The Four Freedoms

How did I get to be this old and creaky without knowing of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s four freedoms speech?

Oh sure, I wasn’t paying attention in all of those history courses.

Remember when we actually called it history and not social studies? What happened there? There’s a topic for another day. Today, the four freedoms.

Thanksgiving has been a family holiday for me for years but with the complexities of marriage and engagement, the boys have gone to their expanding families. All good. We will get together for Christmas.

So, Gwen and I decided that cooking was not a good idea and hanging around Keene, NH was also not a great idea. Hence, here we are at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, MA. It’s a wonderful Inn that has been in almost continuous operation since 1773. Please put it on your bucket list. It’s one of the six amazing, original historic inns of New England. Put ALL of them on your bucket list.

Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell spent his final years in Stockbridge and there is a wonderful museum here containing his works, including a collection of every one of his Saturday Evening Post covers. They are displayed in a single gallery. The covers are not prints but actual copies of the magazines complete with address labels. It took some time to complete that collection, I suspect.

In another gallery are four paintings which were actually four covers for the Saturday Evening Post that accompanied essays by prominent thinkers of the time. These paintings represented a Four Freedoms theme Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke of in the State of the Union Address delivered to the 77th congress of the United States on January 6, 1941 eleven months before the attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war against Japan.

What was FDR’s intent? I’m not sure and don’t really want to go at that here. Suffice it to say that this famous progressive had two freedoms covered by the Constitution and two of his own.

What are the freedoms?

  • Freedom of Speech
  • Freedom of Worship
  • Freedom from Want
  • Freedom from Fear

Looking at that list your reaction is probably, uh huh. But, lets look at Rockwell’s images.

As I walked through the gallery of Saturday Evening Post covers, I realized that the covers that had the most impact for me were those from times I knew. Rockwell did his first cover for the magazine in 1916. I began to relate more strongly to the covers starting in the forties. These were images that seemed more familiar, either from a memory of actually doing what the cover depicted or from seeing the actual magazine at the time. These were images of folks I felt I might have known.

Why do I mention this here? Because depending on your age, you will most likely react differently to these warm, gentle images of every day folks in the forties trying to live full, involved lives based on belief systems passed down for generations.

Fast forward to today. That’s what we do today. Fast everything. Fast food. Fast forward past the commercials. Fast travel on super highways and planes traveling near the speed of sound. Fast communication(?) with Twitter, Facebook, email, texts, mobile phones, etc.

All good? Maybe not so much…

Freedom of speech

The government just locked up some fellow who supposedly created a video that presented Muslims in a poor light. The McCain – Feingold, bi-partisan, campaign finance reform act restricted certain political speech. The first amendment problem seemed obvious to me… and… subsequently, to the Supreme Court (why wasn’t it obvious to the lawmakers?).

Certain folks are looking to shut down Fox News and talk radio because they don’t like what the folks there are saying. This activity is ironically called the Fairness Doctrine.

The President of Fordham University, Joseph McShane, recently put great pressure on the Fordham College Republicans to disinvite Ann Coulter, a conservative opinionator from a speaking engagement there. It’s tough enough to be a Young Republican on any campus these days but isn’t that an interesting interpretation of Freedom of Speech especially from a Jesuit organization?

Look at the kind faces in the picture reacting as a regular guy speaks his piece at a town meeting. It was a different time, wasn’t it? How did we get from there to where we are today?

Freedom of Worship

Atheists, somewhere between one and five percent of folks in the United States, have pretty much squashed any public representations of Christmas, a christian (around 73% of the population) holiday. We are told we should respect the beliefs of Muslims by the same folks who sneeringly call certain devout Christians theocrats and zealots.

Rockwell’s image represents my upbringing. Dad was a Christian Scientist; Mom, a Catholic. The lesson I was taught? Freedom of Worship. We accepted anyone, no matter their beliefs. How have we come so far from that world?

Freedom from Want

Over 40 million United States residents are on food stamps. Local farmers can barely make ends meet if they are even still in business. Agriculture is owned by a handful of companies. Sure there is easy access to food but the poor quality of the food is killing us. Obesity rates are at all time highs. Poor quality food is heaped on our plates in gigantic portions.

Food stamps are “freedom from want” are they not? Look at the picture. Does it depict folks in a line at the USDA Food and Nutrition Service office? No, it looks like some very nice, plain folks of very modest means sharing food which I suspect came from mostly local providers and some they might even have grown themselves (remember it’s 1941, the food system had not yet been industrialized and globalized).

If the global food system breaks down either by collapsing under its own weight or by becoming economically impractical as oil becomes ever more expensive, to whom will we turn, the USDA or the FDA or FEMA or… a local farmer? There seems to be plenty of the former and not much of the latter.

Freedom from Fear

What did that young boy being tucked in in the picture have to fear? Well, he probably had a spare view of it but the world had entered into the second world wide conflict in just over twenty years. Pretty scary. His Dad, like mine, seems a bit too old to be drafted. That’s good.

Today, we are a decade past the most deadly attack on United States home soil, September 11, 2001. More were lost than in the war of 1812 and the Mexican War combined. This was the worst death toll in US history on US soil from a foreign aggressor. These same aggressors are doing similar horrible acts all over the globe on an almost daily basis.

The government is generating trillion dollar deficits annually. The visible debt is heading towards $20 trillion. I say visible because there are a bunch of liabilities that the government just does not report. We are consuming natural resources at a frightening rate with no sense of moderation. Do we just do so until they are gone?

I could go on, but, I am getting fearful.


As I completed the walk around the grounds of this amazing museum. My mind was filled with a longing for the times represented in all of Rockwell’s images. Was it because I am an aging guy who needs the memories to feel good? A little bit I suspect, but it primarily was because I see so much every day that runs counter to all of the goodness and wonder represented in those pictures.

Given all that I have said above, I am concerned that some might observe the white, christian nature of Rockwell’s subjects in the Four Freedoms images. Let me leave you with another of Norman’s pictures.

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2 Responses to The Four Freedoms

  1. mary efremov says:

    freedom from want was a great concept and we had it for years but now I minister to retired adults who live in poverty and have had their benefits and entitlements trimmed as part of a campaign to provide health insurance benefits to the previously uninsured. Somebody has to pay for the ACA but did they ever write that the targets for cuts were the sick and elderly?
    One of my patients was being “trimmed ” free of “fat” and was having her crucial home care trimmed by the city agency providing it….. her age-109, I suspect she was targeted as they never expected any advocacy, after all, living to be old, your friends and relatively have mostly likely died off.We won the case on a technicality but the threat lingers on.
    Another senior party, well-known to me goes to pack groceries in a supermarket for hoped for tips, she cannot manage on her retirement income and was often chosing between paying for food or making a doctor’s co-payment.
    Another senior citizen makes out quite well since she collects food that is discarded by a local supermarket. She is good at trimming and selecting so she collects a good deal from the trash. At the same time, my hospital trashes uneaten and untouched food from patient trays and taking it is considered “theft” so we have to watch it be trashed….and our walkways along the building are lined with fellow begging for food.
    The American dream has some nighmarish aspects.

  2. Peter says:

    If the community thought they were responsible vs. thinking the government was responsible, what might be the outcome? Probably worse, but I still wonder.

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