With great power comes great responsibility
"With great power there must also come great responsibility"—or simply "With great power comes great responsibility"—alternatively known as the Peter Parker principle, is a proverb popularized by the Spider-Man comic books written by Stan Lee.
Despite its popularization in the 20th century, the adage conceptually dates back to the fourth century BC in the allusion of the Sword of Damocles and later in 1793, during the French Revolution. The formulation has been (and continues to be) used by journalists, authors, and other writers; and in politics, monarchic rhetoric, law enforcement, public safety, and in various media.
The origins of the phrase pre-date its use in Spider-Man comics.
The adage particularly bears a close resemblance to the Christian bible verse of Parable of the Faithful Servant (Luke 12:48): "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." (Another translation: "To whomever much is given, of him will much be required; and to whom much was entrusted, of him more will be asked.")
Usage of the particular wording ("great power" and "great responsibility"), however, dates back to the time of the French Revolution at the very least, as the following sentence is found in the "Plan de travail, de surveillance et de correspondance" ('Work, surveillance and correspondence plan') proposed by the Comité de Salut Public ('Committee of Public Safety') during the 1793 French National Convention:
Ils doivent envisager qu'une grande responsabilité est la suite inséparable d'un grand pouvoir.
They [the Representatives] must contemplate that a great responsibility is the inseparable result of a great power
In 1906, Winston Churchill, as Under-Secretary of the Colonial Office, said: "Where there is great power there is great responsibility," even indicating that it was already a cultural maxim invoked toward government at the time. In 1943, now as Prime Minister, Churchill evoked the proverb once again, though less exactly: "The price of greatness is responsibility."
Meant to criticize the media barons who owned British newspapers of the time, British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin evoked the proverb in a March 1937 speech: "Power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”
In his 1945 State of the Union address, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated that "In a democratic world, as in a democratic Nation, power must be linked with responsibility, and obliged to defend and justify itself within the framework of the general good."
In "Superman Comes to Earth", the first episode of the 1948 serial Superman, Clark Kent (Kirk Alyn) is told by his foster father, Eben Kent (Edward Cassidy), "Because of these great powers—your speed and strength, your x-ray vision and super-sensitive hearing—you have a great responsibility."
The phrase first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962), in which it is not spoken by any character; instead, it appears in a narrative caption of the comic's last panel (emphasis not in original):
And a lean, silent figure slowly fades in the gathering darkness, aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come -- great responsibility!
While Uncle Ben incidentally had none but two lines in that entire comic, later stories and flashbacks that took place when Ben was still alive retroactively made the phrase one of the many homilies he would lecture Peter with. The first mention of Ben saying the phrase to Peter was in 1972, when Ron Dante (of The Archies) included it his album, Spiderman: A Rockomic. However, this attribution would not catch on in the comics for at least another decade; the earliest appearance of a direct reference to Ben telling Peter the phrase is figured to be in Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1 (1987) by Jim Owsley, M.D. Bright, and Al Williamson. Even so, the first time that the phrase is explicitly spoken by Ben in a comic would not be until February 2002, when it appears in Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 2, #38.
In May, a few months after its first time being spoken by Ben in the comics, Sam Raimi’s live-action Spider-Man (2002) film was released, where it is used twice: first spoken by Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) himself and recalled at the end by Peter (Tobey Maguire). This film is considered to be where the phrase especially gained pop-cultural significance.
Contemporary reinterpretations of Spider-Man, including Raimi's 2002 film as well as the Ultimate Spider-Man comic, depict Ben as saying this phrase to Peter in their last conversation together. Comic book writer Greg Pak opined that the motto was "one of the greatest single moral injunctions in all of American pop culture."
Since becoming a household phrase from its use in Spider-Man, the phrase and general concept has regularly been evoked, rephrased, and parodied.
- The Mozilla Foundation, Omidyar Network, Schmidt Family Foundation, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies have launched an academic contest with the goal of incorporating computer ethics, social justice and social responsibility into undergraduate computer science classes with the phrase “With Great Code Comes Great Responsibility”
- When accessing superuser permissions for the first time in Linux, you are welcomed with a passage that ends with "With great power comes great responsibility."
- In the film Kick-Ass (2010), Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) says, "With no power, comes no responsibility."
- In “Better Half” (2012), in the 8th season (episode 9) of the show House, the titular Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) quips, "With great power comes great micromanaging."
- In a 2013 interview with Al Jazeera, linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky argues that "[t]he more privilege you have, the more opportunity you have. The more opportunity you have, the more responsibility you have."
- In 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) evoked the quote in the ruling of Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment, LLC, in which the SCOTUS rejected Marvel (owned by Disney) having to pay royalties for an expired patent of a particular Spider-Man toy. Specifically, Justice Kagan included in her opinion: "A great power must be accompanied by — a great responsibility!"
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