One of the most iconic film lines of all time — let alone comic book lines of all time — was uttered by a supporting character.
With great power comes great responsibility.
Ben Parker, known to Spider-Man protagonist Peter Parker as “Uncle Ben,” uttered these lines to his nephew during a fatherly lecture.
Though this line predates the Spider-Man comics, it is known today as the Peter Parker principle.
Andrew Carnegie was the epitome of the Alger-esque “rags-to-riches” American story. Born impoverished in Scotland, Carnegie worked his way into leadership roles in one of the nation’s largest railroad companies, and eventually became the richest man in the world when he sold Carnegie Steel to JP Morgan for $480 million.
To others, Carnegie exemplified what was wrong with the America of the late 19th Century. The “Gilded Era,” as Mark Twain coined it, was one in which the rich were getting richer, the poor were getting poorer, and the government did not intervene in private enterprise unless it was to help business owners put down strikers.
The third chapter of his story underlined his adherence to the Peter Parker principle. In The Gospel of Wealth, Carnegie laid out a vision for not just the wealth he had acquired, but the wealth of all people of his class. He argued that extremely wealthy Americans like himself had a responsibility to spend their money to benefit the greater good.
Carnegie put his money where his mouth was.
He attached his name to a number of philanthropic ventures — libraries, music halls, universities — and certainly has built a legacy that goes beyond that of a “robber baron” (a derogatory term for the titans of industry of the Gilded Age). Andrew Carnegie’s biographies as a result have two roles: industrialist and philanthropist.
Today’s Gospel of Wealth
Today, The Giving Pledge is a campaign that encourages some of the world’s wealthiest people to contribute most of their money to charitable causes. Over 200 people have signed on to the Pledge, and are taking Carnegie’s words to heart.
Though most of us do not have the kind of wealth that could make the financial impact that these pledgers can make, we all have some sort of power in our lives.
We have direct recruits.
We have children.
We hire people to take care of various chores.
And because we have that power, no matter how small, we indeed have a great responsibility.
That is our Gospel. That is our tether.
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