How Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” Speech from 1940 Still Resonates Today in a World of Injustice

Feb 4, 2012
5:58 pm

In 1940, the great Charlie Chaplin created a film that went after Hitler two years before America did. It was Chaplin's first talking movie and his most successful one. At a time when the United States was still at peace with Nazi Germany, Chaplin's movie, which was political satire at its most provocative, played a role in how American public opinion began to shift towards Hitler's dictatorship.

What is interesting to note is that Chaplin and the rest of the world knew very little about the Nazi atrocities going on in 1939 and 1940. According to sources, Chaplin said that he very likely would not have satirized Hitler if he knew the real facts about the crimes on humanity that the Nazis had committed. Still, he did create this film, and revisiting it now can serve a reminider to all of us that injustice must still find warriors.Chaplin was one of the most popular figures in the world at the time.

Like he said, he wanted to expose the Nazis as "machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts."

The trailer from the film's re-release gives you a flavor of "The Great Dictator," a work that was clearly ahead of its time. A full snyopsis can be seen here, but the the key plot motive was a simple classic case of mistaken identity. Chaplin played two roles in the movie, Hynkel the dictator and the Jewish barber, whom eventually is mistaken for Hynkel near the end of the film and then gives a rousing speech basically condemning Hynkel's repression, anti-Semitism, and hate, and calling for a new world of harmony and peace. To think that a movie that is over 70 years old has merit today. The themes are uncanny, in the time of Arab Springs and Occupations.

If you have never seen "The Great Dictator," see it. Here is the trailer.


Here is the final speech that the Jewish Barber (as Hynkel) gives.

The following version contains Spanish subtitles.

This is the full text of the speech from the movie.

Written and delivered by Sir Charles Chaplin 

General Schulz: Speak – it is our only hope.

The Jewish Barber (Charlie Chaplin): 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 men, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each others' 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 as 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 man; 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 and 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 a 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 seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it’s 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 fulfill their 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! 

[Huge hurray from the huge crowd – scene changes to Hanna (Paulette Goddard) a refugee on the floor with eyes still in tears from having been beaten down by the Dictator’s soldiers. Romantic string music in the background. Hanna’s beautiful face and eyes are in awe as to how her Jewish barber friend who was imprisoned by the Dictator’s troops is not speaking as the Great Dictator!]

Hanna, can you hear me? Wherever you are, look up Hanna! The clouds are lifting! The sun is breaking through! We are coming out of the darkness into the light! We are coming into a new world; a kind new world, where men will rise above their hate, their greed, and brutality. Look up, Hanna! The soul of man has been given wings and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow. Into the light of hope! Into the future! The glorious future! That belongs to you, to me, and to all of us. Look up, Hanna! Look up!

Hanna's Father: Hanna! Did you hear that?

Hanna: Listen! [as her great acting and incredible cinematography turns her face into a goddess as the music takes the movie to conclusion.]