The End of Freedom in America?

As must appear self-evident to both historians and astute observers by now, the United States, in its history, has had a rather facile and at times acrimonious relationship to the idea of domestic democracy (If this is not self-evident, see Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, along with Failed States. For a specific analysis of this observation applied to the USA Patriot Act, see my A User’s Guide to the USA Patriot Act). What is seldom noticed, however, is the speed with which the U.S. has moved from a liberal democracy to, at best, an authoritarian government.

To demonstrate this rapid movement in U.S. government, we will use as a base Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” address to Congress, on January 6, 1941. By all rights, and regardless of FDR’s real intent (some say it was to garner support for U.S. involvement in WWII), very few would doubt that his elucidated four freedoms form an important base for understanding liberal democracy. Here are FDR’s own words, quoted at length:

“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.

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.

To that new order we oppose the greater conception–the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.”

The point of this article is to compare Roosevelt’s understanding of a “moral democracy,” with where our domestic “democracy” stands today. I will assume that the Four Freedoms are in stark contrast to Authoritarianism, Totalitarianism, and Fascism. But by way of general definition, just for purposes of reference for this article, I would like to adopt the following general definitions of Authoritarianism and Totalitarianism. Authoritarianism exists when an elite group monopolizes all political power; Totalitarianism exists when an elite group monopolizes power on every aspect of society, such as economy, education, art, and acceptable moral codes. When combined with a strong nationalism and militarism, such forms of government become Fascism.

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