Sunday, December 5, 2021

Charlie Chaplin’s Greatest Speech Ever Made Has Never Been More Relevant

If you haven’t seen what is considered Charlie Chaplin’s greatest speech from The Great Dictator, then you must, and watch it again after that. If you’ve already seen it, then you’ll understand what an amazing speech it is.

While it was a satirical political comedy-drama aimed squarely at Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, what he says remains pertinent today.

Given the nature of our shared human condition, many of the issues Chaplin describes are also part and parcel of modern-day life.

Looked at through the prism of now, it’s not only relevant to what we see online and on the TV, but how we are in our daily lives and how we treat each other.

Whether, as he says towards the end, science and progress can help lead mankind to peace and happiness though is a moot point.

For me, the takeaways from the speech are about the need to…

… revive the goodness of humanity, the “kindness and gentleness”.

Released in 1940, The Great Dictator was Chaplin’s most commercially successful film. He wrote, produced, scored, and directed the film.

Charlie Chaplin's greatest speech is from  'The Great Dictator.'
Released in 1940, ‘The Great Dictator’ was Chaplin’s most commercially successful film. (Image: Trailer screenshot from ‘The Great Dictator’ via Wikimedia Commons)

Here is the full version of Charlie Chaplin’s greatest speech:

Charlie Chaplin’s greatest 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 aero-plane 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.

Black and white photo of an old war plane.
‘The aero-plane and the radio have brought us closer together.’ (Image: William Morris via Public Domain Pictures)

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.

Crowd scene at Ludgate Circus, London, after World War I, 1918.
‘You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.’ (Image: Thomas Frederick Scales via Flickr)

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 fulfill that promise. They never will!

Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfill 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!

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James Burke
What keeps the world ticking? James is always looking for the answer and the latest news from around the globe. When he's not behind his computer, he's basking in the Thailand sun, or dreaming of the southern hemisphere, where he grew up in rural Australia.
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