Freedom from Want vs. Freedom to Have

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 universal 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.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, January 6, 1941

Franklin Roosevelt is a controversial figure in history. I've heard the conspiracy theories about his foreknowledge of Pearl Harbor, I'm disgusted by his initiation of WWII internment policies, and increasingly it seems that conservative revisionists are attacking the due he is given for lifting the United States from the Great Depression. Despite all this, I think it's safe to say that FDR was a great man. In all honesty, I think it's a shame that his four freedoms are not brought up more in public dialogue. For me, they form a powerful set of fundamental rights. One of the four, however, seems to get particularly little credence: freedom from want.

When it comes to my support of the redistribution of wealth - and yes, I will be so bold as to call it that - the most important consideration brought up in opposition to my ideas is freedom. In rebuttal to this, I emphasize that poverty and wage-slavery are huge obstacles in the face of ensuring freedom, and I have also brought up the idea that freedom inherently concerns opportunity, not ownership. And yet, somehow there are always people foaming at the mouth, insisting that we have an inherent right to property, insisting that most fundamental among our freedoms is the freedom of "enterprise" and the freedom of "markets." Well, let's examine this.

The Constitution of the United States doesn't really talk about personal freedoms, and our Declaration of Independence mentions its classic three rights - life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - but the most essential preservation of our freedom must be taken as the Bill of Rights. Among those ten articles of amendment, only one mentions property - and it says that a person shall not be deprived of property without due process of law. So as far as I can tell, there is no right to property. There is no "freedom to have."

With that in mind, let's consider the following: What is behind the outrage some feel when it is suggested that government tax the rich to provide for the poor? What is the inherent "freedom" people feel they are defending when they speak out against the redstribution of wealth?

This evening I learned about a very interesting idea that attempts to answer this question. The idea poses that personal property actually should be treated as part of our person; considering that it has taken time out of our lives to accumulate wealth, attacks on our wealth are in fact attacks on our lives themselves. (Admittedly, I have not explained the idea as well as it probably should be, but I hope you understand.) Although most probably don't agree with the totality of that idea, in essence it addresses what I think is the root of opposition to active governmental participation in the distribution of wealth: that is that people consider their wealth to be a part of their lives, and that government involvement in their property is involvement in their personal freedom.

If this is the case, answer me this then: Where lies the right of the rich to become richer and richer through means that cause the poor to become poorer and poorer? Where lies the right of the millionaire heiress to denegrate herself in luxury? And where, where oh where, is the right of the poor and suffering in this world to be free from want? If cries for economic justice in this world continue to be unheard, it is going nowhere.