FOUNDATION: Unit II. What Are Human Rights and Where Do They Come From? 13 of 15

Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights marked the birth of the international human rights movement in 1948. But the foundations for the UDHR were laid in a speech to Congress delivered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941. This was after World War II had already begun in Europe, but before the US entered the war.

In his speech, Roosevelt said, “We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.”

When FDR spoke of freedoms upon which the world should be founded, he was appealing for an ideology of rights. He referred to the same sort of natural rights written about by John Locke and codified in national legal systems via the French and American Revolutions. However, Roosevelt was promoting acceptance of these natural rights on a world or global scale.

Franklin Roosevelt with Ruthie Bie
and dog, Fala, at Hyde Park, 1941

“Freedom from want” was inherently an appeal for the right to the goods and services that people need for their very survival: food, shelter, clothing and health care. FDR had learned that “A necessitous man is not a free man.” He knew that if freedom and equality were to flourish throughout the world, people must have a right to the goods that free them from “want.”

To promote this freedom from want, the list of rights in the UDHR goes beyond even the protections and rights offered in the US Constitution and legal system, which do not include these “socioeconomic” rights. But something very close to socioeconomic rights was part of FDR’s New Deal.

“Freedom from fear” was another appeal that went beyond what was (or even could be) guaranteed by domestic laws and institutions. Freedom, FDR thought, could only be enjoyed if states coexist peacefully without the constant threat of war. Only if all states of the world are equally free can humanity have “freedom from fear”. This was another idea driving the movement for internationalization of human rights.

Why do you think “freedom from want” or “freedom from fear” might be difficult to legislate within the US?

Britannica Encyclopedia: FDR
Four Freedoms and Norman Rockwell’s Posters
Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Audio
Official White House site: FDR
Time: Franklin D. Roosevelt bu Doris Kearns Goodwin