It is surely by now apparent that covid-19 is leading all countries into a world that will be different from what came before. Some sections of societies will prosper as before; others will be devastated. In the West, so far, it is apparent that the initial reflex of governments is to support and bailout the large corporations that represent the status quo. For the small business things are not at all rosy; for those at the poor end of society things could become catastrophic. And the super rich in their yachts and hideaways and the self-serving celebs are seen to to be the sad detritus of a failed system.
I am reminded of the Great Depression and its aftermath in WW2. What carried us through was the New Deal of President Roosevelt, and the Marshall Plan to support the revival of Western Europe. The theme was to revive economies, but at the same time look after those in need. Roosevelt encapsulated this in his famous ‘four freedoms’ (State of the Union Address 1941). Coincidentally, we visited an exhibition of Norman Rockwell’s work recently at Houston’s Fine Arts Museum, on the theme of those four freedoms.
In that speech President Roosevelt put it this way:
“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 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.”
Rockwell’s paintings were a part of the propaganda campaign engineered by the US government to bring about this revolutionary change. After FDR’s death his wife Eleanor Roosevelt took up the cause of the four freedoms and became a leading figure in the emerging United Nations. Unfortunately, this early impetus soon became diluted as USA concentrated on establishing its superpower status.
Today we face a future possibly as perilous as in those days of post WW2. The four freedoms are surely precisely what is needed to establish just economies and a just world order in the aftermath of the present calamity.
Sadly, many on the right of politics would dismiss this humane vision as socialism and pacifism. But we now need those four freedoms and more.
The necessary fifth freedom would be for nature to have the space and freedom to go about its business undeterred by the economic activities of human beings, for species to continue their lives without the threat of mass extinctions caused directly by human activity.
Our idealism needs to move up a gear!
Oh, and it was a great exhibition, but of course impossible to visit now, it closed 22nd March.
The featured image shows busts of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt
from the Houston exhibition. I think they were originally by Carolyn Palmer.