Wednesday, August 03, 2011

'More than machinery we need humanity"

I was reminded of this brilliant speech by one of my favorite left-wing sites. It's the climax of Charlie Chaplin's 1940 film "The Great Dictator," a must-see on anyone's list. This is a stirring, heartfelt speech made by Chaplain himself playing a Jewish barber who has found himself masquerading as Adenoid Hynkel, the film's bumbling parody of Adolf Hitler.

The times we live in are very different than the world of 1940: the Hitlers of the world today are at worst very little Hitlers indeed. But it's not necessary to exaggerate the state of the world or fling over-reaching hyperbole about to find in Chaplin's emotional call for a new and better world ideas that retain currency even when jack-booted thugs are for the moment mostly dormant.

Fighting hatred, intolerance and militarism is always a good idea: and in a world that does seem like it's spinning about on a precipice of horrible possibilities, I find a poignancy in the relevance of this short and stirring testament. Some people seem in an awful hurry to repeat some really horrible chapters of the past: perhaps by listening to this cry from the past we can remember to keep our gaze pointed at a better future.


  1. How odd, just today I was pondering the similarities of the Tea-party and the Nazi-party. The forbidden H-word... shout it to the housetops, Ish. A rose by any other name would smell.

  2. Sorry, I jumped the gun in my response... my first comment is not really appropriate to your post. What can I say, I am a reactionary. Didn't mean to belittle your post. Mea Culpa.

  3. Hey I published both your comments not to embarrass you at all... because of course there is that. My first draft of this post contained a tortured attempt to place the Tea Party and even the US government and by implication Obama on a point of comparison to that forbidden H word, which sounds on the surface when one says it aloud like serious over-reacting. It's certainly ridiculous when the teabaggers compare Obama to Hitler from the right and I didn't want to make such a caricature from the left.

    But... it's not hysteria to hear the echoes of what Chaplin is talking about in today's political dialogue. There's nobody in concentration camps, well, unless you count one percent of the US population being behind bars the same thing which is worth thinking about if nothing else. There's not mass burning of Synagogues but well, there are some ugly protests and the smell of burning Holy Q'uran. There's a bullying gang mentality developing. It's good to keep one's eyes open. Take notes!

  4. Over the weekend I watched some recorded episodes I had from the History channel; The Rise and The Fall of the Third Reich...

    As I watched I tried to put myself in that time period and imagine how I would have reacted... Would I have been the quiet one that didn't agree but went along... or would have I put my life on line and spoken out?

    I like to think I would have been the latter.

    I know - it takes an enormous amount of energy and wherewithal to go against the tide. Every dissenter needs to know there is at least one other person out there in his corner...

    It shouldn't have to take "millions" to matter - the fact that one person is allowed to be abused and belittled should be enough for a protest and action.

  5. It's scary to think about. Plus, books have know when the next one starts. I don't think real life is like that. 1933 didn't happen without 1932, 1931 and 1930. How do you know when the change that seems small when it's happening turns out to have been the significant pendulum shift?

    Did you see the article in the NYT today about Reagan and PATCO? Relevant!

    g'night Annie!