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New Book on FDR Proves That America's Greatest Generation Was Our Most Progressive Generation

It's time to reclaim our rich democratic legacy.

Photo Credit: Simon & Schuster


As America struggles with mortal threats to democracy and a deeply unbalanced society, author Harvey Kaye, Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, mines the amazing legacy of Franklin Roosevelt to show the pathway to a more progressive future. In his brand-new book, The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great (Simon & Schuster Hardcover) Kaye offers up rich storytelling and a formidable command of history to remind us that with vision and bold action, we have overcome grave challenges in the past — and there is no reason why we can't do it again. Here's an excerpt of Kaye's must-read book for progressives.


We need to remember.  We need to remember what conservatives have never wanted us to remember and what liberals have all too often forgotten. 

Now, after more than thirty years of subordinating the public good to corporate priorities and private greed, of subjecting ourselves to widening inequality and intensifying insecurities, and of denying our own democratic impulses and yearnings, we need to remember.

We need to remember who we are.

We need to remember that we are the children and grandchildren of the men and women who rescued the United States from economic destruction in the Great Depression and defended it against fascism and imperialism in the Second World War. 

We need to remember that we are the children and grandchildren of the men and women who not only saved the nation from economic ruin and political oblivion, but also turned it into the strongest and most prosperous country on earth.

And most of all we need to remember that we are the children and grandchildren of the men and women who accomplished all of that – in the face of powerful conservative, reactionary, and corporate opposition, and despite their own faults and failings – by making America freer, more equal, and more democratic than ever before.

Now, when all that they fought for is under siege and we too find ourselves confronting crises and forces that threaten the nation and all that it stands for, we need to remember that we are the children and grandchildren of the most progressive generation in American history.  We are the children of the men and women who articulated, fought for, and endowed us with the promise of the Four Freedoms.

On the afternoon of January 6, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt went up to Capitol Hill to deliver his Annual Message to Congress.  Just weeks earlier, he had defeated Republican Wendell Willkie at the polls and won reelection to an unprecedented third term.  But Roosevelt now faced a far bigger challenge, one even more daunting than those he confronted in his first and second terms.  Still stalked by the Great Depression, the United States was also increasingly threatened by the Axis powers – Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Imperial Japan.  And with war already raging east and west, Americans had yet to agree about how to respond to the danger.  The President, however, did not falter.  He not only proceeded to propose measures to address the emergency.  He also gave dramatic new meaning to All men are created equal… Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… We the People of the United States… A new birth of freedom… AND Government of the people, by the people, for the people…

FDR knew about crises.  But he knew as well what Americans could accomplish, even in the darkest of times.  Born in 1882, he had grown up privileged, the son of New York Hudson River gentry.  Yet long before becoming President, he had suffered serious defeats and setbacks, none more devastating than contracting polio in 1921 at the age of thirty-nine.  The disease had left him permanently unable to stand up or walk without assistance.  However, supported by his wife, Eleanor, and other family members and friends, he had risen above the paralysis to become the most dynamic political figure in the United States.  Moreover, his experiences and encounters in the course of doing so had reaffirmed and deepened his already powerful faith and confidence in God, in himself, and in his fellow citizens – all of which had enabled him, in the face of the worst economic and social catastrophes in the nation’s history, to defiantly state that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” and to go on to proclaim, “This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.”  Armed with this faith and confidence, and propelled by the popular energies that his words and actions elicited, he determinedly pursued the initiatives of relief, recovery, reconstruction, and reform known as the New Deal. [i]