A spirited call to remember and act on the original progressive intent of Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms.
The rallying cry of the Greatest Generation—with its back to the Great Depression and its face to the Axis threat in Europe—contained those “four freedoms” delineated by President Roosevelt in his annual message to Congress on Jan. 6, 1941: freedom of speech and expression, freedom to worship God in one’s own way; freedom from want; and freedom from fear. As historian, author and journalist Kaye (Democracy and Justice Studies/Univ. of Wisconsin-Green Bay; Thomas Paine and the Promise of America, 2005, etc.) sets forth in this stirring survey, those four basic ideals have been supplanted and even submerged over the last 30 years by the erosion of democratic impulses through private greed and massive economic inequality. Kaye walks readers through the Roosevelt era to remind us of its greatest achievement: the recovery from an unprecedented Great Depression through a battery of mightily effective government agencies, public works and regulatory acts. The programs aimed to empower laboring people, consumers, Southern blacks, minorities and women, and while much of the New Deal was deemed radical, Roosevelt claimed his programs were part of the “perpetual, peaceful revolution—a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly, adjusting itself to changing conditions without the concentration camp or the quicklime of the ditch.” Indeed, the Four Freedoms unfurled not long before the U.S. was plunged headlong into war, thus becoming the sustaining ideals worth fighting for. Moreover, FDR intimated that “the American experiment was unfinished,” and yet subsequent presidents and administrations did not necessarily fulfill the promise of the freedoms, as Cold War fears and business interests strengthened the country’s conservative and reactionary elements.
A systematic, heady dose of American history by a frustrated, even outraged progressive thinker.