Article 13: Een repliek op Adriaan Schout

Europese politici hebben een dringende oproep ontvangen van Adriaan Schout: stop met Europese waarden te thematiseren, opdat de Europese Unie niet uiteen zal breken (Stop met valse retoriek over Europese waarden, 22/1). Problematiek rondom de rechtsstaat in Europese lidstaten, de verdeeldheid over verdere Europese integratie of populisme zal er niet door verdwijnen en het enige resultaat kan teleurstelling zijn. Veel beter is het om vast te houden aan het huidige en nuchter door te blijven “polderen”. De EU, in de kern een “pragmatisch overlegsysteem”, is nu eenmaal niet geschikt voor dit soort hoogdravende vergezichten, aldus Schout.

Hij gaat in zijn analyse echter voorbij aan rol van de huidige invulling die de EU krijgt in het veroorzaken van deze problemen. Schout heeft gelijk: de EU is momenteel veeleer nog een pragmatisch overlegsysteem, maar de Europese integratie is momenteel dusdanig ver gevorderd dat dit niet langer houdbaar is. Wat men doorgaans populisme noemt, wordt gevoed door de discrepantie tussen een EU die veel doet en burgers die slechts beperkt hun engagement kunnen uiten. De Europese burger heeft daarentegen recht op en behoefte aan politieke betrokkenheid bij de Europese politiek. Dat begint met Europa opnieuw te benaderen vanuit onze waarden.

Niet het bespreken van Europa in termen van waarden zal de burger teleurstellen, maar juist het uitstellen ervan. Nationalistische politici begrijpen dit, zien Europa als een waardengemeenschap en beloven hun waarden in de praktijk te brengen. Om dan aan andere politici te vragen waarden links te laten liggen, is het prediken van bewuste machteloosheid.

Hetzelfde geldt voor de problemen rondom corruptie en de afbraak aan de rechtsstaat en mensen- en burgerrechten in verschillende landen. Als wij onze waarden niet op tafel te leggen, verlammen wij onszelf in de strijd hiertegen. Ruimte voor de lidstaten is belangrijk, maar dat mag niet betekenen dat we onze ogen sluiten voor misstanden. Pragmatisme moet niet omslaan in relativisme.

De noodzaak van een dialoog over Europese waarden

Europa zal dus een gemeenschap van waarden zijn, of het zal niet zijn. Dat betekent niet het overboord gooien van het pragmatisme waar Nederlanders zo aan hechten en om gewaardeerd worden, maar de erkenning dat ook stapsgewijs pragmatisme waardeoordelen met zich meebrengt waarover reflectie door de Europese burger en de Europese politiek gerechtvaardigd is. Het heeft geen zin hardnekkig vol te blijven houden dat geleidelijkheid per definitie waardeneutraal is.

Daarmee is niet gezegd dat een kritische blik op pleidooien voor een politiek van waarden niet nodig is. Schout heeft gelijk om sceptisch te zijn over de hoge woorden van Europese politici. Lippendienst aan waarden is inderdaad een verleidelijk alternatief voor het confronteren van meningsverschillen. Daarnaast is een retoriek van waarden op de korte termijn een verleidelijke placebo voor een politiek en een beleid die gestuurd worden door die waarden. Het debat over onze waarden moet daarentegen een springplank vormen voor een eerlijke discussie over waar wij met Europa naartoe willen.

Dat daar verschillende ideeën over zijn is geen existentiële dreiging, zoals Adriaan Schout aanneemt, maar de brandstof voor een Europese politiek. Want ondanks de substantiële verschillen tussen de meeste politieke stromingen, in en binnen de lidstaten, hebben wij Europeanen een gedeeld streven naar een gelijkaardige levenswijze die het resultaat is van een Europees canon aan sociaal en ethisch gedachtegoed. Dat subsidiariteit en diversiteit, waarden waar Schout zich impliciet op beroept, leidende begrippen blijven voor de EU, dat staat buiten kijf. Echter, om tot een houdbare en democratische EU te komen is het noodzakelijk om een dialoog te beginnen over de betekenis van al onze Europese waarden.

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Quotation 7: ‘Homage to Catalonia’ by George Orwell

“This, then, was what they were saying about us: we were Trotskyists, Fascists, traitors, murderers, cowards, spies, and so forth. I admit it was not pleasant, especially when one thought of some of the people who were responsible for it. It is not a nice thing to see a Spanish boy of fifteen carried down the line on a stretcher, with a dazed white face looking out from among the blankets, and to think of the sleek persons in London and Paris who are writing pamphlets to prove that this boy is a Fascist in disguise. One of the most horrible features of war is that all the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting. The P.S.U.C. militiamen whom I knew in the line, the Communists from the International Brigade whom I met from time to time, never called me a Trotskyist or a traitor; they left that kind of thing to the journalists in the rear. The people who wrote pamphlets against us and vilified us in the newspapers all remained safe at home, or at worst in the newspaper offices of Valencia, hundreds of miles from the bullets and the mud. And apart from the libels of the inter-party feud, all the usual war-stuff, the tub-thumping, the heroics, the vilification of the enemy — all these were done, as usual, by people who were not fighting and who in many cases would have run a hundred miles sooner than fight. One of the dreariest effects of this war has been to teach me that the Left-wing press is every bit as spurious and dishonest as that of the Right.[1] I do earnestly feel that on our side — the Government side — this war was different from ordinary, imperialistic wars; but from the nature of the war-propaganda you would never have guessed it. The fighting had barely started when the newspapers of the Right and Left dived simultaneously into the same cesspool of abuse. We all remember the Daily Mail’s poster: ‘REDS CRUCIFY NUNS’, while to the Daily Worker Franco’s Foreign Legion was ‘composed of murderers, white-slavers, dope-fiends, and the offal of every European country’. As late as October 1937 the New Statesman was treating us to tales of Fascist barricades made of the bodies of living children (a most unhandy thing to make barricades with), and Mr Arthur Bryant was declaring that ‘the sawing-off of a Conservative tradesman’s legs’ was ‘a commonplace’ in Loyalist Spain. The people who write that kind of stuff never fight; possibly they believe that to write it is a substitute for fighting. It is the same in all wars; the soldiers do the fighting, the journalists do the shouting, and no true patriot ever gets near a front-line trench, except on the briefest of propaganda-tours. Sometimes it is a comfort to me to think that the aeroplane is altering the conditions of war. Perhaps when the next great war comes we may see that sight unprecedented in all history, a jingo with a bullet-hole in him.”

[1] “I should like to make an exception of the Manchester Guardian. In connexion with this book I have had to go through the files of a good many English papers. Of our larger papers, the Manchester Guardian is the only one that leaves me with an increased respect for its honesty.”

* * *

By George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia (1938).

 

Note 10: Wat is wit?

Op dinsdag 31 juli 2017 publiceerde Vrij Nederland een artikel van Pim van den Berg waarin een interessant onderwerp wordt behandeld: waarom stelt Afrikaans-Amerikaanse popmuziek regelmatig sociale vraagstukken aan de kaak terwijl witte popmuziek introspectief lijkt? Het is een opvallend en relevant fenomeen. Des te teleurstellender is het dat de rest van het artikel vastloopt in een conceptueel probleem met betrekking tot witheid.

De onderzoeksvraag wordt behandeld door 32 artiesten te bespreken of aan te halen. Hiervan komen 30 uit de zogenaamde Anglosfeer, waarvan 24 uit de VS.[1] Het argument dat gemaakt wordt over “‘witte’ en ‘zwarte’ muziek” wordt echter niet beperkt tot de VS. Er wordt een verbinding gelegd tussen deze muziek en “wij, als een overwegend witte samenleving”.

Dit roept de vraag op wat bedoeld wordt met “wit”.[2] In de Amerikaanse context is dit concept redelijk uitgewerkt: whiteness is niet slechts een huidskleur, maar staat tevens voor een culturele (non-)identiteit. Het is het privilege om zich onbewust te zijn van de eigen etnische identiteit. Zo schrijft de Amerikaanse journaliste Suzy Hansen:

I knew I was white, and I knew I was American, but it was not what I understood to be my identity. For me, self-definition was about gender, personality, religion, education, dreams. I only thought about finding myself, becoming myself, discovering myself – and this, I hadn’t known, was the most white American thing of all.

I still did not think about my place in the larger world, or that perhaps an entire history – the history of white Americans – had something to do with who I was. My lack of consciousness allowed me to believe I was innocent, or that white American was not an identity like Muslim or Turk.

De overeenkomst tussen wat Pim van den Berg en Suzy Hansen zeggen over witheid is duidelijk. Echter, al lijkt de vraag hiermee duidelijk beantwoord, wordt het concept – door het ongewijzigd toe te passen op Nederland – ondermijnd. Er ontstaat opnieuw een ambiguïteit tussen “wit” als huidskleur en als (non-)identiteit.

Als er in Nederland gesproken wordt over witheid op dezelfde manier als in de VS, zonder uit te leggen waarom , is er in de eerste plaats namelijk geen reden om te veronderstellen dat het niet eveneens van toepassing is op andere Europese landen. Nederland is namelijk voldoende verschillend van de VS, en voldoende gelijkaardig aan andere Europese landen, om een dergelijk exceptionalisme zonder onderbouwing niet te kunnen rechtvaardigen. Dit roept echter vragen op zoals: (Waarom) is Kroatische, Belgische of Spaanse muziek dan wit? Heerst er in al deze samenlevingen dan een privilege om zich onbewust te zijn van de eigen etnische identiteit? Zo niet, wat is dan el het criterium waarmee witheid vast wordt gesteld?

Als geïsoleerd voorval zou deze verwarring slechts jammer zijn, maar de onverschilligheid voor de verschillen tussen Nederland en de Verenigde Staten lijkt kenmerkend voor hoe etniciteit besproken wordt in Nederland. Door de fixatie op de Verenigde Staten verliest de Nederlandse discussie rondom etniciteit aan precisie, nauwkeurigheid en effectiviteit − juist die eigenschappen die hard nodig zijn.[3]

* * *

[1] De Anglosfeer bedraagt de volgende landen: Australië, Canada, Ierland, Nieuw Zeeland, de Verenigde Staten en het Verenigd Koninkrijk.

[2] Het roept ook de vraag op wat er met “zwart” wordt bedoeld, maar deze laat ik terzijde.

[3] Hiermee doel ik op de discussie in zoverre dat deze wordt gehouden door mensen met antiracistische doeleinden.

Note 9: The poverty of Fuck

It is hard in contemporary political discourse not to come across the word “Fuck”. Whether online, in the streets or in day-to-day conversation, the positions of political adversaries are dismissed wholesale in an orgy of Fucks. I have been surprised for quite some time how widespread the politics of Fuck actually is. Though perhaps it is not so much its pervasiveness, but the lack of criticism of Fuck which I find hard to understand.

This absence is all the more notable since it should not require much effort to convince others to pull Fuck out of their political vocabulary. The politics of Fuck consists of two parts. There is the complete rejection of the political adversary’s position or even the adversary himself. Middle-of-the-road solutions and compromises are excluded. Though often unhelpful, this is not necessarily problematic. For some political issues principle ought to trump compromise and attempting to reach a consensus would not so much be a sign of pragmatism as evidence of a lack of conviction.

Where Fuck goes wrong is in the equally stubborn refusal to argue our own positions. The presumption is that since these positions are so correct as to be self-evident, it is not only unnecessary to substantiate them, but it would be ridiculous to do so. This rejection of argument intended to show strength and resilience is in fact a display of political impotence as it can only appeal to those already convinced. Fuck is unable to defend, penetrate or construct hegemonic discourses. It has no power to bear witness to atrocities or testify to moral fortitude. By resorting to Fuck we give up the means we have to engage in politics in favour of puerilism.

Being on the political Left, it seems to me that Fuck is more in use there than on the Right. This is all the more embarrassing given the prevalent and smug presumption that the Left is more intellectual and fact-oriented than the Right. It is a sign of the crisis which the political Left feels itself to be in. It is therefore all the more important to abstain from the politics of Fuck and tell others to do the same. For if the Left is to recover, it needs to become better again at convincing people and part of that means coming to terms with the poverty of Fuck.

Article 12: A Dutch perspective on American gun culture

I think it was after Sandy Hook that I resolved not to pay attention to any further American mass shootings. “If this is what the Americans are willing to accept in order to have their precious guns, so be it”, I thought. Before I had a faint hope that simply by following the news I could contribute to change. Without reflecting on it I implicitly assumed that non-Americans, by being part of a horrified public, would contribute to statistics which would reach policy makers somehow, would show the damage these events do to the perception of the USA by others, would breach the insularity of the American gun debate and show how aberrant American gun culture − of which mass shootings seem an integral part − actually is. We, non-Americans, would in effect have to substitute those Americans apparently unable of being appalled by these events, so went my reasoning. At one point, however, I simply gave up on this assumption. As I am not a resident or citizen of the USA, and as such have no way to influence policy, following the news on this topic would have no effect other than disgusting me. No thank you.

I honestly don’t know how many mass shootings there have been since and which were covered by the Dutch and British media (my main sources for news). I have a faint memory of one in Texas, but only because friends kept bothering me about it and acted surprised when I professed ignorance. And yet. Yet I feel compelled to write after the Florida shooting. I don’t know if it is the victims being articulate or the piggish ignorance and ratfaced spite of American gun interests having been prominently personified this time. Either way, though I have no illusion of my words having any impact or use other than as an act of bearing witness, I intend to cursorily describe the Dutch view on gun ownership.

To start with, some facts. Within the European Union, only Poland, Lithuania and Romania are estimated to have a lower civilian gun-ownership rate than The Netherlands.[1]* The Dutch rate is 3.9 guns per 100 people. In the US, by comparison, the estimated gun rate is 88.8 per 100. However, as stated earlier the USA is an outlier when it comes to guns and thus not the best country for a comparison. When looking at the Dutch gun rate within a broader context its peculiarity in its own right becomes clearer. Its gun ownership rate isn’t even half of the average of 10 guns per 100 people and out of 178 countries, only 66 have a lower rate.

When looking at similarly developed countries the image doesn’t change. The Netherlands is, together with the USA, in the top twenty of the 2016 Human Development Index.[2] Of these twenty, six others besides the USA also appear in the top twenty of gun ownership rate and three more are in the top fifty.† Only Japan, Singapore and South Korea have lower gun ownership rates out of this group. Of the other countries with the highest gun ownership rates seven more are part of the 51 countries classified as having “very high human development”.‡ Geographically, Western European rate is four times higher than its own and the Netherlands has the lowest gun ownership rate within the region.§

Still, while I am by no means an expert on comparative gun legislation, I find it hard to imagine that our gun legislation is so singularly strict compared others. Instead, I believe it is our attitude towards guns which explains why so few own one in the Netherlands. Private gun-ownership is looked upon in an almost exclusively negative manner. It is almost perceived as a character flaw and something inherently suspicious, even when the owner is a hunter. A gun, so the idea goes, is ultimately a tool whose function is to cause harm so why do you intend to do this and to whom?

The idea of guns as a deterrent is not only strange to us, but also unconvincing. You own a hammer not just because you want to be prepared for the hypothetical situation when you will need to hit a nail on the head, but because you expect this is a realistic scenario which you will encounter at some point. This is perhaps a rather complacent comparison, but even if you take rarer situations like those requiring fire extinguishers or hurricane shelters I believe you will find that those who do not acquire them, despite being financially able to, simply cannot imagine being in a scenario which would justify such preparations. Now these examples are mine, but the scepticism towards claims that guns are simply a deterrent is a commonplace sentiment.

The distrust of legal gun ownership goes so far that there is even limited sympathy for ultimate self-defence in case of a threat. This would, so the reasoning goes, only lead to a downward spiral where criminals will assume, and prepare for, a situation in which their targets own guns thereby making crime more dangerous for everyone. So even if I never come into contact with legal gun owners and even if none of them have malign intentions, they makes society less safe for me.

In addition, the political argument in favour of private gun ownership seems wholly bizarre to us since our own society is an empirical refutation of the idea that widespread gun ownership protects liberty against tyranny in government. Though the Dutch are on the whole pro-American to the point of obsession, there is a rhetorical repository of anti-Americanism which partially consists of claiming that in almost all the fields which Americans present themselves as world leaders − such as economic, civic and press freedom − we are actually doing better. “If guns are necessary for preserving freedom,” so the argument goes, “then how come we are not a dictatorship?”

Instead, the only case in which we feel that gun possession (not ownership!) is legitimate is in the case of soldiers and police officers. As a gun ultimately is a tool whose function is to cause harm, there has to be public − that is to say democratic − control over who is allowed to use this tool and with which intention. Nevertheless, causing harm remains in principle largely suspicious in the Dutch mind and it is only out of practical considerations that it is to be allowed. This ethos is so strong that even the former Chief of Defence of the Armed forces Peter van Uhm professed a distaste for guns in a TED Talk he made and legitimised their military usage by arguing that it eventually will lead to the disappearance of guns from society.

The contrast with American attitudes could scarcely be larger. To us the impossibility of gun legislation reform in the USA is incomprehensible. So much even that a Dutch comedy show ridiculed America’s gun culture as a disease dubbed Nonsensical Rifle Addiction (NRA). The humour in the sketch might seem blunt, but it does not come near to how crass the hostility and defensiveness of gun-rights advocates in the face of these events is in our perception.

On my side you will find no pretence that the Dutch position is the right one. I simply wish to leave the reader − the American reader in particular − with a sense of exactly how particular and contingent America’s common sense on gun culture is. That is all I can offer as a sign of solidarity to those unfortunates who died or were involved with the Florida shooting.

* * *

* I will consistently use the numbers given in the Small Arms Survey though I realize they aren’t perfect. E.g. I am slightly sceptical about the Polish official gun rate, given its well-developed network of armed civilian militias.

† The first set consists of Canada, Germany, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. The second set contains Australia, Luxembourg, and New Zealand. There is no data for Liechtenstein and Hong Kong while the data for the UK is given for four countries individually.

‡ These are Austria, Bahrain, Cyprus, Finland, France, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Within this category only Bahrein has not yet been mentioned as having a lower gun rate than the Netherlands alongside with Japan, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Singapore, and South Korea.

§ Narrowly defined as Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the UK. The average between these countries is 15.7.

[1] Small Arms Survey (2007). Small arms survey 2007: Guns and the city. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from: http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/publications/by-type/yearbook/small-arms-survey-2007.html

[2] United Nations Development Programme. (2016). Human Development Report 2016—’Human Development for everyone’. Retrieved from: http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/2016_human_development_report.pdf

Article 11: Een klein commentaar op Jan Willem Duyvendak

Op 13 februari 2018 gaf Jan Willem Duyvendak een weerwoord op de eerdere column van Ewald Engelen waarin hij stelt dat identiteitspolitiek links grote schade heeft berokkend. Hoewel ik meestal geen grote bewonderaar ben van Engelen kon ik mij ditmaal grotendeels vinden in zijn redenering. Enkel zijn karakteristiek hyperbolische conclusie ondermijnde, mijns inziens, de kracht van zijn argument. De reactie van Duyvendak bevat daarentegen een juiste conclusie − dat linkse een economische en culturele agenda samen horen te gaan − maar daaraan voorafgaand bevat het meerdere punten die na enige beschouwing niet sterk zijn.

Om te beginnen een korte opmerking over de verschillende invalshoek van de twee. Het is veelzeggend dat Duyvendak met enige ergernis opmerkt dat de kritiek op linkse identiteitspolitiek “[s]inds de opkomst van populistische partijen en de overwinning van Donald Trump” zo veelvoorkomend is.* Engelen noemt dit echter helemaal niet. Zijn kritiek komt niet voort uit de poging on Trump’s overwinning te begrijpen, maar om het ontbreken van andere overwinningen te verklaren. Hij vraagt “hoe kan links [na de financiële crisis] de grote politieke verliezer zijn geworden?” Alleen al het verschuiven van het beginpunt van de discussie weg van de financiële crisis geeft blijk van een blinde vlek voor de economie.

De kern van Duyvendak’s Antwoord aan Engelen is echter een viertal “misverstanden”. Tegen de eerste twee misverstanden is op zich niets tegen in te brengen. Het is pas bij zijn derde tegenwerping dat hij in de fout gaat.

Zijn bezwaar luidt dat links eigenlijk helemaal niet zoveel aandacht heeft voor identiteitsvraagstukken, want dat blijkt niet uit de verkiezingsprogramma’s. Het is echter maar de vraag of verkiezingsprogramma’s een juiste weergave zijn van de aandacht van links voor identiteitsvraagstukken − zelfs als men links beperkt tot linkse politieke partijen. Alhoewel van groot belang, zijn het documenten die maar door een beperkte groep gelezen worden. “Aandacht” zou beter gemeten worden door te kijken naar de “redactionele” keuzes van links om bepaalde boodschappen in de publieke sfeer (bijvoorbeeld op internet, televisie, radio, evenementen en in folders) meer of minder te bespreken. Dat is meer werk en daar is vooraf geen uitspraak over te doen. Ik zeg daarom niet op basis van nattevingerwerk dat Duyvendak geen gelijk heeft. Wel stel ik dat een blik op de verkiezingsprogramma’s niet aantoont dat links slechts beperkte aandacht geeft aan identiteitsvraagstukken.

Daarnaast stelt hij dat links aantoonbaar niet veel, genoeg of verkeerde aandacht geeft aan identiteitsvraagstukken. Als dit wel zo was waren er namelijk geen nieuwe partijen zoals BIJ1, Denk of NIDA ontstaan. Dit is een interessante opmerking vanwege wat het wel aankaart en wat niet. Wat het wel aankaart is dat er nieuwe partijen ontstaan die identiteitsvraagstukken als uitgangspunt hebben. Wat het aanvankelijk weglaat is dat alle partijen een historische achtergrond hebben in de identiteitsvraagstukken van Nederlanders met een migratieachtergrond. De Vrouwen Partij is bijvoorbeeld een dusdanig randfenomeen dat Duyvendak deze niet noemt en er is geen partij primair gericht op LHBT’ers. Wat het geheel weglaat is dat er een Nederlandse partij is die aan hen vooraf ging, die zich richt op etnische identiteitsvraagstukken en een groep van het linkse electoraat aan heeft weten te trekken: de PVV.

Provocatief stelt Duyvendak “hoe valt anders te verklaren dat het juist mensen uit emancipatiebewegingen zijn die zich losmaken van linkse partijen en hun eigen partijen oprichten?” Eigenlijk is het niet zo moeilijk een meer samenhangende verklaring van de versplintering op basis van identiteitsvraagstukken te geven. Een vluchtige samenvatting gaat als volgt: linkse partijen werden aanvankelijk als partij bijeengehouden door zich primair tot doel te stellen een gedeeld economisch belang te vertegenwoordigen. Dit bindmiddel is verloren, omdat “beroep” grotendeels verdwenen is als een primaire identiteit en doordat links in de jaren negentig arbeid hoopte te helpen door te handelen in het belang van kapitaal (de zogenaamde “neoliberale” koers).** De emancipatie van vrouwen, homo’s en Nederlanders met een migratieachtergrond kreeg een grotere focus om als aanvullend bindmiddel te fungeren. Echter, zoals Duyvendak deels erkent, was de vrouwen- en homo-emancipatie zo succesvol dat er min of meer een consensus is ontstaan over deze vraagstukken en waar dus geen politiek over bedreven kan worden. Wat overblijft is het vertegenwoordigen van Nederlanders met een migratieachtergrond voor wie identiteitsvraagstukken het uitgangspunt zijn. Deze kiezers zullen zich in het politieke landschap opnieuw configureren rondom bepaalde identiteiten (Turks in het geval van Denk, islamitisch voor NIDA). Of een linkse partij nu veel of weinig aandacht besteedt aan de desbetreffende identiteitsvraagstukken is niet relevant want het is gewoonweg geen evident vehikel om die belangen te vertegenwoordigen.

Het vierde misverstand is volgens Duyvendak dat FVD en de PVV stemmen trekken vanwege linkse identiteitspolitiek over vrouwen- en LHBT-vraagstukken. Terecht wijst hij erop dat er een progressieve consensus is rondom deze onderwerpen die rechtse partijen hebben overgenomen. Dit ondermijnt echter het daaropvolgende pleidooi om de vrouwen- en LHBT-beweging juist méér te steunen. Als er een consensus is dan kan er eigenlijk geen wezenlijk politiek meningsverschil zijn en zal rechts nieuwe eisen uit de vrouwen- en LHBT-beweging grotendeels absorberen of akkoord gaan met linkse voorstellen. Vrouwen- en LHBT-vraagstukken kunnen in dat geval dus niet de basis vormen voor het “terugwinnen” van kiezers, met name gezien dat de kiezers “die vinden dat deze partijen te stil op deze onderwerpen zijn geworden” nergens te bekennen zijn bij andere partijen (buiten BIJ1, die geen zetels won voor de Tweede Kamerverkiezing onder de naam Artikel 1).

De identiteitspolitiek die Duyvendak probeert te verdedigen zal dus vruchteloos zijn. Toch heeft hij gelijk dat minderheden hun vraagstukken niet gewoon kunnen laten liggen. Dat impliceert echter nog niet dat er identiteitspolitiek moet zijn. Wat politiek is daar wordt over getwist en als dat niet zo is bedraagt het een technisch probleem. Als gevolg van de verschuiving van economische vraagstukken van politieke naar technische probleem heeft links zich gewend tot identiteitspolitiek. Engelen heeft gelijk dat dit omgedraaid moet worden en dit betekent niet dat er geen vooruitgang kan zijn voor minderheden.

Op Duyvendak’s retorische afsluiting − “Kunnen we niet gelijktijdig werken aan het veiliger maken van de levens van homo’s, vrouwen en migranten én het verkleinen van de economische ongelijkheid?” − moet het antwoord zijn: “Já, maar het tweede moet daarvoor tot een politieke zaak gemaakt worden en het eerste een technische aangelegenheid”.

Dat is geen gemakkelijke taak. Zoals Willem Schinkel in De gedroomde samenleving overtuigend beargumenteert is de duiding van Nederlanders met een migratieachtergrond als “niet-geïntegreerd” bijvoorbeeld van groot belang voor het zelfbeeld van Nederland als een samenleving. Over nood voor een “nieuwe linkse verhaal” wordt ondertussen ook al meer dan een decennium gesproken en het gevaar van de bagatellisering als gevolg van depolitisering van identiteitsvraagstukken is reëel. Maar zolang dit niet gebeurt zal links verder marginaliseren en, zoals Engelen schrijft, “zullen we de uitbuiting van aarde en arbeid nooit tot staan brengen.”

* * *

* Overigens verbaast het mij dat er in Nederland gesproken lijkt te worden over “de opkomst van populistische partijen” alsof het fenomeen is dat naar voren is gekomen sinds de verkiezingscampagne van Donald Trump. Alsof Wilders niet al tien jaar in de Tweede Kamer zat, Fortuyn er nooit geweest is en de FPÖ in Oostenrijk en de Deense Dansk Folkeparti daarvoor niet al de opkomst aankondigden.

** Voor een inzicht in linkse economische politiek in een bepaalde zin ook identiteitspolitiek is lees het essay The Forward March of Labour Halted? van Eric Hobsbawm of Capitalism, Socialism, Ecology van André Gorz (klik hier voor een fragment van Gorz).

Discourse 2: The Barber’s Speech

Introduction

This essay is a translation from Dutch into English of a paper I wrote during my bachelor’s degree. It does not contain many novel insights, but does succeed in being informative so I decided to publish it after being encouraged by a friend. I have not taken the effort to double-check my sources to confirm the reading I made at the time of writing in 2012. Hence I apologize for any errors due to any misreading of the source material and the potential errors which might result from translating the text. If at a later point I do decide to double-check the sources I will indicate this. In addition, I apologize for any stylistic error or lack of elegance resulting from the translation process.

In this essay I want to make an inquiry into how The Barber’s Speech from Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 classic film The Great Dictator relates to his time and how this has influenced the discourse’s persuasiveness. To this end I will first describe the storyline of the film and then examine its background by looking at the production process. Afterwards, I will discuss the place The Great Dictator takes within Chaplin’s oeuvre and end with a discussion on Chaplin’s political views. This essay was written with the assumption that the reader is acquainted with the concepts of classical rhetoric. Hence no effort is made to give a comprehensive overview of the concepts employed.

Background

The story of The Great Dictator

In 1940, seven years after Adolf Hitler’s and the NSDAP won the German elections, the Second World War broke out in earnest several months after the 1939 invasion of Poland. That same year Charlie Chaplin published The Great Dictator which he hadn’t just written, produced and directed, but in which he also played both the protagonist and antagonist (Chaplin, 1940b).

The film is a parody of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. He takes on the guise of Adenoid Hynkel, dictator of the nation of Tomainia, but also that of a Jewish barber. Hitler’s ally, Mussolini, played by Jack Oakie, also features under the name of Benzino Napaloni, leader of Bacteria (Chaplin 1940b).

The story begins with the Jewish barber fighting as a solder in the trenches during “the” World War. After several antics he encounters an exhausted Tomainian pilot carrying an important message. Together they fly off to deliver it, but the plane slowly runs out of fuels while the fatigued pilot repeatedly faints. When finally there is no more fuel the plane crashes. Both survive, but while the pilot informed that the war has been lost by fellow soldiers coming to his aid, the Jewish barber has become the victim of debilitating amnesia (Chaplin 1940b).

Twenty years later the Jewish barber returns to his barbershop in the ghetto, unaware of the many changes which have taken place within Tomainia. During his hospitalization an anti-Semitic fascist regime, led by Adeonoid Hynkel, has taken power. Just moments after his return he comes into confrontation with Hynkel’s ‘Stormtroopers’. Hannah, a Jewish woman who also lives in the ghetto, helps him in avoiding them. Nevertheless, the Stormtroopers catch him and attempt to lynch the Jewish barber. Only the arrival of their commander, who does not approve of the practice, saves his life. By coincident the officer, Commander Shultz, turns out to be the pilot which was saved by the Jewish barber. Despite Schutlz’s surprise that his saviour is a Jew he assures the barber that this will be the last time that he will be harassed (Chaplin, 1940b).

In the meantime Hynkel prepares the invasion of Osterlich in secret as part of his plan to become ‘dictator of the world’. However, Hynkel is not able to finance his plans, since the banker he has approached is a Jew dissatisfied with his anti-Semitic policies. Hynkel asks Schultz to unleash his Stormtroopers on the Jewish ghetto in retaliation, but the officer strongly advices against this. As punishment he is sent to a concentration camp and the raid will take place regardless (Chaplin, 1940b).

After the raid the Jewish barber finds out that Schultz has gone into hiding in the ghetto. However, both are eventually arrested and sent to a concentration camp (Chaplin, 1940b).

Right before Hynkel’s planned invasion of Osterlich it is revealed that Benzino Napolini, Bacteria’s dictator, has stationed his troops at the Osterlich border. Unable to start with the invasion until these have been removed, Hynkel invites Napolini to Tomainia. The visit ends in a treaty where Napolini orders the demobilization of his troops while Hynkel agrees not to annex Osterlich. A promise he does not intend to keep (Chaplin, 1940b).

Some time later Schultz and the Jewish barber have escaped from the concentration camp disguised as Tomainian officers. At the same time Hynkel happens to be hunting near the escaped prisoners. His very own Stormtroopers run into him, confuse him for the runaway Jewish barber and promptly arrest him. The real Jewish barber is likewise assumed to be Adenoid Hynkel and Schultz is presumed to have been pardoned. The invasion of Osterlich has, however, already commenced by this time (Chaplin, 1940b).

Following the Tomainian triumph the Jewish barber has to give a victory speech in the newly conquered Osterlich where Hynkel planned to announce his plans for world dictatorship. Instead, he gives “The Barber’s Speech” where he argues in favour of the exact opposite of what Hynkel represents: democracy, freedom, solidarity and humanity (Chaplin, 1940b).

The making-of The Great Dictator

The initial concept of The Great Dictator didn’t come from Chaplin himself, but from the writer Konrad Bercovici. He had written a small text for Chaplin in the hope of inspiring him to produce an anti-fascist film. Others had already encouraged him to do so, but nobody offered such a concrete layout for a story-line. However, after The Great Dictator‘s release Chaplin refused to compensate Berovici for his contribution or even to acknowledge it. Berovici sued Chaplin for plagiarism and they eventually agreed to settle the lawsuit (Lynn, 1997, p. 395).

Besides the story of Berovici’s lawsuit the film ran into several other problems. One important factor was the political climate in the USA and the UK at the moment that it became known that Chaplin would produce a film about Hitler. The US was dominated by an isolationist sentiment, while the British still put their trust in a policy of appeasement towards Hitler (Cole, 2010).

There was a fear of Chaplin’s movie contributing to the cooling of relations with Germany. The American and British censorship boards closely followed the developments surrounding Chaplin’s production. The American Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) was challenged with an additional challenge. The MPPDA was – like the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) – not a government agency, but an organisation owned by the American film industry. However, industry ownership rested on the condition that self-regulation of decision-making which was acceptable to the government (Cole, 2010).

In addition, there was Charlie Chaplin’s tendency to be an obstacle to himself. Chaplin was a difficult director to work with due to his explosive, perfectionistic and controlling personality. An anecdote on his movie City Lights is illustrative: Chaplin repeated a particular scene for weeks on end where the Tramp was offered a flower by a blind girl due to Virginia Cherrill’s inability to enact the scene in exactly the manner which Chaplin wanted it to happen. Later in the production he fired her, because she asked if she could leave earlier for an appointment at the hairdresser only to take her back several weeks later (Lynn, 1997, p. 325 – 327). In the same way he frustrated, fired and rehired several actors and employees during the production of The Great Dictator (Lynn, 1997, p. 386-425).

Chaplin also decided to shoot large parts anew after the film was actually already finished and kept on editing scenes until thirteen days before the premiere (Mehran, 2004b, p. 33-38). The nervosity which led him to this course of action has been explained as the result of three sources of pressure. First, The Great Dictator was his first “talkie” – something Chaplin had tried to evade for years. Second, the film also meant the destruction of his iconic Tramp character, because he was attributed a nationality, religion and profession. Third, the MPPDA had constantly monitored the development of his project and isolationists and Nazi sympathisers regarded it with suspicion (Kamin, 2004, p. 5-9; Lynn, 1997, 320-321, p. 360; Mehran, 2004b, p. 38).

The Great Dictator and Chaplin’s oeuvre

Together with Modern Times and the dance of the rolls in Gold RushThe Great Dictator is one of the works which has inscribed Chaplin in the contemporary collective memory. Within the context of his oeuvre this work forms a clear rupture. As mentioned before, it was his first talkie, and at the same time the last movie featuring the Tramp – or as some say a Tramp-like figure (Kamin, 2004, p. 8; Mehran, 2004b, p. 38). It also was the end of Chaplin’s status as a big movie star in the USA. The productions which followed were confronted with varying difficulties and were not well-received. Moreover, Chaplin no longer refrained from openly voicing his political opinion in The Great Dictator, a development which started in Modern Times.

The film is marked by several themes which recur in the rest of Chaplin’s works. First, the character of Jewish Barber is modelled on the Tramp. Like the Tramp he represented the common man, but this time he was situated by means of a specific identity (Kamin, 2004, p. 8; Lynn, 1997, p. 322). The barber’s profession itself has been a recurring feature as well. Chaplin worked on scenes containing barbers both in his own movies as those of others. It was a theme with a personal connection to Chaplin’s youth when he was shaven bald due to a fungal infection (Mehran, 2004a, p. 43-49).

Chaplin and Politics

Chaplin has been characterised as a “natural Marxist” and I believe this is the best way to view his attitude towards politics. He notably lacked consistency in his viewpoints. For example, despite his left-wing opinions he did not hesitate to live in full accordance to his status as a multimillionaire. In 1932, during a visit to England, where he stayed in a luxurious suite of a prestigious hotel, Chaplin was invited by Lady Astor for a lunch at which other prominent figures, including then Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, would be present. Everyone was asked to give a speech after lunch on “what he would do if he had ‘the power of Mussolini to help England in her present crisis.'” Chaplin’s speech voiced his sympathy for several opposed ideas such as a libertarian plea for a small government, but also for the then still popular idea of the planned economy (Lynn, 1997, p. 347).

He was capable of turning 180 degrees on his political positions. After the German–Soviet Non-aggression pact Chaplin became, together with other Communist and Soviet sympathisers, a pacifist while he earlier had cherished the hope that the USSR would lead the resistance against Nazi-Germany. A few years later he again switched opinion when Germany invaded the USSR. Now he pleaded for a “second front” against Hitler (Lynn, 1997, p. 399, p. 419-423). This switching of opinions was, however, not effortless. Especially the news of the non-aggression pact, an event which shocked the whole of left-wing America and brought it into a temporary crisis, was difficult for him. Chaplin even considered referring to Stalin in The Barber’s Speech, but was convinced by two of the employees at his film studio to refrain from this (Lynn, 1997, p. 400; Scheide & Mehran, 2004, p.88-89, p. 96).

Another example of the influence of Chaplin’s political bias is his meeting with Oswald Mosley, a British politician who was member of several party, but became famous as the leader of the British Union of Fascists. Their meeting in 1932 in France happened during the same year in which Mosley founded the party, but considering Chaplin’s aversion to fascism the meeting probably happened before this event. Initially Chaplin described him as “one of the most promising young men in English politics“. Years later in his autobiography he looked back at the same meeting and claimed that he found Mosley a strange and even slightly frightening man (Lynn, 1997, p. 350).

While Chaplin wasn’t very critical towards the Left this wasn’t the case the other way around. Marxist film critics were negative about Chaplin’s work for varying reasons, but mostly because the film did not sufficiently emphasize class struggle (Lynn, 1997, p. 360-362).

Analysis

Rhetorical situation

Of the three branches of classical rhetoric The Barber’s Speech could belong to two: deliberative (political) oratory and epideictic (ceremonial) oratory. Since Chaplin meant to point the Anglo-American public to the danger of fascism with his film, the label of deliberative oratory seems to fit best. The question remains which place ethos and pathos take in this oration. I will continue with a short discussion of the two.

Who speaks? – Ethos and The Barber’s Speech

There is only a thin veil between the fictitious world of Tomainia, Osterlich and Bacteria and contemporary reality in The Great Dictator. The story’s satirical nature thus prompts the question: who is performing this oration?

First, there is Chaplin who speaks as an actor-director, making a political film and as such also a political oration. His logical counterpart is the Jewish barber who tries to bring a lost nation back to the right path.

However, is there also a third speaker? Some critics of the speech have claimed that Chaplin / the Jewish barber is out of character (Kamin, 2004, p. 9). One has to admit that the passionate oration does not seem to fit with the calm, reserved, and somewhat clumsy nature of the Jewish barber. Moreover, in the speech he refers to the Gospel According to Luke despite his Jewish background. One could say that there is a third speaker who transcends both Chaplin as the Jewish barber. This third character remains part of the story of The Great Dictator, but again transcends the particularity of the Jewish barber. Like the Tramp, the third speaker represents the universal. It is the reasoned voice of the universal whereas the Tramp was its mute body.

In the rest of the analysis I will refer to “Chaplin / the Jewish barber” when speaking of the person who performs the oration.

Who listens? – Pathos and The Barber’s Speech

The Barber’s Speech does not have a single audience, but three. First, the Tomainian audience consisting of the victorious soldiers and the political and military top of the regime. This audience has to be convinced that not fascism, but its alternative is the right way for society. Perhaps that the soldiers are part of the crowd cheering at the end of the speech, though this isn’t certain. The Tomainian elite is not seen off after Garbitsch, one of Hynkel’s ministers who announces the speech, disappears from view. It is improbably that they cheer on together with the crowd after hearing the oration.

The second is the audience of the “innocents”, the Jewish refugees and the citizens of Osterlich. Chaplin / the Jewish barber has to convince them that he does not have bad intentions.

Third, there is his 1940 Anglo-American audience. They first have to be convinced of the wicked nature of Hitler’s regime and in addition that Chaplin / the Jewish barber can offer a hopeful alternative.

So far the discussion of the rhetorical situation. Below the structure and the techniques of The Barber’s Speech will be discussed.

Structure and techniques

The first reviews of The Great Dictator in 1940 were very critical of the speech. One of the points of criticism was that it was badly structured (Kamin, 2004, p. 9). At first sight The Barber’s Speech indeed does seem like an oration lacking structure. I will analyse the speech in two ways. First, in the classical manner. Second, by means of a coding which I applied to it.

The speech starts with Garbitsch announcing Chaplin / the Jewish barber, presumed to be Hynkel. He does this through a short introductory speech of his own which is worth quoting in full here:

Corona veniet delectis. Victory shall come to the worthy. Today, democracy, liberty and equality are words to fool the people. No nation can progress with such ideas. They stand in the way of action. Therefore, we abolish them. In the future, each man will serve the state with absolute obedience. Let him who refuses beware! Citizenship will be taken away from all Jews and non-Aryans. They are inferior and therefore enemies of the state. It is the duty of all true Aryans to hate and despise them. This nation is annexed to the Tomainian Empire, and the people will obey the laws bestowed on us by our great leader, the Dictator of Tomainia, the conqueror of Osterlich, the future Emperor of the World!

Near the end of this announcement the camera switches to Chaplin / the Jewish barber with Schultz at his side. When Garbitsch is done Schultz whispers to his companion: “you must speak”. Panicked he responds: “I can’t”, to which Schultz replies “You must. It’s our only hope.” After repeating “hope” in bewonderment he gets up and walks to the stage. Garbitsch greets him through a Hitler salute, but Chaplin / the Jewish barber merely gives a polite bow in response. After a moment of silence behind the microphones he begins without holding back: “I’m sorry but I don’t want to be an emperor” (Chaplin, 1940a). This is said in a soft, calm, and deliberate tone. It is said against all three audiences: “his” army and the military and political leadership of the regime, the citizens of vanquished Osterlich, and the American cinematic audience. We can be almost certain that this Exordium is a surprise for these first two groups and that their attention has been captured. For the American spectator it is not the phrase itself which is engrossing, but it is the question how Chaplin / the Jewish barber will be able to save himself from this situation which keeps them occupied.

Chaplin / the Jewish barber continues with attempting to make his audience open and sympathetic to his message. He continues his opening by specifying “[t]hat’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone” (Chaplin, 1940a). With this statement the Osterlichian citizenry and the American audience will certainly be convinced by this, but the Tomainian forces and leaders will no doubt be shocked at hearing this. In the case of the Tomainian elite this is not a huge problem, but it could become a risk when he alienates the soldiery.

This oration does not just change the order of narratio, propositio and argumentatio, but they in fact run through each other. Concerning these three parts I would like to take a short detour to my coding. After a careful reading of the text I realized that it could be seen in a different, additional manner. Instead of a speech consisting of successive parts, one should see The Barber’s Speech as a succession of “waves”. Chaplin / the Jewish barber makes three kind of statements in the oration: statements on human nature, statements on humanity’s current state, and statements on what should be done. These statements follow each other in numerous waves. These are respectively represented by the following three phrases from the first paragraph:

”We all want to help one another.”

“…we have lost the way.”

“The way of life can be free and beautiful…”

– (Chaplin, 1940a)

I have coded the speech based on this principle (see Annex). One could say that the first kind of statement roughly corresponds to the argumentatio, the second with the narratio, and the third with the propositio. After the coding the wave-pattern of the speech where Chaplin / the Jewish barber concerns himself with a particular kind of statement, follows up with others kinds and then returns to one already discussed.

If one sees the recording of the speech another aspect becomes clear. Despite its wave-like pattern the oration does not have high and low points where one would expect them to be. Instead there is a continuing crescendo starting in a soft and moderate manner to a wild and enthusiastic end. This also explains, in my opinion, why The Barber’s Speech manages to be convincing despite its aberrant structure. Chaplin / the Jewish barber reiterates the same message repeatedly, but each time in a more convinced and forceful manner. In this way the public, which initially might not be very receptive, is being roused more and more. 

The narratio in this case does not correspond to any a precise set of real events. As such there is no exact account of events, but rather a general description of certain “truths” as perceived by Chaplin / the Jewish barber. “Greed has poisoned men’s souls” might refer to the Great Depression. Naturally this works perfectly for the Jewish barber since Chaplin has offered him the perfect audience: the people of Osterlich. The Tomainian top might be less convinced, but their reaction is not noted. For the real American public Chaplin / the Jewish barber offers an ostentatiously abstract story which they can apply to events in their own world. However, the reception of his film in the USA has shown that he didn’t manage to convince everyone (Kamin, 2004, p. 9).

The argumentatio is, like the narratio and the speech in its entirety, fairly abstract. Chaplin does not just want to convince a public consisting of Tomainians and Osterlichians, but also an Anglo-American – and perhaps even global – audience. He subsequently focuses mainly on emotion, on pathos. Following Braet (2007, p. 40-47), I would claim that most of the arguments are made based on values. However, two times another argument is made. First, when an appeal is made to the authority of the Gospel According to Luke. Second, when in the last paragraph Chaplin / the Jewish barber performs a refutatio by stating that: By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill their promise. They never will!”. The interesting thing about this phrase is that it in fact belongs both to the narratio and the argumentatio. In addition, by contrast to the other arguments it does not belong to the statements on human nature, but to those on the state of the present world. Though one could claim that a statement is being made about the nature of dictators.

Last there is Chaplin / the Jewish barber’s propositio. Notable here is that this does not plead for a return to the state of things before Hynkel, but pleads for a wholly new world. Here Chaplin’s left-wing politics come to the fore, especially in the last paragraph and the closing phrase where Chaplin / the Jewish barber cries out passionately:

“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. (…) 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!” – (Chaplin, 1940a)

One could effortlessly supplement or replace this paragraph with the refrain, or many other passages, of the Internationale:

“C’est la lutte finale

Groupons-nous, et demain

L’Internationale

Sera le genre humain”[1] – (Pottier, 1871)

Moreover, one could add the last phrase of the Communist Manifesto – “Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt euch!”[2] – to The Barber’s Speech final exhortation (Engels & Marx, 1948).

Figures of speech

Here follows a short discussion of the figures of speech in The Barber’s Speech. The passages have been selected based on their function within the oration.

In the second paragraph, Chaplin / the Jewish barber uses a personification to transform “greed” from an impersonal force in society, or a character treat of people, into an evil actor which has plunged the world in the miserable state of affairs in which it now finds itself:

“Greed has poisoned men’s souls ; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.” – (Chaplin, 1940a)

This same paragraph makes use of enumeration, a summation of words, groups of words or phrases. After the misdeeds of greed have been covered, also in the form of an enumeration, the speech continues with the misdeeds “we” have inflicted on ourselves:

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.” – (Chaplin, 1940a)

After which an alternative is proposed:

“More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.” – (Chaplin, 1940a)

In the third paragraph we can give an example of a proof, a visual and penetrative description of an event. Chaplin / the Jewish barber refers to the inhumanity of “the system”:

“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” – (Chaplin, 1940a)

After this paragraph the focus shifts to the soldiers. Chaplin / the Jewish barber implores them not to capitulate to Hynkel’s fascist regime. He makes use of a distinctive tripartite enumeration:

“Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men—machine men with machine minds and machine hearts!” – (Chaplin, 1940a)

Instead he offers them something they can fight for in the fifth paragraph: liberty. He does this by means of contrasting it with slavery. This figure of speech is the antithesis:

“Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!” – (Chaplin, 1940a)

In the last paragraph Chaplin / the Jewish barber warns them. He employs an anticipation. He runs ahead of what will be said, not by the public or by him, but by the world’s dictators who offer the same prospect he just made:

“By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill their promise.” – (Chaplin, 1940a)

After this final paragraph, after the continuing crescendo during the whole of the speech, he ends with a climax, the summit which is by now a self-evident truthful injunction:

Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite! – (Chaplin, 1940a)

Conclusion

The Great Dictator is an unmistakable cinematic classic from the first half of the twentieth century. A product of his time and of Chaplin as a person. The first fifty years of the twentieth century was a time where ideological battles were fought in all their fury and Chaplin was a person who wanted to take a stand. The minutely choreographed Barber’s Speech is the moment in Chaplin’s career where he dared to reveal his willingness to do so without restraint on the silver screen. 

This had a strong influence on the persuasive power of the speech. Whereas the Jewish barber was given an ideal public, Chaplin did not have this luxury. In Great Britain, where war had been declared against Hitler by the time it premiered, the film became a great success. In the United States the reception was more lukewarm due to its continuing isolationist sentiment.

Until this day The Barber’s Speech has a certain quality which we are tempted to characterize as naive. The hope for a world which is not here yet, but will come: “The way of life can be free and beautiful” (Chaplin, 1940a). Perhaps, however, it is us who are cynics and this faith is exactly what we need today.

Bibliography

Braet, A., (2007). Retorische Kritiek: Hoe Beoordeel Je Overtuigingskracht. Den Haag: Sdu Uitgevers.

Chaplin, C., (1940). The Barber’s Speech. Hollywood: United Artists. Retrieved from: http://home.datacomm.ch/rezamusic/chaplin_speech.html

Chaplin, C., (1940). The Great Dictator. Hollywood: United Artists.

Cole, R. (2010). Anglo-American Anti-fascist Film Propaganda in a Time of Neutrality: The Great Dictator, 1940. Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, 21, 137-152.

Engels, F. & Marx, K. (1848). Het Communistisch Manifest. Retrieved from: http://www.marxists.org/deutsch/archiv/marx-engels/1848/manifest/index.htm

Frank, S., Hooman, M. & Dan, K. (2004). Chaplin: The Dictator and the Tramp. London: British Film Institute.

Kamin, D (2004). ‘Who Is This Man? (Who Looks Like Charlie Chaplin)’. In Scheide, F. & Mehran, H. (Ed.). Chaplin: The Dictator and the Tramp (pp. 5-12). London: British Film Institute.

Lynn, K. (1997). Charlie Chaplin and His Times. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Mehran, H. (2004). Chaplin on the Cutting Edge. In Scheide, F. & Mehran, H. (Ed.). Chaplin: The Dictator and the Tramp (pp. 43-49). London: British Film Institute.

Mehran, H. (2004). Second Thoughts on The Great Dictator. In Scheide, F. & Mehran, H. (Ed.). Chaplin: The Dictator and the Tramp (pp. 33-38). London: British Film Institute.

Pottier, E. (1871). L’Internationale. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L’internationale

Scheide, F. & Mehran, H. (2004). The Great Dictator in Historical Context. In Scheide, F. & Mehran, H. (Ed.). Chaplin: The Dictator and the Tramp (pp. 72-103). London: British Film Institute.

[1] The traditional British version translates this verse as follows:

“So comrades, come rally,

And the last fight let us face.

The Internationale

Unites the human race.” 

[2] Traditionally translated as “Workers of the world, unite!”.

Annex: Coding of the The Barber’s Speech

The colour coding of the text is as follows: orange represents statements on human nature affinative with the argumentatio, green stands for statements on humanity’s current state corresponding with the naratio, and blue identifies statements on what should be done which is equivalent to the propositio. Red parentheses have been put around the phrases which have been picked as primary examples.

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!