Reynard Loki is a Justmeans staff writer for Sustainable Finance and Corporate Social Responsibility. A co-founder of MomenTech, a New York-based experimental production studio, he writes the blog 13.7 Billion Years and is a contributing author to "Biomes and Ecosystems," a comprehensive reference encyclopedia of the Earth's key biological and geographic classifications, published in 201...
FDR, Norman Rockwell and the Saturday Evening Post: Proto-CSR During World War II
Today in 1943, the Saturday Evening Post published the first of Norman Rockwell's famous "Four Freedoms" paintings to support President Roosevelt's 1941 State of the Union Address. It is an excellent example of "proto-CSR" at work.
ELASTIC CSR: THE CHANGING BOUNDARIES BETWEEN BUSINESS AND GOVERNMENT
In a 2004 article entitled "The New Market State and Corporate Social Responsibility," the Boulder, Colorado-based management consultancy firm KLM stated that "modern technology, globalization, the multinational corporation, and large amounts of unengaged, surplus capital are heralding a new era that is changing the traditional boundaries between government and business."
But while these boundaries have become markedly fluid in today's globalized economy, there have been many instances throughout history in which politicians and business leaders have worked together -- sometimes unintentionally -- to educate, inspire and motivate the general public for the public good. And sometimes, it involves the work of an artist.
One such example happened today in 1943, when the Saturday Evening Post magazine published "Freedom of Speech," the first of Norman Rockwell's famous "Four Freedoms" paintings, to support President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1941 State of the Union Address and the American war effort.
BUILDING CONSENSUS: THE FOUR FREEDOMS
Delivered on January 6, 1941, just 8 days after St. Paul's Cathedral in London barely escaped an incendiary bomb during the 114th night of "The Blitz," Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms Speech" came at a time when Hitler ruled much of Western Europe.
In it, FDR -- who fought for human rights as a state senator and then as governor of New York -- proposed four fundamental freedoms that all human beings should have: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
"We must prepare, all of us prepare, to make the sacrifices that the emergency -- almost as serious as war itself -- demands," Roosevelt said. "Whatever stands in the way of speed and efficiency in defense, in defense preparations of any kind, must give way to the national need."
STIMULATING THE WAR EFFORT: PROTO-CSR AT WORK
But FDR didn't just call upon individual sacrifice. He also pointed out the private sector's responsibility in helping other world democracies in the "defense of freedom," saying that "a free nation has the right to expect full cooperation from all groups. A free nation has the right to look to the leaders of business, of labor, and of agriculture to take the lead in stimulating effort, not among other groups but within their own group." To be sure, Roosevelt's overall vision of freedom and human rights included a form of proto-CSR.
Two years later, Rockwell painted the "Four Freedoms," but the government declined his offer to use them as posters for the war effort. However, someone at the Saturday Evening Post must have remembered FDR's call for business leaders to "take the lead in stimulating effort," because on February 20, 1943, the magazine published the first in the series, "Freedom of Speech."
Ben Hibbs, who served as an editor for the Post from 1942 to 1962, later said, "Those four pictures quickly became the best-known and most-appreciated paintings of that era. They appeared right at a time when the war was going against us on the battle fronts, and the American people needed the inspirational message which they conveyed so forcefully and beautifully."
In 1945, The New Yorker reported that the works "were received by the public with more enthusiasm, perhaps, than any other paintings in the history of American art."
CREATIVE CAPITAL: ART + IDEAS = MONEY
The government eventually caught on. The Office of War Information (OWI) ended up producing 2.5 million sets of the "Four Freedoms" after the Post received millions of reprint requests. The paintings were the focus of a traveling exhibition and a fundraising drive sponsored by the Post and the U.S. Treasury Department that raised more than $132 million in war bonds.
"The Four Freedoms...gave visible form to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's concepts, and as such, were the centerpiece for a major government campaign explaining 'why we fight,'" according to the Chicago Historical Society. "In the act of portraying momentous developments ...Rockwell also helped build consensus."
The United States declared war on the Axis powers on December 8, 1941. Thanks in part to FDR, Rockwell and the "proto-CSR" engagement of the Saturday Evening Post, the United States didn't just have much needed money for the war chest, the American people had a potent and shared vision that perfectly evoked mainstream cultural values.
Rockwell's "Four Freedoms" reside at the Normal Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" became a part of the United Nations charter. And today, the Post is published six times a year by the non-profit Saturday Evening Post Society. But the magazine's important role during World War II as a socially responsible private sector actor will not soon be forgotten.
image: Norman Rockwell's 1943 painting "Freedom of Speech" (Curtis Publishing via Wikimedia Commons)