The 1940 film The Great Dictator is a historically significant political satire where Charlie Chaplin condemns Hitler, Mussolini, the Nazis, and Anti-Semitism. At the end of the movie, Chaplin as the barber is mistaken for the titular despot and gives a speech denouncing totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany and rallying the soldiers along with the audience to fight for free liberal democracy. 76 years later with the rise of right-wing populist authoritarianism, Chaplin’s 5-minute climatic speech resonates as much as ever. These regimes may not be like the militarist nationalist regimes of the 1930s, but they can be just as much a threat to democracy, civil liberties, state institutions, human rights, and even the civic moral fiber. Many of these regimes came into power on platforms promoting racism and xenophobia. And many of the movements have demagogue leaders who have abused their power for their own enrichment, discredited and intimidated anyone who’s challenged or criticized them, and have little respect for the laws, values, and traditions in the very country they’re supposed to lead. Furthermore, their elections have emboldened extremists within their own nations into committing acts against vulnerable people with little or no consequence. But unlike some dictators of the 1930s, authoritarian leaders are much more likely to erode their constitutionally democratically elected regimes through legitimate means from within, which can even be scarier as well as just as disturbing. We must stand firm against authoritarian regimes that may not just compromise people’s liberties and rights, but can also rot a nation’s soul through corruption, misinformation, manipulation, and incompetence. Today we need to hear the words of Chaplin’s climatic speech more than ever to be reminded of our common humanity and how authoritarian leaders threaten our way of being. And since I doubt it’ll be heard at the Oscars this weekend, I have it on my blog.
Chaplin’s Final Speech from The Great Dictator:
I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone – if possible – Jew, Gentile – black man – white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.
Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost….
The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men – cries out for universal brotherhood – for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world – millions of despairing men, women, and little children – victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.
To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish. …..
Soldiers! don’t give yourselves to brutes – men who despise you – enslave you – who regiment your lives – tell you what to do – what to think and what to feel! Who drill you – diet you – treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!
In the 17th Chapter of St Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” – not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people have the power – the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.
Then – in the name of democracy – let us use that power – let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world – a decent world that will give men a chance to work – that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfil that promise. They never will!
Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfil that promise! Let us fight to free the world – to do away with national barriers – to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! in the name of democracy, let us all unite!