"No. Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise."
A character who cares too much about their principles, often at the expense of caring about the results of their actions
. While many characters believe in ideals like truth
and the rule of law
, these folks take it to uncomfortable levels
. May be Played for Laughs
, or played straight in one way
A person who Will Not Tell a Lie
, for example, crosses over into Principles Zealot when they maintain truthfulness even in the face of horrible consequences that they know could be averted by lying. A hero who will commit any atrocity rather than break a promise
, even if they were tricked into making it, is a Principles Zealot. Please note that such a Principles Zealot isn't necessarily more principled
than someone who normally Will Not Tell a Lie
but can make exceptions in extreme cases. The difference is that the zealot refuses to see the big picture, clinging blindly to the principle and the principle only. (Which has a certain bloody-minded logic: the threat of looming negative consequences could always be a trick or illusion, or there might be an escape route
, but once you tell the lie to avoid it, there's a 100% certainty that you are now a liar.)
A Principles Zealot can be a Well-Intentioned Extremist
, Knight in Sour Armor
, Knight Templar
, Lawful Stupid
or even a someone who ended up on the wrong end of that Sliding Scale
. Contrast Totalitarian Utilitarian
, who is another side
of these four kinds of fanaticism: While the Principles Zealot cares only about principles, the Totalitarian Utilitarian cares only about results. Note that a fanatic doesn't have to fall into either of those two categories: their fanaticism can be about a cause
or a belief
Things can get really
ugly when this character suffers from Black and White Insanity
See also The Determinator
and The Fettered
. Contrast Honor Before Reason
: Principles Zealot is a character type, while Honor Before Reason is a motivation/characterization. Honor Before Reason is explicitly idealistic and heroic, whereas Principles Zealot is an idealistic character
, but is on the cynical side of that Sliding Scale
No Real Life Examples, Please!
, and no historical examples more recent than a century.
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Anime and Manga
- Suzaku Kururugi from Code Geass starts out like this, refusing to support Zero even though it would mean the end of the oppression of the Japanese people, believing results have to come the right way, but slowly drifts away from this, finally seeing that results justify the means, and to have thought otherwise was naive and foolish.
- Rather, he realizes that, seeing how many wrongs Lelouch had already committed, the only way to make the world change for the better was to carry his plan out to the end, let humanity move into the future, and change the system by which people would live; at that point, it would have been evil to let the loss of so many lives have been for nothing.
- Although he does realize (after Schneizel's exploitation of Lelouch's decision to trust him and desire to renew their friendship) that people like Schneizel and the Emperor exploit the law for self-serving reasons.
- Light Yagami of Death Note believes in justice. This belief leads him to kill thousands of people and manipulate everyone around him. Granted, his idea of justice does shift slightly over time...
- Greed from Fullmetal Alchemist claims that he never lies (even to enemies). If this were true then that would mean he would never lie even if it could further his goals, and being the physical incarnation of the sin itself, attaining things like status, sex, money, etc. is very important to him.
- Ira Gamagoori from Kill la Kill is a semi-comedic example. He is willing to give Mako and Ryuko a ride to a gas station when their scooter breaks down, and in the next episode refuses to fight Ryuko because their fight does not start for another few hours.
- Yuuji Yugami from Yugami-kun ni wa Tomodachi ga Inai is a comedic example. His stubbornness is always Played for Laughs and it's part of the reason his classmates tend to avoid him — not that he cares, since he's quite happy without friends anyway and practically refuses to make any.
- Rorschach in Watchmen follows this trope consistently. This is probably because he's The Anti-Nihilist; he believes that the world has no other meaning than the one we impose upon it. If he abandoned his principles, he'd have nothing. The page quote is literal. He would rather let the world perish than neglect one of his moral principles just once. His reaction to Ozymandias's plan to save the world is a perfect example. He knows Veidt's new utopia will be a lie built upon a foundation of corpses and cannot let that injustice pass, and thus welcomes death by Dr. Manhattan's hand because he can no longer abide living in a morally bankrupt world where injustice must prevail in order to save lives.
- There is however one time where he could be viewed as straying from his principles. A former criminal, Edgar Jacobi, previously known as Moloch the Mystic, is shown to have Laetrile tablets (fraudulent cancer 'medicine' illegal in the US because it contains cyanide) in his house. When Rorschach presses him, Jacobi admits to having terminal cancer and using them because he's willing to try anything. Rorschach, having taken down the name of the manufacturer, let the offense slide.
- Before he became Rorschach, Walter Kovacs seemed to be able to see shades of grey...as shown in his belief that it was right to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki because the deaths of those people would effectively stop the deaths of many, many more should the World War II instead continue; this is in direct contrast to the exact same situation that Rorschach finds himself in once Ozy's plot is discovered.
- Judge Dredd is in many ways a parody of this, with Judge Death as a parody of the parody. While Judge Dredd is a Knight Templar By-the-Book Cop and Judge Death an Omnicidal Maniac Hanging Judge, they are still the same kind of Principles Zealot. And this is what makes them Not So Different.
- Mo from Dykes To Watch Out For often borders on this (as - ironically - does neoconservative Cynthia in the final years of that strip). Mo's lover-to-be Sydney invokes it early in their courting:
Mo: What do your "sources" tell you?
Sydney: Oh, just that neither Lois nor your friend Clarice are speaking to you because you're such a rigid, self-righteous prig.
Mo: Is that right? Well, if I had a superiority complex the size of yours, I wouldn't throw stones.
Sydney Sounds like my sources were right.
Mo: Sydney, if you don't like my personality, feel free to go pester someone else.
Sydney: But that's just it! I do like your personality, Mo! I admire you for putting principles before people-pleasing.
Mo: Well! As long as you admire me, what do I need with friends?
- Nicholas Angel, the hero in Hot Fuzz, takes By-the-Book Cop to zealot levels. He gets better.
- Batman, in The Dark Knight, would rather veer off and crash his bike, leaving himself vulnerable to the Joker, than simply running the Joker over and ending the whole fiasco. Even though the Joker is unloading machine-gun fire into random motorists at the time Batman still will not kill him.
- Harry from In Bruges snarls that if he ever killed a child, he would stick his gun in his mouth and pull the trigger then and there. At the end of the film, when he believes he has shot a kid, he follows through on his claim.
- Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski. He is so thoroughly principled that he converted to Judaism for his wife and refuses to abandon it even after their divorce.
Walter: Saturday, Donny, is Shabbos, the Jewish day of rest. That means that I don't work, I don't drive a car, I don't fucking ride in a car, I don't handle money, I don't turn on the oven, and I sure as shit don't fucking roll!
- In Man of Steel, Pa Kent took keeping young Clark's identity a secret very, very seriously, to the point of willingly letting himself die to protect it.
- Galad Damodred in The Wheel of Time is described as someone who "always does what's right, no matter who it hurts," which also indicates a very peculiar idea of what constitutes "right." He does, though, very specifically and especially include himself in "no matter who."
- Stannis Baratheorn from A Song of Ice and Fire. His dedication to his principles as a goal in itself approaches levels of The Unfettered, but the chapters seen from Davos' point of view also shows that Stannis himself is conflicted by this.
- In the Xanth novel Man from Mundania, Grey Murphy is so Lawful that he feels obligated to honor the promise his father, the exiled Evil Magician Murphy that previously attempted to conquer Xanth made to the evil Com Pewter, a machine which wanted a human to aid in its world conquest plans. He only escapes by finding an overriding law concerning taking the place of Humphry, Magician of Information, service to whom overrides any and all prior obligation.
- Miles and Duv Galeni discuss this while being held captive by Duv's Komarran-rebel father. Miles mentions how his mother has always argued that one should put people before principles, and Duv observes that his father has always been a very principled man.
Live Action TV
- In Star Trek: Voyager, Seven of Nine has this attitude to her ideals of perfection. Janeway also drifts into this territory sometimes, when it's her principles that are at stake.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation has an episode where Captain Picard (and thus his crew) chose to let an entire civilization die, one that they could easily have saved. They commit this genocide-through-inaction for the simple reason that the rules say so. Of course, it doesn't take long before a sympathetic civilian The Professor character goes all What the Hell, Hero? on them.
- Specifically, he could easily have saved some of the planets inhabitants, there was no way to save all of them. It's almost certainly impossible to transplant a civilization without destroying it, so the question is whether you let all of them die or let most of them die. In this case, when one of the people who were illegally and unknowingly rescued discovers what had happened, the implications of everything they had left behind and lost drove him to suicide (presumably at least some others in their culture would have responded similarly).
- Not to be outdone, in Star Trek: Enterprise, Archer actually does let an entire civilization die slowly and painfully from a disease while they've spent the entire episode begging him for help, due to a specific set of principles that don't even exist yet and wouldn't apply to this specific civilization even if they did.
- In JAG, Harmon Rabb defends Rear Admiral Thomas Boone (played by Terry O'Quinn) who is accused of war crimes during The Vietnam War. While the old officer doesn't plead guilty, he does nothing to defend himself or help the defense. It turns out that he is innocent but believes that no matter the cost he can never break a vow of silence once it's given.
- Chris and Victoria Argent on Teen Wolf qualify, due to their Fantastic Racism and The Hunter thing. After being infected with lycanthropy, Victoria commits suicide, with Chris' help, even though they know that werewolves can learn to control their condition and they have the resources to keep one contained until that can be accomplished. The emotional trauma this is guaranteed to cause their daughter is secondary to their adherence to Hunter rules.
- Magic: The Gathering has Elesh Norn, praetor of the white Phyrexian faction. Strangely, she gets along well with the Totalitarian Utilitarian blue praetor, Jin-Gitaxias.
- Pretty much every single "good" member of the Imperium of Man that isn't a direct member of the local Church Militant should be like this. Especially the soldiers and doubly so for the Commissars. It's to the point that if you disobey an order but win a battle, where obeying an order would lose the entire war, you will be court-martialed and executed. During active combat, so much as suggesting an alternate route could be, at officer's discretion, punishable by death.
- In some editions of Dungeons & Dragons, paladins and members of extreme alignments are like this or can be like this.
- Lingur, from the Sporewiki Fiction Universe is this. He is so dedicated to his principles that other people have been seen to talk for him at military meetings, despite him being the head of his empire's military, because if he were allowed to speak he might call another attendee evil. In fact, his love interest Callanni partially exists as a plot device when the plot requires him to do something he normally wouldn't. She is the only one he's been seen to listen to on such issues.
- Though Lingur is the only commonly featured example, it is implied that virtually all Aeoneonatrix are like this.
- Adventure Time has the Earl of Lemongrab who, while not evil (just a huge jerk), definitely qualifies for this trope. All Lemongrab wants is a clean, quiet, orderly kingdom. He tries to achieve this mild goal by screaming at everybody, terrorizing the candy people, and sending folks to the dungeon at the slightest provocation.
- Batman: The Animated Series: Parodied with the Clock King, whose Blue and Orange Morality make him a fundamentalist Schedule Fanatic willing to kill someone for something worse than a crime: making him late.
- In one episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, Mrs. Puff has a flashback to the unfortunate day that she met Spongebob. She's just opening her new boating school and gives her word that she will accept ANY student and never give up on them. Cue Spongebob's arrival. In a later episode, the entire plot revolves around Mrs Puff's increasingly blatant desire and attempts to get Spongebob KILLED in a destruction derby accident. She would sooner COMMIT MURDER than go back on her word and just kick him out of the school.
- And When Did You Last See Your Father?◊ was, at one time, an extremely popular painting in England. It dramatizes a scene in the English Civil Wars where a man is hiding from the opposing army, and is about to be exposed by his little son's insistence on telling the complete truth at all times.
- Immanuel Kant advocated this sort of worldview-that one ought to determine the right tenets and stick to them in all circumstances, even if the whole world, all authority, and their loved ones begged them to give in-to never deviate from what's Right, even if it would mean the loss of one's life. He carried this to the extreme of "don't lie to the killer at the door", as demonstrated above in the painting, though he did allow that remaining silent was acceptable. In his own life, he gave misleading answers (a promise to cease publishing material deemed anti-Christian as ordered by his king, which he held applied only while said monarch was living, not after, when he promptly went back to doing it).