The Greatest Speech of all Time?

Chaplin’s full speech: [Best Version] The Great Dictator Speech - Charlie Chaplin + Time - Hans Zimmer (INCEPTION Theme) - YouTube  

For our third Everyday Theology blog we discussed Paolo Nutini’s song Iron Sky (2014).   

In this song is an audio excerpt from Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940), a film satirising the tyranny of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. The film began production just six days after the start of World War Two and was released more than a year before America joined the war effort in December 1941. Many nations, including Chaplin’s home country of Britain, were already in the thick of war when the film was released and subsequently banned in Nazi Germany and occupied Europe (1). The film was also banned in Paraguay during this time by Higinio Morínigo, and in Argentina during the reign of Jorge Rafael Videla over two decades later.  

In the film, Chaplin plays two characters: the dictator, Adenoid Hynkel, and the unnamed Jewish barber who is mistaken for the former due to their resemblance. The barber is given the opportunity to speak to the nation, disguised as Hynkel, at the movie’s climax (please note that the language used is very gendered due to the film’s context and age). 

Here is the edited excerpt of Chaplin’s speech used in the interlude of Iron Sky

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. Don’t give yourself to these unnatural men - machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts. You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Let us use that power – let us all unite! 

In and outside of cinema, Chaplin’s speech is largely considered to be the greatest one ever spoken! Though most films are fictious, they can be used to help audiences better understand the magnitude of real-life events, the absurdity of certain people and the power of those who oppose them.  

Imagine listening to this speech in 1940, unaware that World War Two would not end for another five years. 

In the film’s full speech, Chaplin refers to Luke 17, verse 21, that “the kingdom of God is among you” (NRSV). “Not one man, nor a group of men” the barber bellows, “but in all men! In you!”. As we discussed in the previous blog, God, “who knows the human heart” (Acts 15:8), resides in all of us; we are irrefutably connected by our Creator. However, without a unified collective, is there really a kingdom of God on earth?  

When humanity refuses to seek peace, or even blame their unhappiness on other groups of people, the kingdom begins to crumble under the weight of self-proclaimed gods and leaders. “You who call evil good and good evil”, who desire to hold both creation and destruction in your hands (Isaiah 5:20). Nazi human experimentation, eugenics and Shoah are blatant examples of how humans, who behave as though they have the knowledge of God, can devastate the lives of people they have no right to rule over.   

Born with just four days between them there is “something uncanny in the resemblance between Chaplin and Adolf Hitler” (2). “Representing these opposite poles of humanity” (2), one is a man of peace and one of war; one of comedy, one of misery; one of (alleged) communism, one of fascism; both of childhood heartache and ambition. The Barber offers not an omniscient voice but a wise one, nonetheless. You do not have to be God to know right from wrong. Neither motivated by love nor hate, Chaplin’s speech is centred around basic concepts of justice, peace and the prospect of progress for all while acknowledging that not everyone’s idea of progress is the same, and some will maim and kill to have their way. “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18) because the kingdom of God is dependent on strong foundations.  

The immersive experience of cinema can both shock and inform. The image of Chaplin in this final scene - a man of comedy, dressed as a feared dictator, speaking a message of unity - is one that so directly contradicts what is normal and expected of oppression that the authority of the rageful man he mocks is diminished by the unfamiliar. Tyranny is made absurd by the laughter of audiences.  

So, “do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” because with cruelty from some comes kindness from more (John 14:27). Know that there are always people willing to stand up for what is right. Be brave and one day join them. Take action: change the law, boycott the unethical, peacefully protest the unjust, or, perhaps, make people laugh at the ridiculous because the reasoning of all dictators really is absurd. 

Given current events taking place in Europe, 80 years on, do you think Chaplin’s speech is still relevant?  


Philippians 2:2-5 

“Make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” 

Cited Reference:   

Barber, N. (2021). ‘The Great Dictator: the film that dared to laugh at Hitler’, BBC Culture. Available at: The Great Dictator: The film that dared to laugh at Hitler - BBC Culture (Accessed 26th January 2022).   

Robinson, D. (2014). Chaplin: His Life and Art. Penguin: United Kingdom.  

Let us know if you think there are any other songs, films/film clips, or other form of media we should discuss in future Everyday Theology blogs! Just email me at