The Fight For the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great. By Harvey J. Kaye. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014. 292 pp.
Arguing for the political nature of struggles over our shared public memory, author Harvey J. Kaye's The Fight for the Four Freedoms makes the case for remembering Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) and his Four Freedoms in ways that allow them to serve as resources for reinvigorated American progressive action. Comprising 11 short chapters and toggling between FDR's rhetoric; his administration's policies; and the actions and words of unions, activists, and private individuals, Kaye presents the standard narrative of the Roosevelt administration and the years of Depression and war through a very specific ideological lens. The book's great strength is its inclusion of anecdotal evidence and first-person narratives that both capture the author's argument and provide a vivid sense of the historical moment.
The author is unabashedly partisan in that he is clearly trying to mobilize FDR and his legacy for a contemporary end. But this is no political screed, nor is it a polemic. Kaye works hard to be fair in his assessment of FDR (he is considerably less so in his assessment of those who opposed the president). He presents a history of the Roosevelt years, including all the familiar elements--the crisis of the Depression, the hope surrounding the 1932 inauguration, the rush of New Deal legislation, the continued economic difficulties leading to the Second New Deal, the 1936 election, and the subsequent overreaches of Court-packing and the congressional purge. Later chapters detail the preparedness debate and the war effort and its connection to democracy at home. He concludes with a discussion of U.S. history since 1945, arguing that the progressive impulse has been furthered in some ways (movement toward racial equality) and stifled in others (economic equality, the Red Scare). The lack of attention to post-9/11 politics here is a bit puzzling.
The articulation of the Four Freedoms in FDR's 1941 State of the Union address provides the analytic anchor for the book, and the fight for those freedoms, for Kaye, is what actually made the "Greatest Generation" "great" (p. 7). In Kaye's analysis, that fight was not restricted to the battlefields of World War II but was also fought on the home front, in efforts to protect and extend American democracy to all Americans. This perspective requires Kaye to reason...