rich quick schemes for members of the Bush Administration and their allies.]
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. [i.e., Freedom from Want is embodied in a just economic order in which all have enough and the gap between the rich and the poor is relatively small and it is fairly easy to move from one social class to another.]
- 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.
Freedom of speech and expression.
Freedom of religious belief and practice.
Freedom from want (i.e., the presence of economic justice).
Freedom from fear (i.e., massive global arms reductions so that it is difficult if not impossible for any nation to invade another).
I don’t think that these goals, by themselves, constitute an adequate progressive/liberal political philosophy for the 21st C. But they are a good beginning and I would find any political vision or philosophy that did NOT include these four freedoms to be woefully inadequate.
In my next installment in this series, I will also draw from FDR–this time from his proposed “Second Bill of Rights.”
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