Why Chaplin’s Speech from The Great Dictator Matters Today
The 1940 film offers wisdom that’s relevant in 2018.
Democracy calls for citizens to take a stand and fight for their beliefs around dinner tables, in public forums, and on social media. But in the Trump era, rancor has eclipsed civil discourse far too often.
Vulgarity, lies, and violence have marred the democratic process, and in some cases, the animosity between those on the left and the right has become so personal, it’s easy to forget we’re all fighting for the future of the same country.
As a nation fully engaged in the politics of the moment, it’s valuable to step back and reflect on the true goals of a democracy. Charlie Chaplin’s speech at the end of The Great Dictator provides an excellent road map of how a citizenry can conquer the issues that divide it and how a selfless leader should view the world.
Here’s an excerpt:
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.
The Great Dictator was a political satire, condemning Hitler, Mussolini, the Nazis, and anti-Semitism. It was Chaplin’s first full-sound production and was nominated for five Academy Awards.
The film tells the story of a Jewish barber (Chaplin) who is mistaken for a dictator he resembles and is asked to take his place. At the film’s conclusion, he rejects his position as emperor and gives an impassioned speech that has become one of the most famous in film history.