I recently attended a concert where Lee Greenwood was performing. If you are familiar with Lee Greenwood, you know that he is famous for his patriotic music, including his most famous hit “God bless the USA.” While I did enjoy the concert, I have to mention two things that really bothered me. First, Lee waited to perform “God bless the USA” until his very last song. Come on Lee, you know that’s what we were all there to hear. And second, about halfway through Mr. Greenwood decided to talk about four freedoms that, he says, every American enjoys. These freedoms are freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom from fear, and freedom from want.
If you’re someone who’s familiar with history, or just someone that listens to me complain about Franklin Delanor Roosevelt on the Three Headed Eagle program, then you already recognize these four freedoms from FDR`s 1941 State of the Union address. I`ll leave aside the argument about what a bad idea it might be to quote FDR at a Constitution Day concert and just stick to talking about these four freedoms and whether or not they are real rights which all Americans enjoy.
First let’s have a look at FDR’s actual words
“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.”
The first freedom, as we can see, is the freedom of speech and expression. Although many people think that there ought to be limitations on speech, I can find very few people that believe that speech should not be a right which every person possesses.
“Second is the freedom of every person to worship God in his own way…” Clearly there are people who choose not to worship God at all. I would have to assume that they would agree, and I have met many atheists and agnostics who do agree, that they require the freedom of religion so that they may be free to not worship god if they so choose. So I must say, I believe this is a necessary and unalienable right that every person on earth possesses.
My concern is with the third and fourth freedoms from the FDR speech and the Lee Greenwood concert. Let’s take a look at freedom number three: the freedom from want. This, according to FDR, meant that every nation had a right to certain economic understandings and situations which would give their inhabitants a healthy peacetime life. But does this right actually exist?
In order to say that a person, a nation or all nations have a right to a good economic situation and peacetime prosperity, we would also have to assume that if a nation or person is unable to obtain a good economic situation that they have the right to take it from someone else. If we don’t assume that, then, where would the good economic standing come from? Is there a magical good economic standing fairy which comes out to wave it’s magical wand and give people and nations the economic standing to provide for their basic wants? I would like to state that I chose the word wants very carefully here; after all, FDR did not say freedom from need.
The fourth freedom, that FDR addressed, was the freedom from fear. Apparently, to FDR this meant that there should be no nation on earth which had the military capability of being aggressive toward another nation. So, if this is a personal freedom from fear, I guess that would mean that, according to FDR, an individual has the right to tell another nation to disarm its military because they are fearful of aggression. That sounds okay to me. I think I’ll give China and Russia a call. I think I’ll tell China I’m a little fearful that they might attack us economically or hack into our national security databases and that they don’t have a right to put me in personal fear. I think I’ll let Vladimir Putin know that, although I am not fearful of his country on its own, I would fear Russia combining with other world powers. So, Russia has no right to sign treaties of military alliance with any other nation. After all, wouldn’t that violate my right, my personal right, to not be afraid?
If it is simply a freedom from fear in general, then I think I have a case for a lawsuit against the Ebola virus. That thing scares the crap out of me!
Let’s put aside FDR’s definitions of what these words meant to him and just think of them for what they actually are, emotions. Does any human being on earth actually think that they have the right to not feel an unpleasant emotion? If so, does this freedom from unpleasant emotion extend to anger or sorrow?
The right to not feel angry might be a very useful tool, if you ask me. I suppose that would limit Barack Obama greatly, because basically everything he does pisses me off (and to be perfectly fair that would also extend to most of Congress too).
How about a freedom from sorrow? Does that mean that everyone I love will live forever because, of course, their death would bring me great sorrow. This obviously means that my grandparents, two of my dogs and countless goldfish have already grossly violated my rights by dying without permission!
I think it’s clear that freedom from emotion is not something we have, nor is it something we were ever intended to have. Life has ups and downs for everybody; at some point in my life I will want, and at some other point I will be afraid. Not just feeling emotion, but learning to control our emotions is one of the many things that separates us from the animals.
Rather than demanding that I have a freedom from want, I will let my want drive me forward. I will let my want of a better life for my family drive me to make more money at work and in my business. Rather than demanding that I have a freedom from fear I will do my best to prepare for bad situations. I will do my best to be prepared to protect my family and I will refuse to let fear govern my life.
For now I think I’ll just stick with the inalienable rights that I believe I already possess and I think Lee Greenwood should stick to quoting people who have not tried to openly destroy the Constitution.