The Fifth Freedom

How does Hoover’s emphasis on enterprise relate to the historical moment of World War II? Why would he feel it is important to articulate these ideas at this particular time?
Does Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s four freedoms (Document 22) leave room for something like the fifth freedom Hoover is referencing? Is Hoover’s idea of the fifth freedom antithetical to FDR’s four freedoms?

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Herbert Hoover served as the 31st president of the United States from 1929 to 1933, and was unpopular with many Americans when he left office during the Great Depression. Yet Hoover wrote extensively after leaving office, including dozens of books, many speeches, and many essays like this one, published in the Rotarian. Many of his works set out to criticize Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, especially his book The Challenge to Liberty (1934).

The Rotarian was a magazine published by the Rotary International Club beginning in January 1911. Rotary International describes the early editions of the magazine as “focused on business ethics, character development, and membership growth.” And in the war years, the magazine published many commentaries, like Hoover’s.

Source: Herbert Hoover, “The 5th Freedom” Rotarian Magazine (April 1943) Accessed: March 24, 2020.

The president of the United States on January 6, 1942, stated that we seek “everywhere in the world” the four old freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion, freedom from fear, freedom from want.[1]

Soon thereafter I called attention to the fact that there is a Fifth Freedom—economic freedom—without which none of the other four freedoms will be realized.

I have stated many times over the years that to be free, men must choose their jobs and callings, bargain for their own wages and salaries, save and provide by private property for their families and old age. And they must be free to engage in enterprise so long as each does not injure his fellowmen. And that requires laws to prevent abuse. And when I use the term “Fifth Freedom,” I use it in this sense only, not in the sense of laissez faire[2] or economic exploitation. Exploitation is the negation of freedom. The Fifth Freedom does not mean going back to abuses.

Laws to prevent men doing economic injury to their fellows were universal in civilized countries long before the first World War. In the United States, for example, the state and federal governments had established regulation of banks, railroads, utilities, coinage; prevention of combinations to restrain trade; government support to credit in times of stress; public works; tariffs; limitations on hours of labor and in other directions.

The key of such government action to economic freedom is that government must not destroy but promote freedom. When governments exert regulation of economic life, they must do so by definite statutory rules of conduct imposed by legislative bodies that all men may read as they run and in which they may have at all times the protection of the courts. No final judicial or legislative authority must be delegated to bureaucrats, or at once tyranny begins.

When government violates these principles, it sooner or later weakens constitutional safeguards of personal liberty and representative government.

When government goes into business in competition with citizens, bureaucracy always relies upon tyranny to win. And bureaucracy never develops that competence in management which comes from the mills of competition. Its conduct of business inevitably lowers the living standards of the people. Nor does bureaucracy ever discover or invent. A Millikan,[3] Ford, or Edison never came from a bureaucracy.

And inherent in bureaucracy is the grasping spirit of more and more power. It always resents criticism and sooner or later begins directly or indirectly to limit free speech and free press. Intellectual and spiritual freedom will not long survive the passing of economic freedom. One of the illusions of our time is that we can have totalitarian economics and the personal freedoms. Ten nations on the continent of Europe tried it and wound up with dictators and no liberty.

The first trench in the battle for the five freedoms is to maintain them in America. That rests upon fidelity not only to the letter, but to the spirit of constitutional government. Failure of Congress to assert its responsibilities or for the Executive to take steps beyond the authority of Congress is a direct destruction of the safeguards of freedom. We badly need a complete overhaul of our governmental relations to the Fifth Freedom if it is to be preserved.

The Fifth Freedom in no way inhibits social reforms and social advancement. In fact, it furnishes the increasing resources upon which such progress can be built. And itself flourishes upon the advancing social aspirations of our people. Social advancement was part of the whole American concept during the whole of our national life. The greatest of all social advances was free education. Next came concern for public health. We have always held it an obligation to prevent suffering from misfortune, to care for widows, orphans, and old age, and those upon whom disaster falls.

The methods have gradually improved from the ancient workhouse, the asylum, and the county hospital to more systematic and more inclusive action. And that more inclusive action has only been possible with the growing wealth born from the Fifth Freedom. For many years in the United States our states and the nation have been gradually developing protection to children, to women, limitation of hours, and safeguards of health in the industry. From these 48 laboratories we have seen the development of such actions as public health control, hospitalization, care of children, workmen’s compensations, unemployment and health insurance, old-age, widows’, and orphans’ pensions. They are not new ideas. As we expand in these purposes, there are safeguards to liberty that can and must be preserved.

One of these safeguards is where personal insurance for any purpose is given by the Government it must be contributory. Even where subsidized by the federal government it should be administered by the States to limit the growth of centralized bureaucracy and political action.

Liberty has its greatest protection from local not centralized government.

Another concept in all social insurance or pensions must be that the responsibility of the people as a whole is to provide only a reasonable subsistence basis. Beyond that the citizen must look after himself if initiative and self-respect are to be maintained. Today our measures in these matters badly need vigorous overhauling to make them comport with these fundamental principles; to put them upon a “pay-as-you-go” basis; to make them inclusive of everybody; and to make them synchronize and not destroy private institutions and efforts.

A system devoted to development of individuality and personal freedom is a complicated business. It can destroy its own purposes by foolish action.

Today we are faced with the relation of personal liberty to total war. Our people must be mobilized for that immediate purpose.

We must sacrifice much economic freedom to win the war. That is economic fascism, for fascist economics were born of just these measures in the last war. But there are two vast differences in the application of this sort of economic system at the hands of democracies or at the hands of dictators. First, in democracies we strive to keep free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, and the other personal liberties alive. And, second, we want so to design our actions that these fascist economic measures are not frozen into life, but shall thaw out after the war.

Even the temporary suspension of economic liberty creates grave dangers because liberty rapidly atrophies from disuse. Vested interests and vested habits grow around its restrictions. It would be a vain thing to fight the war and lose our own liberties. If we would have them return, we must hold furiously to the ideals of economic liberty. We must challenge every departure from them. There are just two tests: “Is this departure necessary to win the war?” “How are we going to restore these freedoms after the war?”

We have no right to complain of necessary sacrifices. Our soldiers and sailors are deprived of all their freedoms except the right to grouse a little. But they will expect their freedoms back when they come home.

Under the stress of reconstruction after the war, our liberties will be slow in coming back, but the essential thing in this sort of questions is the direction in which we travel. We must establish the direction now.

  1. 1. Hoover refers here to FDR’s State of the Union address (Document 22); 1942 is a typo and should read 1941.
  2. 2. Laissez-faire economics is a theory that prioritizes private exchanges with limited governmental interference in economic affairs.
  3. 3. Robert Andrew Millikan (1868-1953) was an experimental physicist who won the Nobel Prize in 1923 for confirming Einstein’s work on the photoelectric effect and for measuring the charge of an electron.
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