July 18, 2012

“That government is best which governs least.” (Or not all?)



THOREAU’S VERSION OF THE AXIOM ABOUT GOVERNMENT:

“I heartily accept the motto, — ‘That government is best which governs least.’”
       Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

       American author, philosopher, naturalist and social critic
       In his essay “Civil Disobedience”
(1849) 
       The quotation “That government is best which governs least” is often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but without any specific source. No source is given because, as noted by Jefferson scholars and books like Not So!: Popular Myths About America From Columbus to Clinton, there is no record that Jefferson ever said it. Nor did Thomas Paine, another “Founding Father” who is sometimes wrongly credited with the quote.
       Henry David Thoreau did use the line in “Civil Disobedience” (originally titled “Resistance to Civil Government”) and its appearance in that famous essay probably popularized the saying in its best known form.
However, Thoreau seemed to be making it clear that he was citing an existing motto.   
       He may have been paraphrasing the slogan coined by American journalist and editor John Louis O’Sullivan. In 1837, O’Sullivan wrote “The best government is that which governs least” in the opening editorial for his periodical The United States Magazine and Democratic Review. He then used those words as the motto of the Review until it ceased publication in 1859.
       Thoreau’s friend Ralph Waldo Emerson also penned an earlier version. In 1844, Emerson wrote in an essay titled “Politics”: “The less government we have, the better.” 
       Modern political conservatives are quite fond of the quote “That government is best which governs least.” But even most conservatives might not agree with what Thoreau went on to say about it in “Civil Disobedience.” He envisioned taking the
axiom to its anarchic extreme, writing: “Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, — ‘That government is best which governs not at all.’”



ROBERT HUTCHINS’ TAUTOLOGICAL COUNTERQUOTE:

“That government is best which governs best.”
      
Robert M. Hutchins (1899-1977)
       Dean of Yale Law School  
       Remark made in a speech in New York on January 21, 1959, upon receiving the Sidney Hillman Award for Meritorious Public Service



WILLIAM PENN’S COUNTER-COUNTERQUOTE:

“It is not true that that government is best which is best administered — it is a sophism invented by tyranny to quiet the inquisitive mind; a good administration is at best but a temporary palliative to a bad government, but it does not alter its nature.”
       William Penn (1644-1718)
       English businessman and Quaker leader who founded the American Province of Pennsylvania
       In an essay published in the Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, January 2, 1788



THE CORPORATE ETHICS EXTRAPOLATION:

‘The government is best that governs least.’ If correct, corporations should be left to pursue their own ends unfettered by government.’”
      
Thomas Donaldson
       Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics, University of Pennsylvania
       In his book Corporations and Morality (1982)



A “DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN” QUOTE:

“For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government...Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that government is best which is most indifferent.”
       Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945)
       Democratic politician and 32nd President of the United States
       In a speech on October 31, 1936, commenting on his Republican predecessors (Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge) and the opponents of his “New Deal” social programs


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July 5, 2012

“With great power comes great responsibility.”


THE EVOLUTION OF THE PITHY PROVERB:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”
       Catchphrase popularized by Spider-Man comics and movies
       This now well-known line was first used in Marvel comic books featuring Spider-Man, the web-slingin’ superhero created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962. It was more widely popularized by director Sam Raimi’s hugely-popular 2002 Spider-Man film, which made it familiar to millions of people who never read a Spider-Man comic.
       The line evolved from narrative text written by Stan Lee for the original Spider-Man origin story published in August 1962 in Vol. 1, #15 of the Marvel comic Amazing Fantasy.
       In that story, after student Peter Parker accidentally gets his Spider-Man superpowers from the bite of a radioactive spider, he initially uses them to make money by performing in local wrestling matches and other public shows. One night, as he’s leaving a show, he sees a cop chasing a burglar. The cop wants him to help stop the criminal, but Peter refuses. Shortly thereafter, his beloved Uncle Ben Parker is murdered and Peter finds out the killer was the burglar he had refused to capture.
       The final panel in the story shows a small figure of Peter in his Spider-Man costume, dejectedly walking down a city street in the dark. Lee’s text in that panel provided the inspiration for the saying that would become famous. It says:
       “AND A LEAN. SILENT FIGURE SLOWLY FADES INTO THE GATHERING DARKNESS, AWARE AT LAST THAT IN THIS WORLD, WITH GREAT POWER THERE MUST ALSO COME --  GREAT RESPONSIBILITY.” 
       Spider-Man fan sites like Spiderfan.org say the quote “With great power comes great responsibility” was first used in a comic book in 1987, in Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1. It’s mentioned as a saying of Uncle Ben’s in that issue, though not spoken by him. The first time Ben said it in a comic was in February 2002, in Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 2, #38.
       A few months later, in May 2002, Raimi’s Spider-Man film was released. The line was used twice in the movie and launched it into pop culture meme status. It’s first spoken by actor Cliff Robertson, as Uncle Ben, and repeated at the end by Tobey Maguire, who plays Peter Parker/Spider-Man.  
       There are similar quotes linking power and responsibility that predate the Spider-Man catchphrase.
       For example, as noted by veteran comic and television writer Mark Evanier on his great NewsFromMe.com site, Theodore Roosevelt wrote in a 1908 letter that “responsibility should go with power.” And, in 1945, Teddy's relative Franklin D. Roosevelt said “great power involves great responsibility.”
       There’s also a famous historical quip about irresponsible power-wielders: “Power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.” That zinger was used in 1931 by UK politician Stanley Baldwin, in a speech attacking the media barons who owned British newspapers (the forerunners of Rupert Murdoch).


A PITHY REVIEW OF THE NEW SPIDER-MAN MOVIE:

“With great power comes great responzzzzzzzZzzzzzzzzzz…”
       Marty Beckerman
       Author, journalist and self-described “nice, semi-demented Jewish boy” from Alaska
       In his review of the recently-released Amazing Spider-Man movie on Salon.com, July 3, 2012, which ponders the question: “Is there an original idea left in Hollywood?”


THE U CAN HAS FREE CHEEZBURGER VERSION:

“We know that with great burgers comes great responsibility. So, we are doing our part to celebrate America’s birthday, Spider-Man’s birthday and the release of The Amazing Spider-Man film by giving anyone dressed as Spider-Man a free Amazing Grilled Cheese Bacon Burger on the Fourth of July.”
       Brad Haley 
       Chief marketing officer for CKE Restaurants, parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s
       In a press release issued on June 25, 2012


DR. HOUSE’S OBSERVATION:

“With great power comes great micromanaging.” 
       Hugh Laurie, as the character Dr. Gregory House 
       In the “Better Half” episode of the TV show House M.D. (Season 8, Ep. 9 , first aired Jan. 23, 2012).


THE KICK-ASS VARIATION:

“With no power, comes no responsibility.” 
       Aaron Johnson, playing the unconventional superhero named Kick-Ass 
       In the movie Kick-Ass (2010)

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