"Merrick, A guardsman's LIFEis to die. My job has always been to send them to places where they CAN die. I am not afraid to spend them, but I never waste men. Because of their sacrifice, the Inquisitor now has the proof she needs." [...] "Now, Sergeant Major, you may proceed with your attempt to kill me, but as I mentioned, I do not waste men if I can avoid it, and killing you for insubordination would be very... wasteful. Are you with me?"
In Code Geass, Cornelia tries to fight the drug trade because the drugs hurt productivity among the conquered Japanese.
Guilford and Darlton have little time for the racist attitudes of many Britannians in the military. Not particularly because of principle, but because they think that a meritocratic military which allows in talented Japanese like Suzaku is much more effective than filling the ranks with incompetent Britannians.
Schneizel turns out to be this by the end of the series - up until then, he has debated an ethical/economical view to mercilessly conquering other nations. His major retinue comes from disgraced/insane rejects of Britannia's worst, but he has used them like a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits. As a result, everyone trusts his word over Lelouch's in the Black Knights, using nothing but semi-coherent (and some incorrect/faked) evidence. And then he gets to fire a nuke on Britannia's capital to shut his other siblings up, and everyone just thinks that it was a necessary evil. By the end, he's preaching eternal peace and using nuclear Armageddon to do it.
Dutch from Black Lagoon runs illegal booze, slaves, guns and drugs. He does piracy when the delivery business goes slow. He does not, however, condone his employees running off Ax-Crazy and taking out their issues by shooting at noncombatants when he's in a combat zone. Not because he gives a crap about their lives, but because he wants to know that his backup can be relied upon and stay professional.
Most of the cast of Black Lagoon act out of this trope almost all of the time: People who don't seldom last long (except Revy, who has a tendency to run off Ax-Crazy when she has a bad day but is also a main character). Balalaika averts it once when she declares personal war on Hansel and Gretel for killing one of her men, though she also had a pragmatic reason since the pair were destabilising Roanapur by their presence.
Dutch also says in the manga that he doesn’t want to risk himself in an operation that could make him a lot of money, (dooming himself to work for significantly less money that other operators) because he knows doing the job is a great way to get himself killed).
During the Baile de la Muerte arc, everyone in Roanapur (except Roberta) wants the American soldiers to get out of town safely, simply because if they died it'd draw a lot of unwanted attention from the United States government.
The Gandor Family in Baccano! stays steadfastly out of the drug trade, sticking with relatively less objectionable crimes like bootlegging and gambling. This is due to actual moral objections on the part of Keith Gandor, but the other two Gandor brothers, Luck especially, recognize that it's also because their relatively small organization is not equipped to compete with the larger organized crime families currently running drugs.
The Maou in the light novel/manga, Maoyuu Maou Yuusha is an example of this, although she is more pragmatic than evil.
Moo in the Monster Rancher anime captured Holly to use the Magic Stone to locate his original body, figuring he could destroy the heroes with it. They rescued her, but by that time he had gotten what he needed to know. Rather than let them find out where he was going or try and stop him in his humanoid form, he simply left them behind so they had no idea where he was.
In Dragon Ball Z, Nappa and Vegeta (of the Saiyan race) are surprised that a Half-Saiyan/Half-Human Hybrid creates a much stronger warrior than either the Saiyans or humans alone. Nappa suggests that the two go to Earth conquer it, and use their women to breed an army of extremely powerful warriors. Vegeta shoots him down immediately—not because he was against the plan itself, but because it would be ridiculously stupid to breed a race of beings that would one day be far more powerful than you are yourself. Instead, he suggests they just go blow the planet up. Seeing as how Vegeta is eventually defeated, and won over (more or less) to the side of Earth, the fact that he ends up marrying a human and having a child with her suggests he's at least possibly implementing the interbreeding plan with the aim of now protecting his newfound home.
This is the reason why Ginjo from Bleach told Tsukishima to stop Mind Raping Chad and Orihime. He has no moral objection to it, but destroying your hostages' minds means you can't use them as pawns. It's easier to just stick to Mind Control.
Mayuri has shades of this too. He sticks with the Soul Society because it gets him: an officer position, funding, minions, supplies, etc. Working freelance gets you an execution by the Soul Society.
Kenpachi Zaraki helps save Rukia, not because he believes that her execution is morally wrong... but because he wants to fight Ichigo again. That and it gives him a rare opportunity to fight against his fellow captains, some of the strongest possible foes.
Bambietta Basterbine has a habit of sleeping with a random mook, then killing him. Her comrades chew her out for this, saying it's a waste of hot guys.
In Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force, Arnage and Veyron take on two other Eclipse infectees. The latter's willy-nilly attacks on innocents will be blamed on the Hückebein, who don't want the added attention.
Death Note has Villain ProtagonistLight Yagami who was willing to kill tens of thousands of criminals and other undesirables to further his ambitions. But he doesn't approve when his less stable follower Teru Mikami, announces that Kira is going to kill lazy people as well... because Light considers the move premature. Once all the criminals are dead and Kira is regarded as God, Light fully intends to prune out other undesirable elements from "his" world.
In Naruto, it could be argued that every ninja village practices this. While glossed over, the series does admit to ninja taking jobs like kidnapping and assassination. By and large, everything a ninja village does is either to win a war or because they were hired to.
In Kakashi Gaiden, Kakashi argues against going to save Rin because he believes that as a medical ninja, she will be treated well as long as she tends to their wounded, and the mission takes precedence at the moment. Obito, however, argues that if the Rock ninjas who captured her are "brainless flunkies", they will simply interrogate her. Obito turns outto be right.
Orochimaru helps stop Obito on the basis that if the world's destroyed, he won't be able to continue his experiments
Arlong from One Piece is a Fishman Supremacist who despises humans, but is willing to put his prejudices aside for profit, and prefers bribing corrupt Marine Captains over attacking them. He also finds Nami valuable for her map making skills and praises her for it.
Donquixote Doflamingo from One Piece is the beloved king to the citizens of Dressrosa. While he is renowned as an accomplished pirate worldwide, his people know him as their savior. He is seen shooting Trafalgar Law in public, but explains it away by implicating the victim as a terrorist against the country.
In Bakuman。, when Nanamine realizes that "What is Required" will certainly be canceled, he loses hope and Kosugi, the editor he had bullied into going along with his plan of getting ahead, loses his temper in response to Nanamine giving up after how far he went, and punches Nanamine. Nanamine considers getting Kosugi fired and even suing him for battery, but decides not to since it will only serve to make him a laughingstock of the Internet.
Kiritsugu Emiya of Fate/Zero may not see himself as a villain, but deliberately uses methods he knows to be both pragmatic and villainous. In his perspective, there is no such thing as a noble war, and that chivalry is the greater crime for perpetuating war by glamorizing it, rather than ending fights with merciless and abrupt execution and leaving survivors with no taste for war.
Crime Boss Wallenquist from Sin City refuses to seek revenge on Wallace, who almost singlehandedly dismantled his human slavery market, because there's no benefit to him.
"Revenge is a loser's game. There's no percentage in it. All that matters is profit and power."
The Shocker, one of Spider-Man's enemies, is almost unique among the wall-crawler's enemies in that he's rarely concerned with taking revenge on our hero and prefers to only commit crimes that are actually profitable. Of course, superhero comics being what they are, Spider-Man is almost always the one to interfere with the Shocker's robberies. He also avoids doing anything above robberies as he believes doing anything beyond that will simply attract the attention of The Punisher.
The Hobgoblin started out with this, vowing to avoid the Green Goblin's mistakes and only went to kill Spiderman to make sure he wouldn't mess with his plans. However, these traits were lost.
Another Spider-Man example; after escaping from Ravencroft, Carnage assaulted Martha Robinson and then wrote his catchphrase "Carnage Rules" using her blood and his next to her on an elevator wall, but did not kill her, because he felt that a live, injured, and frightened victim would cause more panic among the Daily Bugle staff than a corpse would. (And it certainly did.)
In The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Tombstone was disappointed that his daughter Janice wished to become a costumed supervillain rather than be a mob lawyer since he felt the latter was more profitable and in his eyes equivalent to legalized crime. Nonetheless, he didn't stop her, but told her that she had to support herself if she wished to pursue supervillainy.
Bullseye may be an Axe CrazyPsycho for Hire, but during the Dark Reign, he was lucid enough to realize that he was working for someone who was out of his gourd when Norman Osborn planned to attack Asgard. (And he wasn't the only villain working for Osborn who thought so.)
He needed Wonder Woman to point it out, but no, Ares does not support nuclear and biological war. If everyone died, there would be no one left to fight wars anymore.
Which is weird, because the mythological figure he's based on would have been all in favor of that and probably considered it 'winning'. The greek war-god of 'reasonable' war (for defense, tactical advantage, land, etc) was mostly Athena, where Ares was typically more of a 'Heart of darkness' style deity or an outright Khorne-style god as happy with his own side dying as the enemy.
He objects to Desaad and Sleez's acts of evil because they are largely pointless. Desaad is a petty sadist. Sleez once mind-controlled Superman, but instead of doing anything useful with him like trying to conquer the world, he made Superman star in a porno.
Another example occurred in Cosmic Odyssey (not surprising, since Odyssey had basically the same plot as Crisis on Infinite Earths), in which it was Darkseid, of all people, who organized the heroes to fight the Anti-Life Entity. Of course, Darkseid did try to manipulate the situation to his own advantage, fully in keeping with this trope.
Christu Bulat from The Punisher MAX arc "The Slavers", in total contrast to his father. The relationship between the two is rather strained because Christu views human trafficking as a business and raping girls as just part of the business. He also berates his father for using his bare hands instead of a gun to kill a gang member, as well as for shooting the whole gang. As you could guess from his profession, though, he's still a heartless, raping bastard. His pragmatism is best demonstrated by his willingness to kill his own father. It doesn't work out, both because he underestimated his father and because he gets disemboweled.
In the Watchmen universe, after the "costumed hero" phase hit its peak, most costumed villains started either reforming entirely or switching to "less showy" pursuits like drug dealing and prostitution rackets.
He himself also invokes the trope, whenever the bad guys do a Villain Team-Up, they RARELY (If ever) invite the Joker in. While most of them were genuinely afraid of him, some of them didn't like The Joker because he's not exactly a team player and is considered unprofessional and untrustworthy even from his fellow villains. The exception is Lex Luthor, who does invite him if he's in charge of the villain team ups on the basis that it's safer to have an unpredictable Joker on your team than it is to have an unpredictable Joker who's offended you snubbed him.
He begged off from doing a Villain Teamup with Carnage because Carnage just wanted to maim and kill, while Joker preferred panache in his murders.
The Joker: I always thought of myself as the Orson Welles of crime and chaos, while you, apparently, aspire to be nothing more than... David Hasselhoff!
You're Dracula. The series is Requiem Chevalier Vampire. Six million lemures, the souls of those who were mistreated and murdered in life and can only be stopped by killing their tormentor in death, are swarming your ship. Do you fight them all one on one? Or do you step into your back room and break Hitler's neck, wiping out all six million in a stroke?
The Red Skull may indulge in petty wasteful sadistic villainy often, but he does not appreciate anyone on his payroll doing the same. Villainy committed on his dime has to have some kind of profit for him.
One comic showed him foiling a plan by Madam Hydra, her subordinate at the time, that wanted to blind every American who was watching a television set at some point. He said he was called a lot of things, but never a Nihilist anarchist.
Hilariously, he once renounced Nazism to embrace... nihilist anarchism. It didn't take.
His clone takes this to another level — while still unrepentantly racist, he's started recruiting from both sexes and all races, in order to gather enough people who hate mutants as much as he does.
The Flash's Rogues tend towards this, especially Captain Cold; it is one of their unspoken rules not to kill speedsters, since they know that the other superheroes will hunt them down, will not stop, and may even be "creative" about retribution... for example, what Wally "The Flash" West did to Inertia for de-powering Wally's cousin Bart Allen, also aka The Flash, which led to his death when the Rogues panicked and unwittingly killed him. They promptly turned on Inertia for that, meaning that Iris told Wally that Inertia was the "prime mover" in Bart's death, but still ended up on the run for a year; Final Crisis: Rogues Revenge was about them deciding to first hang up the spandex and disband, but then upon hearing of Inertia's escape, they decide to do their one last job and kill Inertia in revenge. Upon succeeding, they dump his corpse in Keystone City with a message to "Tell the Flash we're even - The Rogues."
Also, when Libra tries to get the Rogues to join, Captain Cold's refusal explicitly taunts him: "Have fun with the heat comin' your way for takin' out the Martian." That, and as Captain Cold pointed out in Rogues Revenge: #1, they were persona non grata among supervillains in the year after they'd killed a Flash, so Captain Cold isn't inclined to back them either.
In Empowered, most career villains (including mooks) avoid killing heroes unless absolutely necessary, particularly the weak, useless ones like Empowered — doing so will result in your victim's hero friend tracking you down to exact bloody vengeance instead of just arresting you.
This sometimes applies to low-level criminals and petty thugs in some of the later Marvel Comics as well. In one Incredible Hulk comic, for instance, two perverts in the showers at the local YMCA are planning to rape Bruce Banner until he warns them about his having super powers; they decide not to see whether he's bluffing. Moreover, in the future depicted in Spider-Girl's comics, several bands of assassins made it a policy only to subdue cops who got in their way and never to kill them, since the various law enforcement agencies involved tend to retaliate swiftly and brutally against cop-killers. A couple of petty burglars caught in the act by a superhero also surrender immediately rather than risk the near-certainty of being pounded into the pavement for fighting or fleeing.
The Cuban refuses to get into a turf war with the Shadow Hand when they show up in Mexico City looking for the Vault of Endless Night, as he figures it's too dangerous to fight them, and that it's a win-win situation whether they succeed or fail anyway.
In A Cure for LoveLight becomes irritated when he learns his followers have opened death camps because it's not as efficient nor as controlled as killing with the murder notebook, not to mention it's bad for P.R.
In the Pony POV Series, the Dark World version of Discord often has to rein in Fluttercruel and keep her from killing their victims, because he feels that having subjects to torment in the long run is better than killing for a thrill in the here and now.
Limiting the torture of Genin because they're less likely to have valuable information.
Not raping women because their kunoichi comrades would kill them.
Not taking certain jobs no matter how lucrative because the loss of P.R. would cost them more money than they'd make.
In First Try Series Haku and Zabuza do not attack Tazuna's family when they have to kill Tazuna, not because its wrong but because it would breed ill will among the locals, who might help any ninja hunting them down
In Empire when Lucius Malfoy learns that Snape used his rep to help the Boy-Who-Lived he gives his actual support because it's a politically smart move.
In Waking Nightmares, Medic points out that although he once invented a zombie plague, he never would actually use it. Not because of the moral implications, but because a zombie horde cannot be controlled. When Twilight inadvertently remarks that uncontrollable infection vectors are an additional risk, he congratulates her for having the right priorities.
Theodore Nott in Harry Potter: The Serpent Lord differs from many pureblood supremacists in that he isn't interested in killing anyone of "lesser blood". His reasons for such are strictly because regardless of who's in charge, the world needs people working blue-collar jobs to make society function.
Draco Malfoy/Black in The Power He Knows Not Is gives up on the idea of ruling the muggles after he learns there's roughly 70 million in England alone. In his words, there's maybe 100 thousand wizards in magical England. Factor out the underage, old, and sick and you have maybe half that. Even if Voldemort had the loyalty of every witch and wizard in England, they'd be outnumbered hundreds to one. He still thinks the "Light side" are a bunch of idealistic fools but understands the sheer futility of ever trying to conquer the muggle world.
From the same stories, several Death Eaters support Sirius Black getting a trial because they don't want to set a precedent of rich purebloods being sent to Azkaban without a trial.
In Crowns of the Kingdom, Lady Tremaine elects to stay out of the villains' team up because it wouldn't benefit her or her daughters.
Jennifer Black in Black Princess Ascendant releases Cedric Diggory from a Life Debt after deciding that the potential ill-will from him and the rest of Hufflepuff aren't worth having the Head Boy at her beck and call. The goodwill she builds up by doing so also helps. She's extremely annoyed however to learn that, despite her beliefs, Cedric didn't expect her to release him from the debt.
Ganondorf in Tangled In Time decides not to kill the infant Link because doing so would only have the child reborn. He decides to raise him as his own so Link would be too attached to him to fight and so he wouldn't learn anything that he could use against Ganondorf. As a result when Link is forced to answer the call and rise against him he barely has any skill in handling weaponry and has no idea who's fighting against.
In one Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Star Wars crossover, Jabba buys and implements Andrew's and Xander's method for cloning organs as it's far more profitable than having to capture beings and harvest their organs to sell on the black market, particularly since it's renewable unlike harvesting.
While normally portrayed as Stupid Evil, Travers in the Warslayer works with Buffy since she's both highly effective and supplying the Watcher's Council with two squads of Battle Sisters. He also realizes the Cruciamentum is pointless since each of the three Slayers regularly fight vampires and demons without even using their powers (Powered Armor, Chainswords, and BFGs help).
Maledict from Sonic X: Dark Chaos doesn't want to destroy the galaxy with his galaxy-destroying superweapon because the resources of the Milky Way are too useful to squander - and trillions of his own subjects would die in the process, which could form another rebellion and hurt the Demon Empire.
In Necessary To Win, after some consideration, Shiho decides not to disown Miho after she wins the tournament, realizing that not even she can see it as a solution to her family's school's present situation.
One of the lessons the main character in Megamind learns after apparently killing Metro Man. Part of the enjoyment of being a supervillain is having a worthy superhero to do battle with.
While Sir Hiss from Robin Hood seemed genuinely shocked that Prince Johnwould execute Friar Tuck to lure Robin Hood out, he was probably afraid that doing so would risk of them being excommunicated by the Catholic Church, a powerful political entity at that time.
It's also a bad move because killing a beloved friar could cause a peasant riot.
In Frozen, PrinceHans gave blankets and food to the poor, so the people can accept him easily once he takes over the kingdom.
Films — Live-Action
Pale Rider: "I want that preacher with a rope around him. No, wait, if we get too rough we'll make a martyr of him, last thing we want to give them is a martyr to fight for."
Sollozzo: "I'm a businessman, Tom. Blood is a big expense."
The Villain Protagonist of Lord of War, Ukranian-American arms dealer Yuri Orlov, at one point reveals he has never done business with Osama Bin Laden "not on any moral grounds" but because "back then he was always bouncing checks." In fact, he even shipped cargo to Afghanistan while they were fighting the Soviets. His rival, Simeon Weisz, would only sell weapons to those whom he wanted to see fulfill their goals. In the case of the Iran/Iraq War, he supplied both sides in hopes that they would both lose.
In The Ten Commandments, Moses is given charge of using slave labor to build Pharaoh's new treasure city. When he takes charge, he improves the slaves' food ration and gives them a day off to rest. When Rameses protests that he's being wasteful, Moses replies, "Cities are made of bricks. The strong make many, the weak make few, the dead make none," and then shows Pharaoh that the city is being built faster than before.
In Avatar, the mining corporation uses the Avatar program as a tool of diplomacy to try to peacefully negotiate with the natives for their land and to research the planet. The company executive points out this was done because killing an entire tribe for their land would cause public relations problems. They'll only try to wipe out the Na'vi if they have to.
The Prophecy featured a pragmatic Lucifer (played by Viggo Mortensen) who has the angelic habit of perching atop things like a bird. Satan saves the main cast from an evil Gabriel, who was on a rampage against mankind. His own selfish motives being "we don't need another hell up there".
Constantine also has Satan help foil a rogue angel's plot to help his son unleash Hell on Earth, since being Satan is his job.
In Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Captain Barbossa believes he needs the blood of Elizabeth Swann to remove the curse of undeath plaguing him and his crew. When he first tries the ritual, he simply takes a few drops of her blood, since he intends to keep Elizabeth for himself as a pirate bride.
Barbossa: Begun by blood...by blood undone! (nick)
Sonny in A Bronx Tale is the only one to willing to work and deal with black people for profit, while the more racist mobsters want nothing to do with them.
In Lawless, Floyd Banner saves the life of Jack and Cricket from his goons, gives them a great fee for their moonshine (whose quality he is impressed with), gives them the address to the creeps who attacked Forrest and finally whacks his mook who almost killed the boys with a shovel while roaring that he has enough trouble from the law without starting a needless feud with a local tough crime family.
In Miracle on 34th Street, Macy goes along with Kris's "send people to other stores because Macy's doesn't have it/doesn't have a good enough version of it" because it will make the store seem like a nice and friendly place, insuring greater profit. It leads to an arms race with Gimbels over who could be the "customer friendliest" store.
Another scene has a judge's campaign manager convince the judge to not declare that Santa Claus does not exist, because it will make the judge completely unelectable.
Benoit from Man Bites Dog doesn't like to kill children or rich people, and doesn't do kidnappings — not because he has some sort of standard, but because they bring too much attention (and, in the case of children, aren't "bankable").
Captain Vidal from Pan's Labyrinth was shown to be disgusted after he killed two innocent hunters he's mistaken for rebels. Only because his men didn't check on them thoroughly, thus wasting his time, and killing innocent civilians would probably incite the townspeople to support the rebels.
In The Crow: City of Angels, one of Judah's underlings destroyed a large batch of Judah's drugs because it was killing off the people who used it. However, the guy spun the bad drugs as being bad for business, rather than being morally repugnant. Judah kills him with the bad drugs for his trouble.
Interview With A Vampire, Lestat scolds Claudia for killing a seamstress, because now they will have to find someone else to finish the expensive dress she had been making.
Rippner from Red Eye is this. He doesn't lie to Lisa because it wouldn't help matters (and make things unnecessarily complicated), and he doesn't even really get angry with Lisa until she complicates his plans. (Specifically, by trying to thwart them.)
"I never lied to you, Leese. You know why? 'Cause it doesn't serve me."
In Django Unchained, after Django gives himself up, Stephen tells Django that his master has decided not to give him the usual punishment of castration since it usually results in the victim bleeding to death within seven minutes. Instead, he states that it'll be far crueler to give him to a mining company where he'll spend the rest of his days in hard labor.
Whenever The Terminator spares someone's life, it's always because it was simply more efficient than actually killing them, or because they were already neutralized and going that extra mile would be a waste of time or ammo.
In A Clockwork Orange, the droogs begin to get tired of their sociopathic lifestyle and of Alex's leadership, but only because they want a more profitable return for their acts of ultra-violence.
The Assault on Precinct 13 (2005) remake has the crime lord Bishop, who makes it clear a few times that he's only helping the cops fight off the corrupt ones trying to kill all of them to save his own life. In the end, he's able to get away.
In Guardians of the Galaxy, the "heroes" are all wanted criminals. When Rocket doesn't care about the lives that will be lost if Ronan succeeds in his plans to wipe out the galaxy, Peter Quill points out that they all live in the galaxy, so they all have a vested interest in stopping Ronan.
Havelock Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, does not really rule his realm with an iron fist. He has the novel idea of maintaining control by making people actually want him in charge, or at the very least, make removing him from power an unsavory prospect. In both Going Postal and Making Money he's confronted by people trying to usurp him. Instead of cracking down on them, he points Loveable Rogue Moist Von Lipwig in their general direction, and waits until he makes sure his usurpers are publicly discredited. Then he reminds them he's the Tyrant and can, in fact, crack down on them.
He didn't administer a reign of terror. Just the occasional light shower.
In Jingo the D'regs have the same philosophy as Genghis Khan regarding their treatment of merchants. Kill merchants, or steal too much, and they don't come back. Rob them just enough and your sons can rob them too. Vimes compares it to farming.
The Assassins Guild is like this; they kill only for money, never taking sides, which allows them to survive political upheavals in the city because when one tyrant overthrows another the new one will want their services as well. They also refuse to assassinate anyone whose death they feel will destabilize the city; civic chaos is no good, and they want the city rich enough to afford their very expensive fees.
In the Draka series, the Draka are horrified at the Holocaust. Because the death camps were a massive waste of resources.
In The Hobbit, the three trolls don't want to eat Bilbo, simply because he wasn't big enough to go through the trouble of skinning and boning him.
The orcs don't torture Merry and Pippin and actually heal them, because they don't have time to linger in enemy territory (and some of the orcs have orders not to search or plunder them).
Similarly, Sauron doesn't torment or question Pippin through the palantír - because "he wanted [Pippin], quickly, so he could deal with [him] in the Dark Tower, slowly."
Shagrat the Uruk-hai commander defends the captured Frodo from Gorbag and the Minas Morgul orcs. Not because he cares about Frodo, but because Gorbag wants to steal Frodo's Mithril coat and other possessions for himself, whereas Shagrat has orders to take everything to Sauron.
Quoth Niccolò Machiavelli: "The prince can always avoid hatred if he abstains from the property of his subjects and citizens and from their women". The Prince is the textbook for Pragmatic Villainy. He also advised that a Prince was better off with popular support over the nobility. The nobles only want to oppress, and the people just want to not be oppressed. Support of the people is therefore the better and easier path.
This position was also noted in his Discourses on Livy. Both The Prince and The Discourses heavily influenced Enlightenment thought on politics (although people tried to mention it as little as possible), and in particular is responsible for this gem, penned by James Madison in "Federalist No. 51":
If men were angels, no Government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on Government would be necessary. In framing a Government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the Government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the People is, no doubt, the primary control on the Government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
Federalist 51 is about checks and balances in the federal government. In other words, the whole point of checks and balances is to ensure that even if the whole government iscomposed of villains to a man, the structure of the system is such that it is in the interests of these villains to advance the public good. This is the entire theory of modern liberal democracy.
It's important to remember, however, that Machiavelli was in favor of republics, and "The Prince" was intended to be a critique of the behavior of despots, not a field guide.
Grand Admiral Thrawn will execute subordinates who failed and tried to pin the blame on others, but subordinates who failed at almost the exact same job who tried harder and took responsibility? Everyone braces for the order and the poor schlub sweats, but what happens? Promoted. It's a Career Building Blunder. Thrawn explains to Pellaeon that thisTractor Beam operator tried a novel technique when faced with something he wasn't trained for, that it might have failed but still looked valid, and if the operator can perfect this technique and teach it to others (shown to pay off in the Hand of Thrawn duology), the Empire won't have a problem with people escaping tractor beams in this way. Pellaeon privately remarks that Thrawn's action also served to make everyone who saw it much more willing to give him their all.
And when he gives an I Want Them Alive order, he also says "if possible. If not — If not, I'll understand."
In Tatooine Ghost, set a few months before the Thrawn trilogy, readers can infer that Thrawn put on stormtrooper armor and went dirtside with some of his soldiers, not telling them who he was but still making them aware that he was someone very important. A squad leader is rough while trying to get information out of someone, and when asked about it says he thought that brutal was the new doctrine. Thrawn hits the squad leader with his blaster, then asks the leader if he wants to do Thrawn any favors now, and orders him to tell the truth. The squad leader says no, and Thrawn pointedly says that someone who has been threatened is likely to give nothing more than what they need to survive. The new doctrine is efficiency.
Tarzen Tagge makes sure that the Tagge Company only builds the highest quality construction work. That way the customers have no reason to complain to law enforcement. An investigation would reveal Tarzen's smuggling operations. Eventually the legitimate business is so profitable that the smuggling becomes redundant.
For obvious reasons, when Corran Horn goes undercover as a pirate in I, Jedi, he prefers this sort of piracy, encouraging the gang to kill as few as possible to encourage cooperation in the future. While a few of the pirates are in it more For the Evulz, most of them recognize the potential of this racket and end up accepting a legitimate security contract at the end of the novel. Later, when the pirate gang has to fight its way out of a confrontation with the New Republic Navy, Corran convinces the crew's leader that they should use ion cannons to disable the Republic fighters... because some forces will have to be diverted to rescue the pilots, distracting from chasing the pirates.
Fliry Vorru has this as his modus operandi. Everything he does has a practical purpose. In The Bacta War, he's constantly advising Isard on the best method to root out the problem of Wedge Antilles and his squadron, even if it doesn't appeal to Isard's desire for blood (and her primary objective to "destroy the Rebels"). Often the methods are targeted at crippling the economic capabilities of Antilles and the people working with him, and/or increasing their own. This becomes increasingly difficult as Isard becomes more unstable over time.
"Put aside the profound biological differences that must exist between the hypothetical aliens and ourselves; imagine that we constitute an interstellar gastronomic delicacy. Why transport large numbers of us to alien restaurants? The freightage is enormous. Wouldn't it be better just to steal a few humans, sequence our amino acids or whatever else is the source of our delectability, and then just synthesize the identical food product from scratch?"
How to Succeed in Evil: Central character Edwin Windsor makes a lucrative, if frustrating, living counseling would-be supervillains to turn their efforts away from wanton destruction and towards more profitable strategies.
It's not just practical in the sense of money as a goal, the book's primary plot-line centers around how genuinely terrifying and brutally efficient the man is at achieving his goal when the goal ISN'T money, but revenge.
Amusingly, Topper's efforts to play counterpoint to his friend by doing everything just for kicks also clarifies into a clear goal in the second book, and he is similarly successful in obtaining what he was aiming for because of his underlying pragmatism in getting there, even if the goal itself is somewhat nonsensical.
Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeers is stated to have given up such petty things as vengeance, since they end up in the way of getting and keeping power.
Both Darken Rahl shows shades of this. In the first book, you'd expect Rahl to pull a You Have Failed Me when it turns out Richard broke through Denna's training. Hell, she certainly expect it. Instead Rahl reasons that her failure was no fault of her own, and shrugs it off. In the same scene, Richard plans to get Rahl angry enough to kill him, so that he can't use Richard's knowledge of the Book of Counted Shadows. Rahl calmly listens to Richard, then, after verifying his knowledge, shrugs, and gives him two options, amounting to, "Help me open the right box, or don't. I've got a 50-50 chance of getting it right either way, and if I end the world, no skin off my nose."
Emperor Jagang perhaps manages to be a bigger monster, but he's still smart enough to gather intelligence and listen to his advisers, especially when they're experts in magic and he's not. In Phantom, for instance, he and the Sisters of the Dark are looking for the Book of Counted Shadows. On finding what appears to be a copy, he thinks it's fake, while the Sisters insist it could be real. You might expect him to simply overrule them considering they're essentially slaves. Instead, they have a pretty civil debate about it. He also reads the warnings in spell books and heeds them. Jagang also reads lots of books and sends some of his best troops off looking to salvage ancient libraries in the hopes of finding knowledge from the wizards' war that could help him. He didn't even care terribly much when the Palace of the Prophets was destroyed, because the knowledge buried under in one of the "central sites" was much more valuable to him. When Kahlan is captured, has her mind erased, and is made invisible to almost everyone. Her captors are captured by Jagang, and they discover that the process that turned Kahlan invisible was tainted, and that random people will be able to see her. Instead of killing his prisoners who failed in their magic, he sends her out walking in the camp, naked (though with guards close by) to see who notices, thus assembling guards who can see her.
The Fellowship of Order sent spies to many of the wonders of the world to use or copy their magic. In one instance, they sent one of their top people to work in the stables just so he'd have a chance at copying a magical construct.
From Dune: "A pogrom? That's not like the Harkonnens. A pogrom is wasteful." Because of this, the Baron doesn't much like Rabban, who is just a brute, and he is more than willing to sacrifice Rabban for his smarter younger brother Feyd-Rautha. On the other hand, putting Rabban in charge for a while, then deposing him in favor of Feyd-Rautha makes the latter look much better by comparison. So putting a monster in charge is ultimately quite pragmatic.
Zig-Zagged in Animorphs with Visser One, who claims she wants Earth to be conquered slowly and secretly because it's more pragmatic than Visser Three's plans of open war and genocide. In reality, she's worried that an open war could coincidentally kill two children she gave birth to through a previous human host. However, since the whole point of going after Earth was because there are enough people to give every Yeerk a host, the whole thing would have been pointless if Visser Three killed a large percentage of humans.
The government in 1984 outlaws the death penalty, preferring torture and brainwashing potential rebels into model citizens, rather than killing them immediately, and risk them becoming martyrs for the next generations rebels.However, ultimately they will disappear, long after everyone has forgotten about them.
The Reynard Cycle: Shortly after the "attack" on Dis, the Calvarian general Drauglir had to stop his men from hanging Mosca, his Southern translator. He may consider the man to be less than a dog, but he was of the opinion that training another translator would take too much time.
When Joffrey acts Stupid Evil and wants to totally wipe out surrendering enemies and their families, his grandfather, the powerful and cunning Tywin, counsels him: "When your enemies defy you, you must serve them steel and fire. When they go to their knees, however, you must help them back to their feet. Elsewise no man will ever bend the knee to you." Underscoring that this is pragmatism rather than mercy is the fact that Tywin famously had no qualms utterly wiping out families that wouldn't go to their knees.
Tywin also berates Joffrey for the latter's execution of Ned Stark - not because Tywin cared about Ned, but because Ned would have been a vital bargaining chip.
When his son Tyrion is kidnapped, Tywin Lannister immediately raises his army and starts a war. He doesn't care about Tyrion, but he considers the kidnapping of his son a personal insult that he won't take lying down.
Roose Bolton is also extremely pragmatic, with his preference for a quiet land and quiet people. This leads to some annoyance with his son's open and increasingly inconvenient sadism. He gets a crowning moment of pragmatic villainy moments after his son expresses a desire to flay a noblewoman who doesn't like him and make her skin into footwear.
"How many of our grudging friends do you imagine we’d retain if the truth were known? Only Lady Barbrey, whom you would turn into a pair of boots... inferior boots. Human skin is not as tough as cowhide and will not wear as well."
Another example is his objections to Ramsay's horrific treatment of Jeyne who has been presented as Arya Stark. Her screams and cries can be heard throughout the castle, which are demoralizing the people, and in turn making it harder for Roose to rule the North.
Sandra Arminger of the Novels Of The Change is the voice of reason to her husband's pure sadism. His vainglory, too; there are times when she exhorts him to make a kill that he perceives as damaging to his reputation. Once her husband is dead and there's a firm peace between Portland and the other nearby nations, she becomes so bloodlessly pragmatic that she comes off as a particularly intrigue-oriented good guy.
In the Night Watch series, the Dark Others tend toward this when declining more villainous actions:
In one scene, a Dark Other manifests a cat to torture a mouse and his cohorts are disgusted with him because it would waste less energy to just kill the mouse himself, and he's distracted from his job of guarding their headquarters. To an extent, he's also considered to be acting Stupid Evil.
The Dark Other Edgar is shown not using magic to steal from a store because he wouldn't want to be caught by the other side and because since humans are the "resources" of his side, it's foolish to hurt them needlessly. Edgar also decides to do a light Charm Person on an attractive woman rather than brainwashing her, because (more or less) consensual sex is more fun than rape.
Zabulon/Zavulon, despite being an obvious Big Bad, is generally in the role of helping the Night Watch stop some apocalyptic scenario, since if they are allowed to happen, he won't have any victims. However, his help is always done to further some other, hidden scheme, and he's quite happy about massive casualties to the extent they help his side.
Their disposition towards this approach also mostly averts the common "Villains Act, Heroes React" pattern. Dark Ones are mostly content with the status quo and rarely go out of their way to try and make the world more miserable, since humans themselves could usually be trusted with it. They even more often than not go along with the grand projects devised by the Light Ones to improve the humans, because, being cynical bastards, Dark Ones are assured that the human nature will prevail no matter what and those projects will backfire spectacularly, thus proving their point and providing them with all the delicious misery they could wish. They are usually right.
Gentleman Johnny Marcone mercilessly crushes gang violence in Chicago and cuts down civilian casualties, imposing order in the criminal underworld, making it so that his presence is by far preferable to the anarchy that would follow, should he be taken down. He fights on the side of the good guys more often than not, if only because the villain of whatever book he's in is a greater threat to Marcone's business than Dresden is. And to top it all off, he provides Harry Dresden, a man notorious for "having problems with buildings," a lifetime membership to all of Marcone's exclusive clubs to ensure that Harry doesn't smash them to pieces breaking in all the time. This is best exemplified with Marcone, by the attitude of one of his subordinates when she saw Harry enter. "What must I give you to get you to leave very quickly."
Lara Raith qualifies as well. She helps Harry out each time because doing so will increase her own political power. First he helps her overthrow her father by getting the man to reveal he was a Complete Monster who saw every child, even Lara, as disposable and then weaken him to the point Lara could win easily.
The White Court vampires turn out to have been part of a secret war against terrifying ancient gods, taking it almost solely upon themselves rather than involve anyone else. Why? Because the more people know of these gods, the more powerful they get, and if the gods were allowed to live again they'd ruin the White Court's food supply.
In Death: Alex Ricker in Promises In Death demonstrates this in his conversation with Roarke. Alex reveals that the men who robbed his store and were found floating in the river all carved up were killed off by his father, Max Ricker. Max did this because the thieves embarrassed Alex and embarrassment is apparently unacceptable. Alex didn't have them killed and didn't want the problem handled that way, and that he doesn't do murder...because it's just not practical.
In Tony Hillerman's People of Darkness, the hit man Colton Wolf kills as few people as he can manage (aside from his assigned targets), because the fewer people that are killed, the shorter the resulting manhunt is.
This is one of the defining traits of the Lady in the Black Company novels- she's almost entirely devoid of compassion and mercy, and totally devoid of remorse, but neither is she cruel for the sake of cruelty- everything she does is to get some kind of advantage, and her empire is designed to be stable and enduring. She's deliberately contrasted with her psychotic rival and sister Soulcatcher, who is pretty much pure chaos, and her ex-husband, the Dominator, whose empire, rather than being oppressive but stable and organized was almost literal Hell on Earth.
The Hunger Games have Children Forced To Kill called "Tributes" as young as 12 in a Deadly Game. But game's organizers forbids them to use firearms because they're seen as an unfair advantage. If the kids just shot each other quickly, it wouldn't be as much fun for the Capital to watch.
The organisers also ensure that the climate of the Games Arenas are not too challenging - they want the tributes to be fighting each other, not spending all their time and effort struggling to stay warm and alive in desperate cold temperatures.
The Queen in A Woman's Work is ruthless enough to encourage her son to wear bright royal uniforms while she wears something more subdued (because who will an assassin instinctively aim at?) but makes sure her people are educated (at government schools with an approved curriculum), employed, have a good medical system, knows many of her troops by name, and when she conquers a new territory has most of the defeated nobles property distributed among the lower classes of the conquered country and immediately starts infrastructure programs to help improve their lives. She even allows the odd dissident to make public speeches against her reign, giving her an excuse to remind the "oppressed citizens" that she's made their lives much better. And letting them to beat up the troublemaker.
The Corrupt Corporate Executive in Stephen King's The Running Man insists to Ben Richards that he didn't have his wife killed as part of a plan to recruit him as a Hunter. He makes no attempt to convince Richards that he's above such a thing, merely that it would have been a lousy plan and Richards would have seen through it, as evidenced by the fact that his suspicions immediately landed on the network when he heard about the misdeed.
In Star Trek: The Battle of Betazed, the Vorta overseer Luaran objects to her colleague Gul Lemec casually shooting Betazoids during their occupation of the Betazoid homeworld. Like most Vorta, she has no moral qualms at all, but does not approve of needless violence when there are more orderly ways to keep things in check. As far as she's concerned, Lemec's brutality will only serve to increase resistance among the occupied Betazoids.
While Moriarty and Moran in Kim Newman's The Hound Of The D'Urbervilles are not above doing things For the Evulz, they often adhere to this trope. At one point, Moriarty researched stealing the Crown Jewels of Britain, but rather than actually pulling the caper, sells the plans to the guardians, so they may tighten their security. And Moran discourses at some length about the foolishness of criminals who steal unique, one-of-a-kind, well-known (or religiously-venerated) valuables, because they're impossible to fence and often bring retribution after the thief.
Richard Stark's (Donald Westlake's) Parker is a career thief with no real moral, but he tries to avoid killing people because he knows the police search harder for a murderer than a thief. He does not cheat his partners because he knows they have to trust him to work together. This trope does go out the window if one of his partners betrays him, though. Then he will hunt you down to the ends of the earth.
Discussed in The Magician's Nephew. One bit of narration points out that once the witch was finished with Digory, she completely ignored him, because witches are "terribly practical."
In Alien Nation, Aphossno, the overseer scout, helps Cathy do develop a therapy against a genocide-attempt by genetically engineered from a "Purist" (Anti-Tenctonese hate groups) group. He does that, because the overseers can't profit from dead "cargo" (He plans not only to re-enslave the former Tenctonese slaves, but also to enslave humanity, since the overseers military technology, according to the overseers, is vastly superior).
Babylon 5: In the beginning, G'Kar had the appearance of a pantomime villain, so it came a something of a surprise when he saved Catherine Sakai's life. His explanation:
There was no profit—no advantage—in letting you fall to an untimely and most uncomfortable death. It would distress the commander to no good end.
In the words of Jimmy Darmody: "You can't kill everyone, Manny. It's not good business." Of course, Jimmy's temper and ruthlessness sometimes means that he takes steps that make everyone else think he is going too far and being impractical himself...
Both Arnold Rothstein and his Bastard Understudy Meyer Lansky are tremendous examples of this.
A humorous version of this comes up in season 6, when a vampire refuses to drink Buffy's blood because she's been eating a lot at a crappy fast food joint. Eating her at that point would likely make him feel sick. She also smells terrible.
An earlier episode had someone spared because the taste of steroids in his blood disgusted the vampire. Also, they were special steroids that were slowly turning him into a fish, so it's understandable.
Mayor Willikins was equal parts Affably Evil and this trope.
Scorpius from Farscape is incredibly goal-oriented, and rarely lets petty things like "emotions" get in the way of his mission. Thus, even when John Crichton has utterly demolished his base, ruining his plans for revenge against the Scarrans, he states the following when John asks if he is considering following through on his earlier threat to glass Earth.
Scorpius: To what purpose? Vengeance against you? The only vengeance I cared about is no longer within my grasp!
Cersei is clearly appalled by Joffrey's decision to have Eddard executed, knowing that leaving him alive is the only way to prevent war with the North.
Later on, her father, Tywin Lannister, saves a group of prisoners including Arya Stark, although he doesn't seem to have realized it, from torture and death. Not because the whole torture thing bothers him, but because, hey, why waste free laborers?
Roose Bolton is furious at his son Ramsay's torture of Theon Greyjoy into madness - because it has destroyed Theon's usefulness to him as a valuable hostage.
Hannibal: When Hannibal is killing intending to eat the victim, he minimizes their stress and suffering. He's not showing them kindness: a stressed animal releases hormones that cause the meat to taste off. When he's killing for other reasons he will readily be as brutal and violent as required.
House Of Saddam: After Uday kills one of his father's confidants (he insulted Uday's mother by introducing Saddam to a new mistress), the enraged Saddam unleashes a beating on his son. While chewing Uday out, Saddam claims that he's upset not by Uday's violent behavior, but that there's no point to it.
Saddam: You think violence is a pastime!? It is a tool! What are we? Barbarians?!
In Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, Basco ta Jolokia is perfectly fine with letting kids die, blowing up schools, and even killing his own Morality Pet to get what he wants. However, he decides to spare (and in one case, save) the Gokaigers because they're all after the same treasure and it's easier to let them do the heavy lifting for him* Especially since the last "key" to the treasure is held by a group of ninja who don't want Basco to find them but do want to help the Gokaiger.
The various gangs in Sons of Anarchy sometimes set aside blood feuds in favour of profit.
The Ferengi are a Planet of Hats based on greed. They've never had slavery as an institution or practiced genocide—because people who are enslaved and/or dead can't buy things; though some of them don't mind selling people as slaves to cultures that do have slavery, or selling weapons of mass destruction to genocidal warlords. One of their first appearances even uses this to invoke the "what profit vengeance" Aesop, with one DaiMon's crew deposing him for wasting their resources in an obsessive attempt to get revenge on Picard, because this cut severely into their profit margins.
After a Cardassian ship gets blown up in suspicious circumstances, one Starfleet officer notes that even so, the Cardassians are not going to pick a fight with the Federation, or even ramp up their border security, since they are more than happy with the peace treaty. It gives them expanded territory, and they now have colonies on the Federation's side of the border that will not be mistreated and do provide a conveniently discreet view of the Federation's activities from behind the lines, so they are not going to throw away the deal they've got over such a trifling incident as this.
During the Dominion Occupation of Bajor and Terok Nor, the Dominion treated the Bajorans far better than the Cardassians did during their previous Occupation. As was explicitly demonstrated in later episodes, this wasn't just because the Dominion had a neutrality pact with Bajor: the Dominion was all too willing to violate agreements with its allies when it was to its advantage to do so. What motivated the Dominion to keep its word was a desire to draw the starkest contrast possible in the minds of subjugated peoples between how it would treat them if they submitted, and what it would do to them if they defied it.
Gul Dukat, in particular, plays this trope to the hilt in both directions, claiming to have cut back on Cardassian cruelty and oppression and improved the Bajorans' working conditions wherever possible during the Occupation of Bajor pre-series. In the series itself, he regularly allies with the "good guys" every time it serves his best interest, including particularly siding with the leaders of a popular uprising on Cardassia whom he considers to be a legitimate new government, and helping smuggle their Detapa (ruling council) to safety on Deep Space Nine during a Klingon invasion. Even in his more insane and villainous moments toward the end, one can see he always continues to do whatever he believes will serve his own practical best interest, right or wrong.
The Female Changeling gets an instance of this near the end of the series. The Dominion have just gained the Breen as allies, who have a weapon that totally disables any ship it hits. This decisive advantage allows the Breen to destroy a combined Federation/Klingon/Romulan armada, including the Defiant. When all the survivors are stuck in escape pods, the Changeling orders them spared; not because she's feeling generous but because, as she explains to Weyoun, the demoralizing effect the terrified survivors will have on the alliance's war efforts is worth far more than their deaths would be. Weyoun immediately sees the wisdom of this decision, though neither of them takes into account that among the survivors is Captain Sisko, whose ability to rally the troops is most substantial.
Star Trek: Voyager uses this trope as a Take That against the Kazon villain race from the first season. When an off-hand comment about them is made in front of Seven, she recalls how the Borg ran into one of their colonies. They refused to assimilate the colony because it would detract from their perfection. They didn't even have desirable physical qualities. Even the Talaxians got praise for that.
Supernatural: Every time a Deal with the Devil is made, the victim is supposed to get to live for 10 more years before the demons come for him. Crowley is outraged when a lesser demon comes for his victims early:
Played straight in Season 2 when The Greek and Vondas contemplate killing Frank Sobotka, not out of genuine malice but rather because police are using damning evidence of his corruption in order to turn him for the prosecutionagainst them. Vondas convinces The Greek it would be more pragmatic just to buy Frank's loyalty (and silence) by manipulating Frank's son Ziggy's murder trial and preventing a conviction. Unfortunately, Frank had already made a deal with the FBI by then, and both The Greek and Vondas find out from a "friend" in the FBI while Frank is on his way to meet with them. Frank is shown with his throat sliced open in the beginning of the next episode.
The Greek: "Your way... It won't work."
Similarly, in Season 3, once Stringer Bell took over Avon Barksdale's drug empire, he negotiated with other Baltimore players to create a co-op; his period of control marking what was almost certainly a low point in violent drug-crime, since it wasn't in the best interests of any of the dealers. Stringer had also been taking economics courses, and so this pragmatic course of action was a solid application of coordinated action to avoid the "tragedy of the commons". Unfortunately for them, Marlo's refusal to join their cartel and continued use of violence also solidly illustrated the free-rider problem and "prisoner's dilemma".
A more minor example is Dennis "Cutty" Wise. Cutty was a street soldier who has finally been released after a long stint in jail and gone to work for the Barksdale gang. When Cutty and a couple of other Barksdale enforcers catch a dealer stealing money from the organization, a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown begins. In the middle of it, Cutty begins to protest, saying that if they beat him too badly to work, how is the dealer ever going to pay them back what he owes? The young thugs keep going anyway, beat the dealer to death, and steal whatever money and bling he has on him.
In an episode of Taxi where Louie is given a blank check by Jim's father to compensate for Jim burning down Louie's apartment, Louie explains that he's not putting in a ridiculous amount because he knows it won't be honored. But there is an amount that will be just low enough for Jim's dad to agree to pay it with only minimal reluctance, which Louie needs to calculate.
In Dick Tracy, the final Big Boy Caprice story by Max Allan Collins has him trying to kill Tracy with a million dollar open contract on the detective. Eventually, the organized crime ruling committee, The Apparatus, confront Caprice and tell him that the contract must be canceled. In this case, this is a matter of professionalism considering that not only is murdering police officers stupidly bad for business, but also Tracy has learned about the mob contract on him and has taken personal control of the department's Organized Crime Unit to retaliate. The Apparatus knows that they can't afford to let Tracy come at them full bore and so they must take action.
Velor Vedevix of Cerberus Daily News was a pirate and slaver before the Reaper invasion. Once the true magnitude of the threat was revealed, he began focusing his efforts on fighting the Reapers, gathering other pirates to fight, scavenging in the Terminus systems, even openly delivering needed supplies to Alliance warships that would have happily blown him out of space a month earlier. If the Reapers win, no more piracy.
Illithids in Dungeons & Dragons have to be pragmatic since their powerbase is a mere shadow of what it was in their glory days. Illithids would like nothing better than to gorge themselves on humanoid brains, but most of them are smart enough to realize that indulging their appetites too frequently would bring the wrath of every other humanoid race upon their tentacled heads. So the Illithids limit themselves to one or two brains a month while engaging in backroom deals, slave trading, and subtly aiming for power in the shadows.
Blue and or black villains in Magic: The Gathering tend to abide by this. For example, in the Odyssey and Onslaught Cycles, the Cabal is a ruthlessly evil organization that is, nevertheless, primarily interested in profit, and the Cabal Patriarch recognizes that certain types of evil are...wasteful.
The Tau are (besides the Card-Carrying Villain that is Chaos) the only faction that do not have "All the aliens must die, sooner or later" as policy, and are willing to incorporate other species into the Empire - sometimes at gunpoint, but other times a species will willingly join the Tau.
The Dark Eldar was made into this to explain how a bunch of Neutral Evil backstabbers were still alive after 20,000 years.
Indeed, every faction in 40k are pragmatic villains; Dan Abnett pointed out that if Chaos really was a "nail a baby to your helmet" society as some claim they would simply collapse in on themselves and be destroyed within a week. As such, even the most villainous 40k factions must, by definition, have a functioning society. Since they can all threaten the Imperium to a greater or lesser degree, that means there must be people who can engage in pragmatic villainy. Any examples (from any race) that contradicts this can therefore be dismissed on the grounds of "every sufficiently large organisation has a bloody twit in a position of power."
Likewise, for all the anti-xenos rhetoric that's fed to the common masses, the Imperium of Man actually runs on cold, hard Realpolitik, even working together with the Tau in a form of faction-scale Enemy Mine to help defeat the Tyranids. Of course, both sides are also trying to subtly maneuver one another into doing the dirty work so that their own side ends up with the advantage in the aftermath...
In Rifts, the Vampire Kingdom of Mexico. Their Master Vampire is evil and ruthless, but he's Lawful Evil and understands the value of keeping a contented blood supply around, and thus the Kingdom is actually one of the safest and most peaceful realms on Rifts Earth. Blood is provided through a painless system of blood donations, staggered to avoid causing harm to the humans who donate, and vampires are forbidden from attacking humans to feed (though they still tend to be dicks toward them; they are, after all, nearly always evil). In part because of this system, Mexico is the most powerful and advanced of the Vampire Kingdoms.
In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, even other minions of the Wyrm will destroy any Gray Mass infestation that shows up. Their corruption is so virulent and indiscriminate that they even jeopardize the other minions of the Wyrm and the Wyrm's greater plans.
Shows up with some of the supercomputers in GURPS Reign Of Steel (a 'Robot War, the robots won' setting). The basic and most common example is that several of the supercomputers that have kept to the Kill All Humans goal of the original A.I. have decided that it's really more resource-efficient to work them to death, since you at least get something more than a dead human out of it. More elaborate examples tailored to the A.I.'s specific interests:
Washington, who runs a Vichy Earth arrangement where it pretends to the humans in its zone that they are the masters and it is a loyal advisor A.I. — this allows it to harness human ingenuity and economic prowess, while limiting the risk of revolts and keeping itself safely in charge.
Moscow, who wants to amass human knowledge. Since humans are often the best at finding that kind of knowledge, it only makes sense to leave humans around to recruit as agents — and it's not a bad idea to let them get an education, too, since that makes them better agents.
Brisbane, who is absolutely obsessed with science, the weirder the better. Killing all humans would be a waste of resources — it'd make entire categories of experiments impossible.
Caracas, who wants humanity reduced to a hunter-gatherer state to keep them from harming the environment, but is rational about the priority of it and consequently doesn't waste resources enforcing it that could be better used some other way (and with a Zonemind that wants to eradicate all organic life to the north, that better way sometimes includes co-operating with or at least avoiding fighting against human guerrillas on raids into Zone Mexico).
Since shadowrunners are essentially freelance criminals, the more successful crews subscribe to this ideology. Basically, be a Gentleman Thief: don't destroy stuff you aren't being paid to destroy, don't kill anybody you aren't being paid to kill, and don't get caught by the news.
Super Mario Bros.' Bowser. At times he helps the Mario Brothers and other people, only because he wants to be the only one to take over the Mushroom Kingdom. Also, since his goal is conquest and not destruction, he'll assist the Mario Brothers so that others can't destroy what he wants to conquer.
Caster in Fate/stay night refrains from actually outright killing the victims she drains because that would draw even more attention, too much to cover up with a story about gas leaks.
The Agency of Hitman normally go after criminals and the like due to the fact that people pay more for world stability. Also, Agent 47 prefers not to kill anyone who isn't his target, since collateral damage isn't professional and it creates the risk of more witnesses (though he will kill witnesses if he has to).
This is the reason why "professional" pirates in EVE Online hate the more Griefer-like rat bastard ones. A professional pirate will trap your ship and make you a simple offer - pay them or your ship and capsule will be destroyed. If you pay up, they'll let you go, otherwise they blow you up and loot your wreck. The rat bastards will do the same thing, except if you pay up they destroy you and loot your wreck anyway. The professionals hate the bastards because they make people far less likely to pay up, which is far more reliable profit than looting wrecks (as what survives a wreck is random). Quite a lot of people in Eve refuse to ever pay ransoms for their ships simply because they don't believe in "honest" pirates any more.
"The Practical Incarnation" is the name for the most evil of your previous selves you encounter in Planescape: Torment. Everything he did had a practical use, even if it ultimately resulted in horrible things like convincing a woman he loved her so her very soul would stick around and act as an oracle for him. He even leaves you with some very good, easy-to-follow instructions, so much the better to make sure you can carry on his work even after his death.
Mr. House is not a nice man and freely says that he desires to become the region's dictator (he prefers "autocrat"), but he has no interest in power without a purpose and his plans for the Mojave would certainly benefit mankind as a whole. Likewise, he's merciless in dealing with people who have earned his ire or even have a chance of standing in his way, but in personal interactions he's usually just sort of condescending, not showing any overt malice.
Father Elijah, a fanatic, actually had some pretty sensible policies during his time as the leader of the Brotherhood of Steel, including obtaining beneficial technology such as farming equipment and trading such technology with wastelanders in order to gain their support. Elijah doesn't care about wastelanders and is happy to sacrifice them if needed, but was smart enough to recognize that the Brotherhood was too small and insular to survive without support from their wastelander neighbors (a fact which even his much more moral successor completely missed). Or not. His successor can be made to admit that the Brotherhood is doomed, but he's not willing to break the Codex like Elijah was. Elijah breaks the rules for what he sees as the greater purpose of his organisation... both the ones that keep the Brotherhood from being outright evil, and the ones that have long lost their purpose in the modern wasteland.
The Khans are a group of raiders that act like "professional" pirates. They're mainly hostile to the NCR, but tend to ignore locals of the Mojave, and are willing to trade, though the only thing they have to trade is drugs (though they will sell weapons to the Courier if he manages to get on their good side) and by the time of the game mostly keep to themselves at Red Rock Canyon.
You can also use this trope as an argument to convince the Khan's drug cooks to make medicines in addition to their regular drugs; a more diverse product line, plus customers who are less likely to die allowing for more repeat business, will give them more profits.
The Fiends have at least learned to stay out of Westside after their leader Motor-Runner decided that the local Supermutant who protects the community is more trouble than it's worth to kill.
In the final battle, Legate Lanius will only consider retreat if he's properly convinced/bluffed that he will face inevitable defeat, either through attrition, through an inability to support his army or even by convincing him that the NCR is setting a trap for him.
Colonel Moore is this. She is willing to put up with anything the Courier does because it will lead to winning the war, but she makes sure to slander the Courier and gets Ambassador Crocker fired for doing things their way instead of hers.
Gloria Van Graff is a completely ruthless bitch of a businesswoman who will do what is necessary to monopolize the weapons trade in the Mojave. She is also willing to work with the NCR to take down Caesar's Legion, because the NCR has a larger economy, and because she (unlike several other Mojave faction leaders) isn't delusional enough to think she will be the exception to Caesar's rule of killing those who outive their usefulness.
"Good" choices in Overlord are often framed as this. For instance, after retrieving a village's stolen food supply, you're given the option to take it to feed your horde—but giving it back to the villagers instead increases their productivity (represented in-game by a higher respawn rate for the sheep you kill to feed your basic troops.)
In the Deus Ex: Human Revolution "The Missing Link" DLC, you can find an email from the evil base commander where he claims he was informed that his subordinates are raping their female prisoners and demands that they stop or face harsh punishment...because this decreases the chance that they survive the horrific surgical procedure that turns them into Hyron Drones.
Flemeth of Dragon Age is a mysterious shapeshifting "witch of the wilds" and an Evil Matriarch besides, but she scoffs at the stories of her kidnapping and eating children. "Pah! As if I had nothing better to do!"
Considering the events near the end of the previous game, Agatio also seems to be much more tolerant of Felix not directly following their plans than his predecessors were. Though he's pretty rough about reminding Felix what's at stake, he doesn't turn on Felix until Felix acts against him on behalf of Isaac, and even then he bides his time until Felix has finished his part and is no longer needed for the plan to succeed.
PAYDAY: The Heist has this for the heist crew. They don't want to kill civilians because it will make the cops more aggressive against them and having no hostages gives cops less incentive to hesitate in attacking. In a gameplay perspective, you don't want to kill civilians because doing so delays your release from police custody, gives the team less hostages to barter your release with, and you incur a monetary penalty at the end of the level.
The sequel gives you two more good reasons: untied civilians will now resurrect players with the "Stockholm Syndrome" skill, and police hostages can now be converted to your side - the ones with orange bulletproof armor are REALLY good meatshields because regular bullets DO NO DAMAGE TO ORANGE ARMOR HITS.
Sleeping Dogs, Broken-Nose Jiang despises Big Smile Lee's prostitution and women-selling operations because she believes they are archaic and don't provide as much profit as certain alternatives.
In Star Wars: The Old Republic, the various Imperial characters, particularly Sith often tend to justify Light Side decisions this way. By the Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion, Darth Marr and a Light Side Sith Inquisitor can both champion that the Empire should adopt Villain with Good Publicity as their public image, seeing it as the only way to help stabilise the Empire and repair the damage from the ongoing war with the Republic and infighting between Sith.
In Skyrim, the Thieves Guild has a "no killing" rule, because leaving behind dead bodies draw attention and makes people more hostile (and getting rid of the bodies takes work and money), and they'd much rather be seen as a nuisance than a serious threat. Similarly, if you side with the Volkihar vampires, many of their side quests have you put down various non-affiliated groups of vampires, because the more advanced vampires in the castle don't appreciate their unsubtle methods and doesn't want the cattle (i.e. mortals) to get unduly spooked and possibly hostile. And they don't want to share.
Exterminatus Now: The Cesspool mercenaries won't sell weapons to the Cultists of Darkness. Because they refuse to pay up front and try to weasel out of the bills.
In the prequel series Start of Darkness, Xykon says he will not do any scheme of kidnapping virgins because "it's like telling a guy who doesn't know how to hold a hammer to build a house for you". He also thinks that destroying the world is a stupid idea, because if he did that, what would he have left to rule? "I like the world... I'm certainly not about to destroy it unless I get really, really bored."
During a story arc in the main series, an imp suggests that Vaarsuvius use some virgin's blood as a spell component, which is rejected for three reasons:
Vaarsuvius : This is reprehensible, depraved, and most importantly, highly impractical given our current location.
Tarquin, who claims to be Above Good and Evil, runs the Empire of Blood. His interaction with Heroes suggests he's so Dangerously Genre Savvy it hurts, including knowing world domination is rather hard to pull off if everyone knows you're doing it. He even offers help and magical rewards to prevent Xykon from doing so either.
Later, he started sacrificing a large number of minions to try and kill the rest of the Order to make his son the hero of the story. His two teammates differ on opinion: Laurin Shattersmith considers it a waste of good resources, and that indulging Tarquin has cost them in the past, while Miron Shewdanker sees no profit of any kind in doing so.
Belkar, amazingly enough, manages an instance of this, after one of his shoulder demons convinces him that saving Hinjo's life will work out better for him in the long run than letting him be killed by an assassin.
"It's for the Greater Me."
Later on, he receives a vision from Lord Shojo, who tells him that rather than acting in his typical antisocial and psychopathic manner, it would be more beneficial for him to try and play by the rules of society but cheat whenever he can. Belkar sums this up as faking Character Development.
When the Three Fiends make a Deal with the Devil with Vaarsuvius, he is suspicious that they are trying to trick him in some manner. The Fiends reply, no, they are being perfectly fair in their deal, and they actually are. One of them says "We simply don't need to trick you when we can get what we want by playing it straight."
And it's later revealed that the fiends are, in fact, lying to Vaarsuvius about how the deal works. The above quote sounds very much like "we're not lying" without actually meaning that.
In the Snips, Snails, and Dragon Tails, blackguards will not just eat babies. They are insufficiently tasty to do so without the application of mustard.
The Trolls of Homestuck are a mostly violent race with their Blue and Orange Morality that don't consider lying, manipulating, and murdering to be particularly bad things to do. However, they consider Vriska to be Stupid Evil: not because she's doing anything wrong by their standards, but because she's kicking dogs to fulfill her own vanity rather than being productive about it.
Earth intelligence agent Kowalski has proven himself to be a ruthless stone-cold killer, but at one point when he says some inconvenient would-be bystanders "have to go", it turns out he's speaking literally, and has them shipped off on a luxury space-cruise.
Dark General Cobalt of Sailor Nothing is this in contrast to his Card-Carrying Villain acquaintances. It's not that he has a moral objection to rape, torture, and murder, it's just that he finds it a colossal waste of time. He'd much rather focus on getting things done. Interestingly, his pragmatism actually results in his being the villain the heroes encounter the most—in the interests of actually getting his project off the ground, he decides to kill the girls who've been wiping out his underlings.
Troops following Lord Doom, an Evil Overlord from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, are under strict orders to protect innocent bystanders as much as possible and keep collateral damage to a minimum during their operations specifically because the villain believes that such activities are a waste of time and "bad for business", since loyal, happy subjects who feel their Lord and Master is looking out for their safety engage in rebellions far less often than fearful, unhappy subjects who feel their Lord and Master tortures them for his own amusement do.
Quite a few characters in the Whateley Universe have shades of this. Take Mimeo — with his shapeshifting and power-copying abilities and definite intelligence, he could readily become a dangerous Hero Killer if he ever put his mind to it. (He is on the record as the sort of villain that can confidently take on entire teams and expect to win.) Instead he's quite content to fight a bunch of opponents for a while to acquire their powers, then use those while they last to pull off his real scheme, and then do a vanishing act to enjoy his ill-gotten gains; that approach has been working well for him for years by now and as far as he's concerned he has no reason to change it.
Coil of Worm, who wants to take over a city, is this. His stated goals include an involved plan to reduce unemployment via a massive reconstruction effort, reduction in drug-dealing to less harmful drugs, and no more hate crimes in the streets by superpowered Neo-Nazis. As he states, this is because his pride simply couldn't bear it if something that he owned didn't function at the absolute best levels.
The protagonist herself is one of the best examples of the crossover between this trope and Anti-Villain; Her fundamental goal is safety for herself and whomever she considers "her people", to the extent that she originally planned to be a hero. In the end, she tends to come down on the side of murder and mayhem because it seems to be the most pragmatic means to those ends, and her 'virtue' is almost always a matter of stopping because she's already won, not doing something because it would be counterproductive in the long run, or doing something 'good' because she and her gang benefit overall. Even her power and its uses are focused primarily around logistics more than anything else.
The same series also presented Dr. Doom in this manner during the adaption of the Secret War. While the other villains brutally conquer the planet the Beyonder has send them to and enslave the population, Dr. Doom turns the part of the planet that he manages to conquer into a peaceful paradise where robots do all the hard work and the population can live in luxury. His motivation for doing so is that the planet has technology far beyond that of earth (including a way for Doom to heal his disfigured face and cure Ben of the Fantastic Four of being stuck in his monstrous form), and by destroying the civilization or ruling as a tyrant, Doom would only deny himself access to this technology.
One episode of The Spectacular Spider-Man has the eponymous hero confront Tombstone after beating up a pair of his Mooks. Tombstone lands a few good blows on Spider Man and seems poised to give him the beating of his wall-crawling life, but instead calls the police and informs them that Spider Man just trespassed, assaulted his employees, and threatened his well-being. These all being valid facts, the police try to arrest Spider Man while Tombstone sits back and watches.
Shere Khan: My dear, I desire only money and power. Unpresentable employees provide me with neither.
Shere Kahn is also Genre Savvy when it comes to making business deals, as well. In one episode, an inventor was trying to sell Kahn his "Auto-Aviators," robots that flew planes automatically, never had to rest, and never deviated from their flight plans. While Kahn is interested in the idea, he initially refuses... because he hadn't seen the robot in action yet. Kahn turns out to be right when the Auto-Aviator proves utterly incapable of dealing with air pirates, leaving Baloo to take over.
Batman: The Animated Series: This was the reason Ra's al Ghul deposed his son Arkady Duvall as a potential heir to his world-conquering empire; Ra's' entire shtick is his belief that Utopia Justifies the Means, which includes making sure The Trains Run On Time, so the prospect of using barbarous and inefficient tactics to ensure that (such as whipping hard workers for every little slip-up, or disposing of supposed interlopers by dunking them in molten lead, as Duvall does in the episode "Showdown") does not sit well with him, at all.
Blob and his men themselves often are very pragmatic, while it's perhaps more out of cowardice than strategy, they rarely ever directly attack the heroes and most of their plans involve the bare means to get the stone from them. In some episodes this actually makes them seem less antagonistic to the heroes than vice versa, who have a much more vengeful streak.
A subtle example happens in Star Wars: Clone Wars. The reason General Grievous spared Shaak Ti when he obviously could have killed her was because he needed a live witness to let the Jedi Council know that Chancellor Palpatine was gone (as his boss Darth Sidious, who unknown to Grievous, was Palpatine, had wanted them to know).
Kyle: Dude, how are we going to move 23 cows to your house?
Stan: I don't know.
Cartman: Guys, I've got it. We can kill Butters, and then float the cows on a river of his blood!
Kyle: Don't be stupid! Butters doesn't have that much blood in him!
Xanatos from Gargoyles never carries the Villain Ball; his plans are pretty much designed so he HAS to win something. He also refuses to engage in revenge, because as he sees it, it's a "sucker's game" with no real benefit, and seems to want to remain friendly with his enemies, since he could easily need their help someday. A good example of this trope is in "Enter Macbeth," when he's reluctant to kill the gargoyles during their stone sleep not because they're defenseless, but just because it "seems like a waste." The same episode has Macbeth calmly wait for them to wake up before trying to capture them, since that, after all, is the honorable thing to do.
Agent Bishop in the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He had the goal of protecting humanity from aliens, and while he was extremely ruthless, he had his priorities in line and didn't go and spend time trying to kill the turtles, who were ultimately more an aid to him then a hindrance.
Although he hates Darkwing Duck and would be happy to get rid of the interfering superhero once and for all, Megavolt has helped DW on one or two occasions when the city of St. Canard is at risk of being destroyed. He justifies this by pointing out that if St. Canard is destroyed, there will be nothing left for him to rob.
Dracula from The Batman vs. Dracula doesn't like to kill his victims, but not because he doesn't like killing. He just hates wasting a life that could be better used as his undead servant.
Beast Wars: The Tri-Predacus Council, leaders of the majority of all Predacons, sends an agent to prehistoric Earth to aid the Maximals and capture Megatron, whom they declared a dangerous criminal. They, like Megatron himself, still want to take over Cybertron and spark a second interstellar war, but would prefer to do so through subtle manipulations and waiting for the opportune moment. That and Megatron's plan is too reckless even for them to consider.
Soundwave of Transformers Prime has made a career out of this. It diminishes his effectiveness not the slightest.
Imperiex of Legion Of Superheroes winds teaming up with his Arch-Enemy Superman X in order to protect a young boy from some contract killers, if only because that young boy will be the one to invent the technology that would create Imperiex in the future.
In season 3, the new Big BadZaheer persuaded the Earth QueenHou-Ting to being Korra to him, in that kidnapping the Avatar would bring the other nation's calling for her release. In return, he'll give the location of the missing Airbenders. But discovering that Korra has escaped, he decided to kill her.
In Ben 10: Alien Force, Vilgax's return episode portrayed him as following a galactic code of conduct. However, Word of God is that Vilgax was only following it because it was more profitable for him, allowing him to conquer ten planets in a short amount of times without wasting massive resources to it. In later episodes, after this strategy failed against Ben, he has no scruples breaking said code several times.
Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz in Phineas and Ferb wants to take over the Tri-State Area, but he prefers to use complicated and overly-specialized "inators" rather than break out a weapon which could do real damage. His rationale is that, if he destroys the Tri-State Area, there won't be anything left to rule.
In the first episode of Family Guy Stewie mind controls a judge to acquit Peter of fraud and give him his job back because Stewie relies on him for food and a home.
In "Custody Battle," Mojo called Him out on how idiotic it is to direct the sun into earth, stating that by doing so Him will destroy everything including himself. But it was subverted to show that Him was bluffing.
In Action Man, Asazi turns on Dr. X when he reveals his final plan is to competely annihilate mankind because it will be bad for her business as an assassin.