Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Revisited

On December 6, 1941,  Franklin D. Roosevelt, the US President made his State of the Union address to Congress.  The speech would be remembered as the ‘four freedoms’ speech.

Roosevelt the 32nd President of the United States said:

“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 neighbour—anywhere in the world.”  (Voice of Democracy website.  See full text here).

More than seventy years these words  resonate more than ever. The United Kingdom is not contemplating joining a war as Roosevelt did in 1941. Roosevelt’s words were intended to exhort his countrymen to join World War Two.  The United States would only abandon its isolationist stance after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour some eleven months later on December 7, 1941.

The EU Referendum of June 23, 2016 led to a political vacuum that has been filled to an extent with the appointment of a new Prime Minister and the formation of a new government.  Uncertainty remains in Her Majesty’s Official Opposition.  Fear in business circles may not have been allayed but the need to keep calm and carry on has taken precedent. Talk of self fulfilling prophesies and talking ourselves into a recession does little to calm companies’ nerves caused by cancelled or deferred orders.

Edinburgh Botanical GardensThe Pond in the Royal Edinburgh Botanic Garden.  Ducks enjoying their freedom. 

The freedom of speech and expression may be a tenant of our democracy, but in the workplace we often have to conform. How we are allowed to express ourselves is determined by the organisations where we work: the official mechanisms that are in place and our relations with our colleagues and managers.

The freedom to worship our chosen God is something Britons enjoy outside and largely inside the workplace.  There have been test cases on the wearing of religious garments, paraphernalia or symbols.  Nadia Eweida won her case against British Airways in 2013. The airline had forbidden her from visibly wearing her white gold cross.  The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) stated that  “Ms Eweida’s rights had been violated under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”  (BBC News Online, 2013).  Garments that are not deemed to interfere with an individual’s ability to fully perform their job are usually unproblematic.  Some cases have been controversial.   For example, ten years ago teaching assistant Aishah Azmi  was dismissed from her job at Headfield Church of England Junior School in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire for refusing to remove her veil when teaching. BBC News Online (2006) reported that: “the tribunal dismissed her claims of discrimination and harassment on religious grounds.”

The third freedom, freedom from want, is perhaps the most difficult to conceptualise in a country that has enjoyed peace for so long.  From an individual perspective freedom from want could be argued to equate to personal contentment with one’s career and personal circumstances.  These will vary from person to person and might be affected by personality type, so that one person’s sense of contentment and security might not be shared by a colleague doing exactly the same job.

The fourth freedom, freedom from fear, is directly linked to the other three freedoms.  Events out of our control often determine the extent to which we are fearful.

Roosevelt’s four freedoms frequently come at a cost, but we should be thankful that the UK’s will be preserved post Brexit without the loss of human life.



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