Legacy of the Four Freedoms

The Four Freedoms are very much a force in our world today.

(For background about the Four Freedoms, see Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, Rockwell’s Four Freedoms, and Freedom of Speech Painting.)

Franklin Roosevelt died in April 1945, just before the end of World War II (victory in Europe came in May 1945 and victory in Japan in August 1945). Nevertheless, he laid the groundwork for the creation of the United Nations which would govern post-war relations between countries. His widow Eleanor Roosevelt ensured that the United Nations recognized the Four Freedoms.

The United Nations began operations in October 1945. The challenges were huge. Much of Europe and Asia lay in ruins, devastated by World War II. Displaced refugees numbered in the tens of millions. Only after the war did the full horror of the Holocaust become apparent. And the war did not end the struggle between democracy and communism.

President Harry Truman appointed Eleanor Roosevelt to be part of the first delegation from the United States to the United Nations. In June 1946 the UN General Assembly created the UN Commission on Human Rights and directed it to create an international bill of rights. Eleanor Roosevelt was elected to lead the effort. She chaired more than 3,000 hours of meetings, and was successful. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the General Assembly in December 1948. The photo below shows Eleanor Roosevelt holding the Spanish language version:

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Freedom of Speech Painting

Norman Rockwell’s 1942 painting Freedom of Speech was a huge success.

(This was one of four paintings he did to illustrate President Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. See Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms and Rockwell’s Four Freedoms.)

Rockwell himself liked it the best of his Four Freedoms paintings, and it was popular with the public:

Norman Rockwell’s Freedom of Speech is among the most famous works of American art, arguably as well known as James McNeill Whistler’s portrait of his mother and Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware.

(source, p. 55)

Freedom of Speech was the only one of Rockwell’s Four Freedoms paintings that was based on an actual event. This post is the story of the event and the painting.

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Rockwell’s Four Freedoms

Norman Rockwell’s famous paintings of the Four Freedoms are shown below:

These paintings illustrate the Four Freedoms that President Franklin Roosevelt introduced in a speech to Congress in January 1941:

  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of worship
  • Freedom from want
  • Freedom from fear

See the post Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms for more discussion of Roosevelt’s speech.

The White House asked writers and artists to promote the Four Freedoms. Rockwell, then living in the small town of Arlington, Vermont, was inspired by the Four Freedoms, but he struggled to conceive of a way to illustrate them. In early 1942 he had a flash of inspiration.

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Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms

The photo to the left shows President Franklin Roosevelt giving his annual Message to Congress (what we now call the State of the Union address) on January 6, 1941. This became known as the Four Freedoms speech.

Two months earlier, Roosevelt had won re-election to a third term as president. Most of his efforts in his first two terms had been directed at battling the Great Depression. But by now Roosevelt was turning his attention to the raging war in Europe.

In 1940 Germany had conquered nearly all of continental Europe. Britain was fighting for survival. President Roosevelt believed that the United States itself would be threatened if Germany defeated Britain, but much of the U.S. public was opposed to involvement in another European war after the costly experience of The Great War 1914-1918 (what we now call World War I). This speech was another step in President Roosevelt’s efforts to build support for U.S. assistance to Britain. Note the timing – January 1941 was eleven months before the U.S. entered World War II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

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Act 46 and Democracy

What does Act 46 mean for democracy?

Before considering that general question, let’s review a more specific question: What happened with Act 46 in Cambridge?

The short answer is that the town lost control of its elementary school. The photo shows the Cambridge Elementary School on November 30, 2018.

My town of Cambridge, Vermont, had its own high school until the 1960s when six towns in northern Lamoille county, including Cambridge, combined grades 7-12 into a single, new facility in Hyde Park: Lamoille Union Middle and High Schools. The towns retained their separate elementary schools.

Many towns in Vermont went through a similar process in the 1960s. Towns joined together to form union school districts to afford larger high schools, while retaining town school districts for smaller elementary schools.

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Science vs. Philosophy

What is the difference between science and philosophy?

My last two posts (here and here) touched on themes involving both science and philosophy. And that got me thinking about the relationship between science and philosophy.

I don’t hold myself out as a scientist. But I do, obviously, sometimes refer to myself as “The Switchel Philosopher,” at least “a part-time amateur philosopher-in-training.” When I started this blog in February 2017, I wrote in this post: “Philosophy is asking questions and thinking about the answers.” Isn’t science the same thing?

Well, let’s practice a little philosophy and think about the question at the top of this post:

What is the difference between science and philosophy?

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Complementarity and Civility

Niels Bohr was one of the most important physicists of the 20th century, a peer of Albert Einstein. In the previous post, I used Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen to introduce Bohr and his contribution to quantum theory – the principle of complementarity.

Bohr was Danish. The highest honor of the Danish government is the Order of the Elephant, awarded to Danish royalty and sometimes to foreign heads of state. It is rarely awarded to a commoner. It was awarded to Bohr in 1947. Being a commoner, he did not have a coat of arms and upon receiving the order he designed his own – shown to the left.

Note the symbol of yin and yang and the Latin motto contraria sunt complementa (opposites are complementary).

Here is a definition of complementarity from a contemporary physicist:

Complementarity is the idea that there can be different ways of describing a system, each useful and internally consistent, which are mutually incompatible. It first emerged as a surprising feature of quantum theory, but I, following Niels Bohr, believe it contains wisdom that is much more widely applicable.

The “I” in that quote is Frank Wilczek, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who won the Nobel prize in physics in 2004 for work in quantum theory.

Bohr found much in common between the principle of complementarity and the ancient Chinese concept of yin and yang. So the basic idea has been around for a while. But Frank Wilczek goes on to make a point that I had not considered before:

Understanding the importance of complementarity stimulates imagination, because it gives us license to think differently. It also suggests engaged tolerance, as we try to appreciate apparently strange perspectives that other people have come up with. We can take them seriously without compromising our own understandings, scientific and otherwise.

“Engaged tolerance” is another name for civility. There has been much talk lately about civility, or the lack thereof, in our culture and politics. In my town of Cambridge, we recently had an election between Zac Mayo and Lucy Rogers for the Vermont House of Representatives in which civility was a major theme (more info). Zac and Lucy intentionally practiced civility in their campaigns, including a surprise musical duet that went viral and caught the attention of CBS Evening News. See On the Road with Steve Hartman 10/19/18. We are proud of the way that Zac and Lucy conducted their campaigns with civility, and they serve as an admirable example for the rest of us.

We could all use more civility in our lives. The point of this blog post is that perhaps thinking about complementarity can help us achieve more civility.


The quotes above by Frank Wilczek are from the book This Idea Is Brilliant by John Brockman. Mr. Brockman posed the following question to over 200 influential thinkers around the world: “What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known?” Their answers constitute the book. Dr. Wilczek’s answer was complementarity.

It is perhaps appropriate that I learned about the book This Idea Is Brilliant from Zac Mayo. I blogged about that last month in Illusion of Explanatory Depth. That post also discusses civility, from a different angle.

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