FDR and the Four Freedoms
Jeff Engel / Southern Methodist University
The United States stands for freedom. No politician dares say otherwise, lest they seek an early retirement. But what kind of freedom, precisely, and for whom? Franklin Roosevelt offered an answer in 1941. Believing the United States had a role to play in the battle against Nazi and fascist aggression already underway in Europe, he called Americans to arms not just to preserve their security, but their way of life, and their very freedoms. Four freedoms, to be exact: freedom of speech, freedom from want, freedom of religion, and freedom from fear.
Roosevelt’s words helped define American politics and foreign policy for generations, but the freedoms he desired are not necessarily those espoused today. Contemporary Americans live in the shadow of FDR, but as we ponder the country’s future, and as we trace the evolution of our common understanding of this term from 1941 to our present day, we need ask, as well: if we stand for freedom, can we even define it?
Jeffrey Engel is the founding director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. He has taught at Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Haverford College, and taught history and public policy at Texas A&M University. He has authored/edited thirteen books on American foreign policy, most recently, When the World Seemed New: George H. Bush and the Surprisingly Peaceful End of the Cold War.