So The Hero and some opponent (usually the Big Bad or The Rival), adherents of two opposite ends of any given scale of ideology, duke it out. Whether they are fighting over their difference in opinion or something else, it is immediately apparent to the viewer that there is supposed to be much more than life, death or the fate of the world at stake here: The outcome of this battle decides whose personal philosophy is correct.
But you can always count on the Hero to win. Why? Because Right Makes Might, and the hero was right.
This is obviously intended to be An Aesop on how Justice Will Prevail, but to quite a many people, coupling violence with righteousness seems like a rather... Broken Aesop way to present it. In these cases, the implication that Right Makes Might comes off as an equivalence, which is most likely not what the writers intended. Often, the writers will make the opponent Kick the Dog by fighting like a Heel, which will result in either the hero winning anyway through brute force, or the enemy's Karmic Death. Other time's they'll make an opponent want revenge rather than justice, taking away from whatever righteousness their cause had. That being said, it's still a slightly more acceptable philosophy than inverse: Might Makes Right.
This trope can be more or less justified by the story showing just why the Right philosophy is better (even for winning in combat) in the end. One possibility is that the good guys rely on character-building virtues like dedication and teamwork while the villains bluster and bully their way through life, leaving the latter unready to face a real test. If nothing else, the belief the Right Makes Might could make it happen for the heroes and demoralize the villains.
Very prevalent in shounen anime series, but really, this has been used to deliver morals throughout history. It was even assumed in unenlightened times in Western civilization to work in real life, on the logic that God would help the proper victor; the practice of letting this scenario play out was known as "Trial by Combat". Nowadays in media, emotional choices trump logical ones (see Straw Vulcan).
If the defeated party acknowledges the wrong of his/her/their ways, this may also include Defeat Means Friendship. If the meaning of the battle is supposed to be particularly obvious, the characters will actually engage in a World Of Card Board Speech or Reason You Suck Speech before or during the battle, explaining their particular beliefs, the lessons they've learned and why they have faith that they will carry them through this battle successfully.
Though usually done with a hero and somebody darker, it can also be done in a A Lighter Shade of Grey or A Lighter Shade of Black scenario, to show that, while their ideas and worldviews might still be rather flawed, the winning side at least has a better understanding of how the world should be or at least got more points right than the enemy. note While a A Lighter Shade of Black villain might not exactly believe in the powers of truth, justice and honor, he might still be a firm believer in Pragmatic Villainy and consider Stupid Evil behaviour of his opponent pathetic and disgusting.
This is one of the main components of Japanese Spirit. See also: Heroic Resolve.
Not to be confused with Might Makes Right, which tends to work better in real life.
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Anime and Manga
Used a lot in Rurouni Kenshin, especially during the Kyoto Arc, after which most of the surviving bad guys shrug and start using their powers for good (or the government, anyway). But also subverted with the Kenshin vs. Soujiro battle (where Soujiro's philosophy is Might Makes Right, if not necessarily the reverse); when Kenshin wins, he is quick to state that this does not mean he has the right philosophy either, just that he's a better swordsman.
What makes this interesting is the fact, that Soujiro was clearly head and shoulders above Kenshin in skill until losing his cool due to being startled by Kenshin's selfless philosophy... So, right still made might.
This trope also comes into play in Sanosuke's fight against Anji; Anji is clearly the stronger opponent with a greater mastery of the technique he taught Sanosuke. However, Sanosuke convinces Anji that his way of atoning for his dead adoptive children won't solve anything.
Kenshin points out the same to Kid SamuraiSidekick Yahiko, who asks at the end of the Kyoto arc "We won, doesn't that mean we were right?" that this outlook is essentially a reflection of Big Bad Shishio's belief that might makes right.
By the author's own admission, all of One Piece is built on this idea. In fact, breaking someone's dreams is so traumatic that the author cites it as the reason characters don't kill their foes. To little surprise, the author was an assistant on Rurouni Kenshin before starting One Piece.
In Yu-Gi-Oh! the outcome of a card duel is decided by who has stronger convictions, rather than by random chance. They call it "The Heart of the Cards". Yugi (or Yami) always pull out the card they need to reverse the otherwise impossible situation.
Naruto's Might Guy actually believes in this, but it's impact on the show is questionable, as his apprentice, Rock Lee, is forbidden from using his most powerful techniques except for when it's to protect a friend or loved one. Also questionable in the fact that Rock Lee loses a lot. In Naruto, there's one sure-fire way to win which even works for Lee. Promise someone important that you will win. Naturally, you can't break your promise, so you'll just have to win instead.
One episode of the fifth season is named "Justice Equals Power," which is the trope name slightly rephrased. Though ironically in that case it was one of the villains who believed this, Duftmon of the Royal Knights. Suffice to say, his belief didn't stop the heroes from smashing him via an Eleventh Hour Super Power.
Discussed several times in Medaka Box, in the sense of deconstructing it. "I will lose because I was weak, not because I was wrong" is used by both heroes and villains at various points in the series, and Born Loser Kumagawa has variations of "I am not wrong" as one of his Catch Phrases.
L of Death Note seems to believe this, with lines like, "Justice Will Prevail!" and, "Let's show him that the good guys always win." Light, on the other hand, believes the opposite - making this one interesting aspect of their clash of ideals.
A recurring theme in white creature-boosting cards and effects in Magic: The Gathering. Of course, the player still pays for them with plain old mana and other resources as usual, so it's mostly just a matter of flavor; but it's there.
In the Astro City series "Tarnished Angel" we follow Steeljack, a Supervillain who wants to simply retire, but has a hard time because A: he is a well known supervillain, B: is completely covered in shiny metal skin which kills his chances of getting a normal job and C: the deck is stacked against him. One of the things that has always dogged him is that he could never make it as hero because he always came up short for some reason, but at the end of the story when he is facing off against the Big Bad who happens to be in a top of the line Power Armor suit in EPIC COMBAT, he thinks something like:
Now it's about who's tough and it ain't about who's right or wrong...but maybe being right is what made me tough enough.
De Rode Ridder ("The Red Knight") is canonically unbeatable in a straight fight for justice, as is stated in-universe by an Evil Sorcerer doing a mystical examination on his sword. The only way the villains can ever get at him is by treachery or hostages.
Superman justifies this trope to his evil opposite Ultraman. Superman fights his opponents over and over again. Ultraman kills them and thus has less fighting experience against challenging opponents.
In The Avengers, Phil Caulson alludes to this trope. He confidently tells Loki that he has no chance of winning, because evil has "no conviction".
Tony echoes this when he points out that Loki is going to have to keep fighting even if his ploy to conquer the world succeeds. Something Loki doesn't seem to have considered.
In The Wheel of Time, the White Cloaks have a Trial Beneath the Light, in which judgement is dispensed by the accuser and accused fighting to the death. The White Cloaks, being Knight Templar, haven't used this particular trial in 400 years. And just to make sure the reader knows who's going to win: Eamon Valda, the accused, goes up to the Galad Damodred, the accuser, and mentions that Galad's stepmother was healthy when he last saw her and that "she was the best ride I ever had, and I hope to ride her again one day."
The Galahad quote above is referenced and mocked in Discworld:
Carrot: My strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure!
Angua: Really? Well, there's eleven of them.
Given what Carrot has been shown to be capable of (he once took on the entire crowd at the Drum, including a troll, and WON) it is possible this is true in his case.
The fantasy-medieval-Europe civilization of A Song of Ice and Fire has the "trial by combat" legend too. Most of the characters are too cynical to believe in it, but they're willing to play along with superstition when it's useful. Most 'trial by combat' so far has had "accurate" results, however, when Tyrion is on trial for killing King Joffrey, his sociopathic nephew, his champion faces off against the prosecution's champion, the card carrying villain Gregor Clegane. Clegane dies the slow, Karmic Death of a poisoned spear – but manages to bludgeon Tyrion's champion before dying, sentencing an innocent man to death.
The degree of "accuracy" is debatable. Aside from Tyrion's successful escape, Dunk has avoided punishment for the 'crime' of kicking the prince who deserved it, and we never find out if the Red Widow from the Sworn Sword was actually guilty, only that she loses the trial.
It's hard to say whether Dunk's case is playing this trope straight or not. He got in trouble because he wasn't familiar enough with the court or knightly etiquette. However, the trial by combat turned out the way it did for the same reason: he was losing badly until he started to fight dirty.
In T. H. White's The Once and Future King: played straight when King Arthur explains to Merlin that, while might doesn't make right, one ought to try to use might for right, and subverted, when Lancelot repeatedly defends Guinevere against accusations of unfaithfulness despite the fact that she really is unfaithful to her husband. With him.
In The Player of Games, Gurgeh pushes to victory in the final game against the Emperor because his playing style reflects the Culture's philosophical superiority to The Empire. But when the Emperor turns over the table and tries to kill him, Gurgeh prevails because of his incredibly deadly robot buddy rather than any innate rightness.
The violent reaction of the robot buddy epitomizes the Overpowered Space Hippies Philosophy of the Culture: they will remain tolerant and friendly and will even go as far as to hide their godlike power as long as you do not threaten them with a weapon. When you start threatening them, they start blowing up suns.
In Tamora Pierce's Tortall Universe, this is a common belief. The most notable example would be in the end of the second book of the Alanna series, "In The Hand of The Goddess". Alanna has evidence that the King's uncle is out for the throne; since she's a newly made knight, nobody really believes her. She's challenged to a duel, saying the winner will show who's the right one. While she wins by a mix of luck and genuine talent, its also because she is favoured by the Goddess.
In a short-story, this also seems to be the belief of an African-like tribe; when settling a dispute about a broken marriage vow, they feel the gods will let whoever was right win. In this case, the young girl who faught the older man won because she really had been practicing hard.
Subverted and mocked in the Protector of the Small books, when a now-deceased officer in the King's Own claimed that one Tortallan horseman was the equal of ten northern savages.
"Maybe they are. It's the eleventh savage that gets you."
wherfore should not strength & might There fail where Vertue fails, or weakest prove Where boldest; though to sight unconquerable?
Live Action TV
Virtually every installment of Super Sentai, and a lot of Power Rangers, use this, especially in the finale: The Rangers are overpowered, their base invaded, and the villains have all but won. But the Rangers believe so much in the rightness of their cause that they pull through anyway.
Mythology and Religion
The Bible - Played with - Gideon has an army of 22,000 that God says is too many because then Israel might think they won with their own strength rather than God's support, averting a possible Might Makes Right. There are only 10,000 left, and then God gives them ultimate Hebrew test of righteousness - ritual physical cleanliness. If they lap water from a stream like dogs instead of cupping it with their hands, they go home. There are only 300 men left and they triumph.
King Arthur spent the majority of his reign trying to dispel the idea that Might Makes Right and implement a legal system where Right Makes Might. Unfortunately, Mordred used this against Guinevere and Lancelot. King Arthur was forced to choose between the woman he loved and the system he had spent his life working on for the good of his people. If Arthur had abandoned his legal program, Lancelot could have taken Trial By Combat to avoid the charges but in doing so removed any support by both commoners and nobles for his plan, while the Right Makes Might would remove any advantage Lancelot or Guinevere had, but would prove his system was equal and truthful. In the end, he stuck with his ideal, and his new laws sentenced Guinevere to burn at the stake, which caused Lancelot to rebel, which signaled the end of Camelot.
This is a constant theme in Egyptian Mythology, resulting in nearly universally happy endings. The good guys (champions of order, justice, goodness, the gods, and Egypt) always triumph over the bad guys (fighting for rebellion, chaos, injustice, and anarchy) every time. Even when gods do things modern readers may object to, it's always depicted as unambiguously the right and just action, not because Might Makes Right, but because the gods (such as Re and Amun) are always good and always want what's best for the world. They always ensure the triumph of good, just mortals over bad, chaotic ones. Goodness, cosmic order, social order, justice, and monarchy are inextricably linked together as the concept/goddess of Ma'et, and it/she needs to be firing on all cylinders to prevent the sea of chaos from dissolving the whole universe. Thus, even violently putting down a rebellion against the Egyptian empire is supposed to be important for ensuring the stability of the cosmos. (Your enlightened conquerors obviously know what's best for you...)
The concept behind Classical China's Mandate of Heaven: if the Emperor is no longer righteous, then Heaven itself no longer backs him and the righteous people must seize the throne for the sake of everyone under Heaven.
Those who have attained to faith fight in the cause of God, whereas those who are bent on denying the truth fight in the cause of the powers of evil. Fight, then, against those friends of Satan: verily, Satan's guile is weak indeed!
In The Mahabharata a servant of Dritharashtra given the power to report all the events of the war to the blind king tells him that even though the Kauravas have a much larger army with more skilled warriors, the Pandavas' victory is inevitable because they are in the right. For the same reason, Arjuna defeats Karna despite being less skilled than him since Krishna is on his side. Even then, Karna's charity protects him from Arjuna's arrows until their karma was used up.
The source of the powers wielded by the SistersofBattle in the Warhammer 40,000 universe is never explained. All the other races' powers, whether they see them as religious, arcane or psychic in origin, actually ultimately derive from the Warp, which is anathema to the Sisters' religion. They're either unknowing hypocrites, or get their power from another source altogether.
True to the source material, the Star Wars d20 game makes Dark-side Force users advance in power more quickly than Light-siders, but have a lower cap, meaning that a high-level Light-sider has an edge.
A recurring bit in the Mega Man series, both games and other media, is Proto Man telling Bass that his obsessive desire to be the strongest robot is what keeps him from defeating Mega Man, who fights for the greater cause of protecting everyone. Bass never gets it.
In the computer game Freedom Force, the main hero, The Minuteman, actually says "Right Makes Might!" He's also your most damaging melee fighter (if not the sturdiest), so he is apparently right on that.
It was stated several times in Devil May Cry's continuity that the two sons of Sparda are perfectly equal in every way; power, ability, faces, etc. Naturally, Dante beats Vergil in their final clash, after having just awoken to justice. Keep in mind, in the same continuity, it also stated several times that Vergil has a much stronger control over his devil powers (specifically the devil trigger) and takes his training more seriously.
Super Robot Wars has an ability, called "Valor" or "Hot Blood", that doubles the damage of the next attack. Its use is balanced by its price: most most pilots can use it two or three times a stage at high levels. EverySuper Robot Warsseishin spell is something like this, from Courage and Love (essentially Last Disc Magic) to Trust (healing) to Hard Work and Luck (doubled rewards for killing). Which can produce interesting in-jokes - Noriko's first two seishin were, true to the spirit of Coach Oota, Hard Work and Guts!
In EarthBound, one of your party members has a Prayer ability that sometimes has random, minor effects on a battle, but it's also the only thing that's strong enough to defeat the final boss.
In Planescape: Torment, the character Vhailor embodies this trope. A "Mercykiller" who died long before the beginning of the game, he is now held together solely by his burning hunger for justice, and it is stated that his strength is equivalent to the degree of injustice that he's facing at the time - as can be seen if you choose him to resurrect at the final battle, where he'll gain ludicrous stat bonuses and utterly trample the final boss.
The final fight between Shirou and Kotomine in Fate/stay night is a mild example of this, pitting the former's ideal against a person who is the antithesis of that ideal and considers it idiotic. The Shirou/Archer fight in Unlimited Blade Works is a sheer endurance match for Shirou to try and defend his ideals against a man who was betrayed by the very same ideal and wants Shirou to give up on it. Finally, the trope is defied in Heaven's Feel where Shirou once again fights Kotomine but recognizes that he has long since lost any moral high ground and that the battle is merely that of two equally selfish and Not So Different wishes clashing against each other.
Many Star Wars stories turn out this way. Usually the light side of The Force is just better... because it is. Even if you are allowed to create the end yourself, you can be sure, that somewhere after this particular incident good will win anyway ('cause both Knights of the Old Republic took place before the prequels, where the good guys were in charge... more or less).
Enforced Trope by George Lucas's policy. In a Star Wars game, only the "Light Side" path is considered canonical. This prevented Obsidian from doing a Kill 'em All ending and forced them to prop up the Light Side path they were working so hard on deconstructing.
This is arguably a Justified Trope, in that the Dark Side canonically grants more raw power, but is toxic and self-destructive in the long run.
In the Double Dragon cartoon, the power of the Dragon was literally drawn on the strength of their belief that good was stronger than evil. They even had the phrase "For Right" "For Might" and they received armor that was tempered in the fire of Hope.
Downright inverted in Justice League, where a battle between Batman and Justice Lord Batman, his Fascist Evil Twin from another dimension, is interlaced with a debate between the virtues of the Justice Lords' fascist utopia and the free — but chaotic — world of the Justice League. Lord Batman wins through argument, just when Batman has gotten the upper hand. Batman wins round two — completely nonviolently this time.
Bionic-1 uses this exact phrase in a Bionic Six episode.
The eponymous Samurai Jack is a firm believer in (in his words) "the might of righteousness".
This is essentially how Lion-O is able to harness the power of the Sword of Omens in both ThunderCats and ThunderCats (2011). It repels evil, does not work in the hands of of selfish or misguided, but it does not hold back when Lion-O is fighting for the good of others.
At the same time, often plays out straight; the sort of system of government that will universally be regarded as "wrong" is typically not very effective at marshalling its resources and people over the long term.
And will always be invoked because history is Written by the Winners. It's only until years later when the emotional investment is gone that people look at the conflict objectively and realize that it's really Might Makes Right.
Abraham Lincoln, the original Trope Namer used this phrase in his 1860 speech at the Cooper Union in New York. After an hour and a half arguing that the logical extension of the founding father's actions was to outlaw the spread of slavery, he enters an impassioned climax that at his own suggestion was written in capital letters in the newspapers. "LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT." While the phrase might have been used before, it's almost certain that it had received very few standing ovations before this time.
Sun Tzu emphasized the importance of making one's followers believe that one's cause is in the right, as it greatly enhances their will to fight and bear hardships. Emphasis on 'making'.