The Four Freedoms were goals articulated by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) on January 6, 1941. In an address known as the Four Freedoms speech (technically the 1941 State of the Union address), he proposed four fundamental freedoms that people “everywhere in the world” ought to enjoy:
Roosevelt delivered his speech 11 months before the United States declared war on Japan, December 8, 1941. The State of the Union speech before Congress was largely about the national security of the United States and the threat to other democracies from world war that was being waged across the continents in the eastern hemisphere. In the speech, he made a break with the tradition of United States non-interventionism that had long been held in the United States. He outlined the U.S. role in helping allies already engaged in warfare.
In that context, he summarized the values of democracy behind the bipartisan consensus on international involvement that existed at the time. A famous quote from the speech prefaces those values: “As men do not live by bread alone, they do not fight by armaments alone.” In the second half of the speech, he lists the benefits of democracy, which includes economic opportunity, employment, social security, and the promise of “adequate health care”. The first two freedoms, of speech and religion, are protected by the First Amendment in the United States Constitution. His inclusion of the latter two freedoms went beyond the traditional Constitutional values protected by the U.S. Bill of Rights. Roosevelt endorsed a broader human right to economic security and anticipated what would become known decades later as the “human security” paradigm in social science and economic development. He also included the “freedom from fear” against national aggression before the idea of a United Nations for this protection was envisioned or discussed by world leaders and allied nations.
“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.
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.”
Excerpts from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt 1/20/1941
International Human Rights Day 2015
Secretary of StateWashington, DC
December 10, 2015
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was forged in the aftermath of World War II to protect freedom and prevent future atrocities. As we commemorate it today, we recall President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 Four Freedoms address, which inspired the Universal Declaration, and which the United Nations selected as this year’s theme for International Human Rights Day.
The “four freedoms” – of speech and religion, from want and fear – are as relevant and compelling today as they were when Roosevelt spoke almost three quarters of a century ago.