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Don’t Give Yourselves to Brutes!

November 28, 2010

In the early March of 1941, American silent-movie actor Charlie Chaplin wrote, directed, and acted in “The Great Dictator“, a blatant spoof of Fascism and Nazism in particular. The move was a bold one for its time (see the story of South Park and the “Muhammad” scandal) as the goofy comedian satirized one of the most powerful men in the world.  But in the climax of the movie, a scene known as the “Great dictator speech”, Chaplin moves beyond simply wacky antics; He makes an epic and resounding Lockean argument against the European fascists.

English liberal philosopher John Locke, on page 320 of “Modern Political Thought” that “The great and chief end, therefore, of men uniting into commonwealths […] is the preservation of their property“. Governments that fail to secure property put themselves in a “state of war” with the people and thus become illegitimate.

Chaplin was well aware of this philosophy. Taken directly from his speech, he states:

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 fulfil that promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people!

Thus these “brutes” fail to protect the property of the people. According to Chaplin they uplift themselves at the expense of others. The majority of the movie relies on goofy satire to deconstruct the most egotistic men in history, but this point is Chaplin’s thesis, the very reason he produced the movie amid the war itself.

Chaplin also makes a Lockean Argument for tolerance (“more than machinery, we need humanity”). Despite being nearly sixty years old, the speech is frightfully modern. His statements about greed, technology, and dictatorship still hold true to this day. Our world is still evolving from the atrocities that inspired Locke to write so long ago. Ladies and Gentlemen,  I present to you the late (and great) Charlie Chaplin:

2 Comments
  1. vdeepa permalink
    November 30, 2010 10:28 PM

    My family and I are huge fans of Charlie Chapman. I agree with his and Locke’s view that property is one of the central responsibilities of government. In fact, I always found it off that the founding fathers drew on Locke’s theory of life and liberty but chose to change property to the pursuit of happiness. I suppose that the pursuit of happiness appears to cover more of the ideals that the founding fathers represent but that is only because it is vague. I believe that right to ‘property’ is an equal, if not better, term for what they were searching for in a new goverment.

  2. adamarcher permalink
    December 3, 2010 7:10 PM

    I had never seen Charlie Chaplin in this light before I watched this speech, and it completly changed my perspective of him. Besides being relevant to many of the topics we have discussed in class, his speech is impressive in a historical and literary context as well.

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