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Despotism Justifies the Means
"Then I will become the ultimate ruler of this wasteland engulfed with pandemonium!"
Arkham, Devil May Cry 3

The second and more despicable trope in the unholy trinity of villainous objectives.

Some villains want to take over to bring about a better world, usually with the architect taking over to ensure paradise is brought about smoothly. Other villains want to take over just to make the world worse, with the architect actively trying to make everyone as miserable as possible.

And some villains just want to take over.

Sometimes the catastrophe you engineered to bring yourself to power was not all for the Greater Good. Sometimes, it really was just to get you into power.

Whether it is to eliminate the competition or to dissuade any future rebellion, you find that World Domination is hard to achieve without crossing the Moral Event Horizon, sometimes just because Evil Is Easy. Now, the world might turn out to be a better place with you running the show, but just to be clear — that's not why you are trying to do it. Nope — you sacrificed your friends and family, your fellow countrymen (and theirs), and perhaps most of humanity in the name of social advancement. It might turn out to be a Crapsack World — but hey, c'est la vie.

Total global domination is the most common of all villainous goals. But with this trope, the Big Bad takes it too far. They will, if they deem it necessary, nearly destroy the world in pursuit of this goal. Power and position are what they are after and they are not particularly fussy about the state of the world insofar as those ambitions go. Ideology and especially morality are secondary, which means examples of this trope are rarely portrayed in a sympathetic light.

This is not to say that they will not care what society looks like after they take over, or that they will have no visions for the future. It simply means that power is their primary goal, and they will do anything to achieve that, even sacrifice whatever beliefs they may have. On the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, they tend to be very much on the Cynical side. In other words they may suffer from Motive Decay when it turns out that the Utopia they promised to build has been sacrificed for the sake of their own personal power.

For cases when the created Dystopia really is their endgame, more than power, see Dystopia Justifies the Means. For cases in which the despotism has positive side effects, see Pragmatic Villainy.

Naturally Truth in Television, but that would require tons of work in explaining it, so No Real Life Examples, Please!


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Freeza of Dragon Ball Z only cares about staying in power as "The Strongest Being in the Universe" and will wipe out entire races to do so. That's why he seeks out immortality, so he can stay that way forever.
  • Death Note: Light wants more to be the God of the New World than he wants to make the world a better place.
  • Tobi, the current Big Bad of Naruto, will occasionally try to say that his goal is for the greater good of the world, but he freely admits that his actions are for a selfish cause to anyone that he isn't trying to manipulate.Since he was exposed as not actually being Madara, he has started to claim that Utopia Justifies the Means really is his goal after all. Presumably, the selfish reasons belonged to the real Madara, who came up with the Evil Plan originally.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Father decides that his final evil master plan to bring a god and his power into his body is a fine trade for the 50 million+ souls of Amestris civilians.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam, Gihren Zabi fully believes this. He's a Social Darwinist and Adolf Hitler-wannabe, but his own personal power comes first and foremost. To that end, he unleashes chemical weapons against the Earth Federation, turns his brother's funeral into a political rally, and cuts off his father, Sovereign Degwin, from all true political power, ultimately committing patricide. His sister, Kycilia, is more ideological than he is, but given her treacherous nature and desire for power, it's likely that she too subscribes to this, and like Gihren, there are few lines she will not cross, experimenting on Newtypes, authorising M'Quve's nuclear attack on Odessa, and shooting Gihren in order to usurp his position.
    • Paptimus Scirocco of Zeta Gundam might talk like a Visionary Villain, but it's very clear that, at the end of the day, he just wants to Take Over the World, and is willing to use Klingon Promotion, Mind Rape, and under the table deals with the Federation's enemies to get what he wants. Given that he's likely a pathological narcissist this isn't particularly surprising. His former boss, Jamitov Hymem was not much better in this regard.
    • Gihren's clone, Glemmy Toto of Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ also subscribes to this trope, nearly destroying Neo-Zeon in his attempts to take it over and reinstate the Zabi dictatorship. Haman Khan, ruler of Neo-Zeon, rival to Glemmy and one-time ally of Scirocco is no better; she had standards and ideals once upon a time, but after a bad run-in with Char Aznable and her own general disillusionment with humanity those seem to have gone the way of the dodo bird, and she'll do anything to reassert Zeon's rule of the colonies and the Earth Sphere.

    Comic Books 
  • Superman: Lex Luthor has occasionally tried to conquer the world, and unlike Doctor Doom, he usually doesn't care quite so much that the world might be better off under him anyway.
    • Also Mongul. He rules, or ruled, the planet of Warworld, where he held brutal gladiatorial games to distract the people from their miserable, impoverished lives under his dictatorship. Originally, he ruled his own homeworld, but was ousted by the native people for his despotic behaviour.
  • In Transmetropolitan, Spider Jerusalem says that The Smiler has no reason to claim the presidency beyond the fact that he wants to be the President. He has no agenda he wants to push, he just wants to be in power. And he's willing to do anything, up to and including murdering his own closest people for extra sympathy ratings, to get there.

    Films —Animated 
  • The Lion King. Scar isn't interested in anything but being King, and he was quite happy to murder his brother, try to murder his nephew, and turn the Pride Lands into Mordor to do it, although its implied in the musical that he regrets the last part, especially when it's actually going to cost him his kingship.
    • Most Disney villains are like this, actually. Ursula/Morgana and Jafar, for example, care nothing less than becoming ruler, and have absolutely no qualms of backstabbing their current ruler, murdering people (or worse, in the case of Ursula), or killing anyone in their way.
  • Shrek:
    • The only thing Prince Charming did with Far Far Away once conquering it in Shrek the Third was force everybody to watch a musical he wrote and starred in about what a great person he thought he was. Perhaps if his mother was still around he would have been able to come up with some kind of government policy.
    • Rumpelstiltskin, the Big Bad of Shrek Forever After, takes it even further; in the Alternate Reality where he rules Far Far Away, the entire city is a derelict, rotting mess of a town, and both Shrek's friends and the ogre population are used as slaves.
  • In The Prince of Egypt Ramseses is portrayed as a more sympathetic version of this, refusing to be the "weak link" that would destroy their dynasty.
  • During his Villain Song in The Princess and the Pea, Laird sings about how he doesn't care if his subjects are starving or overtaxed so long as he gets to be king.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • You Only Live Twice features a plot to start World War III so SPECTRE (or their shady foreign backers) can rule the post-apocalyptic aftermath.
  • Palpatine from Star Wars orchestrates a civil war (between two armies of "disposable" soldiers with plenty of civilians caught in the crossfire) and commits genocide on his way to becoming the evil Emperor.
    • Darth Vader was never in command but he did some bad things for power too. Vader wanted "to bring order to the galaxy", though, and once naively talked about trying to stop people from dying. Palpatine got him on board by convincing him that this will lead to peace, and he had to convince himself that the Jedi and the Republic were corrupt (not unjustified, even though Palpatine was the architect of much of this anyway). He is thus a very dark example of Utopia Justifies the Means, and he did not want power for its own sake.

    Literature 
  • In Hamlet when uncle Claudius poisons his brother the King and marries his wife. Aside from getting most of the main characters killed, he's not really a bad king.
  • Macbeth, a loyal general that murders the King to replace him.
  • And the title character of Richard III (in Shakespeare, no matter what you think of his Real Life counterpart) kills a great many people in order to become King of England, but is at a loss for what to do once he gets there (other than killing more people so he can stay there).
  • Toward the end of 1984, the protagonist has a conversation with a representative of the oppressive government, who asks him why he thinks the government has gone to such lengths to control people's lives. He says that he supposes it's because they're trying to do what's best for the people; the government representative laughs at him and says that really they did it because they wanted power for its own sake. This then shifts into Dystopia Justifies the Means when he gets onto how one man asserts power over another: "By making him suffer."
  • In The Lord of the Rings Sauron started out motivated by Utopia Justifies the Means, but while his goal was always to create order, by the time the novel takes place he's suffered Motive Decay so that his fundamental goal was to perpetuate his own power. He did not, however, fall as far as the original Dark Lord, Morgoth, who went completely into Dystopia Justifies the Means—while cruelty was a tool for Sauron, it became an end itself for his master.
  • In The Belgariad the evil god Torak believes that Dystopia Justifies the Means and wants a world bowing down to him in worship and making human sacrifices. His Dragon, Ctuchik, simply wants to rule the world and is willing to exploit Torak's religion to get what he wants.
  • Christopher Tolkein in his analysis of the The Silmarillion describes this as Sauron's whole motivation for taking over Middle Earth, unlike his old master Morgoth who became an Omnicidal Maniac who wanted to grind the whole world into dust (which still would not satisfy him because the dust would still exist) because he did not create it himself.
  • Littlefinger, of A Song of Ice and Fire, who has been specifically described as willing to burn down the Kingdom if it meant he could rule the ashes.
  • Treadwell in David Weber's Path of the Fury has no real goal beyond becoming Emperor - he even plans on getting freely elected - and he has no qualms about committing multiplanetary genocide to get it done.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Doctor Who, the first part of a season finale, The Sound of Drums, ends with The Master taking over the world. His first order of business? "Remove one-tenth of the population."
    • Then, in another season's first part of a finale episode, The End of Time, ends with The Master taking over the world... sound familiar? This time he changes everyone on planet Earth into himself, which effectively makes our species extinct.
    • His main motivation here was never actually power, though—back when he had truly selfish motives, he usually focused on true immortality, to replace the limited Time Lord kind. He messes with Earth like that partly because it's fun, but mostly because it will hurt the Doctor. "Look, Theta! I can break your toys! Cry!"
  • Big Jim Rennie, of Under the Dome, starts to become this towards the end of the first season. It's made clear as early as the pilot that Big Jim wants more power over the closed-off town, though some of his actions throughout the season made him more sympathetic to viewers. However, his murder of Dodee the penultimate episode of season one, combined with his dialogue therein, is proof positive that he'd greatly prefer if the Dome never goes away, so long as he can continue to use mob mentality to manipulate the citizens of Chester's Mill.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Mage: The Awakening has the Seers of the Throne work to keep the population from achieving enlightenment, because that means mages out of their control.
    • The collectible version of Illuminati offers the Power For Its Own Sake card, changing the goal of the game for its player into simple accumulation of power without regard for the conspiracy's ideology.
  • One of the hats of Lawful Evil and sometimes even Lawful Neutral characters in Dungeons & Dragons and similar works: the goal is to be the one(s) in charge, and thus impose THEIR will into law. So maybe a few (thousand) innocents die along the way, and MAYBE an ancient civilization is burned to the ground, and okay so the entire plane has been thrown into upheaval because of who your backup army was and who your ultimate target was, but the point is you're the one calling the shots and things are going exactly according to YOUR plan.

    Video Games 
  • Sonic the Hedgehog: Eggman seems to have this attitude towards his world conquest schemes. The Bad Future levels of Sonic CD are nothing but derelict, post-apocalyptic ruins, while in Sonic Lost World, when he makes his move after Sonic takes out the Deadly Six, he remarks that, while it's a pity that the Six have largely destroyed the world below, at least there's still enough of said world left for him to conquer
  • In Bioshock, for all Andrew Ryan's rhetoric about freedom, he certainly ended up resorting to a lot of totalitarian tactics. Up to and including political murder, kidnapping and slavery, and Mind Control. It's a pretty serious case of in-story Motive Decay.
    • In Bioshock 2 we discover that he was also quite willing to subvert his economic views just as willingly to keep his powerbase from crumbling.
    • This was also mentioned in one of the first game's audio diaries. His decision to put a presumed dead rival's business under government control (his control) prompted a formerly loyal aide to (unsuccessfully) assassinate Ryan.
    • The novelization suggests Ryan's rhetoric was easily misunderstood: the core of his personal identity was that of the entirely self-made man who had never been helped by anybody and who had earned everything he could seize. In his view, freedom equated with survival of the fittest - which he clearly was. So as in a free society nobody could ever threaten his rule, threats were a sign outside forces were oppressing the people, including him. (He did also ridiculously screw up in assuming going underwater would minimize labor and lead to post-scarcity, of course.)
  • The Shin Megami Tensei series has YHVH, who maintains the crapsack status of the SMT universe at large by involving everyone on his side, be it angel, Messian or whoever, in a Forever War with Lucifer out of an all-consuming desire to create a "perfect world" - a world where people can't do wrong. Not a world where they won't... they simply can't. A world where he can rule, forever and ever...
  • Bowser's ultimate goal is to rule over everyone. In most games, he aims to rule the Mushroom Kingdom by forcing Princess Peach to marry him, but in the Super Mario Galaxy series and Yoshis Island DS, he aims to rule the universe. To be fair, in the RPG games, it's made clear he also has a weird crush on Peach.
  • Arcturus Mengsk let the Zerg kill off the oppressive Confederacy, so he could create his Terran Dominion.
  • The agenda of the Illuminati in the first Deus Ex is to achieve global dominance by showing themselves as the only force capable of ending crucial problems. Problems they created for this exact purpose, including bio-engineered virulent disease, economical collapse, supporting terrorism and widespread narcotics use.
  • This seems to be the primary goal of Handsome Jack in Borderlands 2. He plans to use an alien superweapon to conquer Pandora (and eventually entire galaxies) despite the fact that as the president of the most powerful Mega Corp. in the game he's already at a position of nigh-untouchable power.
  • In World of Warcraft, one of the villain races of the fourth expansion, The Mogu, have this motivation. This in contrast to fellow villain races, the Sha who want to corrupt or kill everyone, and the Mantid who seek to become stronger as a race, via training from hell and the culling of their weak, to better serve their Old God Master. Nope, clearly they just want to be the ones in charge, and consider every other race to be unfit to rule and that they should be enslaved, even tough many of them have proven to be strong enough to fight them in equal standing. Even within their own society, this ideology is what drives them, and for a ruling dynasty to be replaced requires an aspirant to succesfully perform a Klingon Promotion on them.
    • However it seems that the Mogu got this as an in-universe example of motive decay, because the founder of their empire, the Thunder King Lei Shen, had another justification to enslave other races and build his empire through unholy means, and his succesors didn't quite understand (willingly or not) what he was trying to do. See his entry under Blue and Orange Morality for more details.
  • Depending on your own motivation and how you treat the minor factions, choosing the Independent route in Fallout: New Vegas can go this way. The NCR, Legion and House all try to build a world according to their own vision, whereas the player may want to steal House's position and screw over the other groups simply because they want to be in charge.
  • Halo: The Didacts primary goal is to restore the Forerunners former glory, and ensure that they alone wield the Mantle of Responsibility. By eliminating Humanity and the Flood. This is due in part of his Mind Rape by the Gravemind.
    • The three Prophets commanded the Covenant Empire to wipe out humanity, because humans are the rightful inheritors of the Forerunners legacy, and this revelation would shatter the Prophets rule over the Covenant. They are willing to glass entire worlds to eliminate every last human, and have no problem in disposing their own forces, or backstabbing one another.
  • Resident Evil 6: Carla Radames' ultimate goal with the C-Virus outbreaks is simply to wipe out civilization completely and rule over the chaos that remains.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • This is the motivation of Fire Lord Ozai of Avatar: The Last Airbender , in contrast to his Well-Intentioned Extremist grandfather Sozin. To drive the point home, he relinquishes the title of Fire Lord to his daughter Azula and declares himself the Phoenix King.
  • Eric Cartman from South Park performs all sorts of heinous acts for the sole purpose of uprooting his own ego by taking control of either the school or the hometown, whether it's manipulating fear-induced, religious devotion in order to make $10,000 in "Probably", slandering segments of the student body to become class president in "Dancing With Smurfs", or making money off of crack babies in "Crack Baby Athletic Association".


Desperately Looking for a Purpose in LifeMotivation IndexDismotivation
Death by PragmatismPragmatism TropesDirty Business
Designated VillainAdministrivia/No Real Life Examples, Please!Dethroning Moment of Suck
Wicked WitchSliding Scale of Antagonist VilenessObviously Evil
Death by MaterialismSelfishness TropesDirty Coward
Designated VillainVillainsDevil but No God
Deliver Us from EvilEvil TropesDetect Evil

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