Foreword: A Study Guide To The Four Freedoms

Ethical Dimensions To American Foreign Policy

The moral purpose of any community is revealed by the words and deeds of its leaders. From time to time, moral principles are clarified and animated in a single gesture or moment in time. Such a moment occurred in January 1941, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressed the principles for which America stands at home and abroad: freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of expression, and freedom of worship.

When FDR posed the question of America's core values in 1941, it was in the face of rising tides of fascism and communism. In his Four Freedoms address to Congress, he gave the United States and the world a signature idea: that there were four freedoms, four simple universal principles, that when presented in plain words, could become a rallying point for fighting against insecurity, intolerance, poverty, and religious persecution. In saying what America was for, FDR was also saying what America was against.

It is not surprising that President Bush invoked the words of FDR in 2005, during his second inaugural address. In the face of terrorist threats and global economic challenges, Bush reached for a similarly plain-speaking and clear expression of what America was for, as well as what it was against. In doing so, he was drawing on a long and deep nonpartisan tradition—the basic idea that America is a moral nation, a community with a moral purpose.

It occurred to me—and to the editors of this booklet—that the principles of FDR's Four Freedoms could be usefully revisited in light of Bush's foreign policy. The clear lines of correspondence between the two are unmistakable. Notice the direct links between freedom from fear and the war on terrorism; freedom from want and the moral challenges of global capitalism; freedom of expression and the policy of expanding democracy; and finally, freedom of worship and the role of religion in an age of extremism.

Such continuity of aspiration seems noteworthy. And with these long-term ideals in mind, it seems logical to ask: "How we are measuring up?" That is the question we gave the participants at the Eckerd College series that formed the basis for this booklet. It is also the question we offer to our readers.

An ethical inquiry into American foreign policy begins by asking: "What choices do we make? According to what values, what standards?" The Four Freedoms provide a point of departure. We trust that the insights of our lecturers, along with the resources listed here, will open the door to further discussion and debate, and that our readers will be able to sharpen their views of America's foreign policy agenda and its ethical dimensions.

New York City
Summer 2005

Read More: U.S. Foreign Policy, North America, United States

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