On this day in 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered a State of the Union address in which he proclaimed, “In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.”
Two of those four freedoms — of speech and worship — are enshrined in our First Amendment. But the other two were new: “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear.”
No one desires people to go wanting or folks to be afraid, of course, though sometimes fear can usefully spur us to take corrective action. But while government can capably protect freedom of speech and religion, it cannot magically wipe out want or fear.
Wants are unlimited; fears can be, too.
When a child wakes up crying from a nightmare, do we need a government program? When a fellow member of the “Me Generation” fervently desires a new iPad, should Uncle Sam provide it?
FDR wasn’t talking about iPads or bad dreams, but his new notions were so loose and fuzzy that they changed the conception of government from a limited association protecting our individual ability to pursue happiness into an unlimited institution powerful enough to create a society without want or fear.
Government has a role in protecting us from invasion or attack, from crime, but it cannot provide freedom from fear. Government has a role in protecting our economic freedom to produce and trade, to engage in commerce, but it cannot fulfill our every want.
We lose what we can achieve when we demand what cannot be given to us.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.