"There is no right or wrong apart from what you decide. Who you choose to defend deserves to be defended simply because you chose them. You are the Fire Lord. What you choose, by definition, is right."
Considering all the puppy-kicking the Knight Templar gets into, sooner or later another good character is going to get the courage to ask him something. Considering how petty and mean he acts, often toward people who have only committed minor crimes, and how many event horizons he's crossed, how can he really be a "good" character?
The answer is simple. His actions are good becauseheis good.
That headache you're feeling right now is the mounting frustration most characters feel at the realization that they're dealing with a Tautological Templar, a character who has been radicalized to a cause for so long that he can't fathom the idea that he could commit immoral actions. Alternatively, this could be an outright villain who is deluded enough that they can justify completely selfish behavior as being for the greater good, such as claiming that The Hero is the evil one because they keep foiling their plans which are, of course, going to make the world a better place, because they are the ones who will be running it.
Tautology is a term meaning that something is true in every possible interpretation; a Tautological Templar, then, is a character who can justify absolutely any sort of behavior to themselves because no matter what it was, they are arrogant, fanatical, or Ax-Crazy enough to interpret it as being the right thing.
This character may look like a Hypocrite (he probably is, but he’s too stupid, self-righteous, deluded, or willfully ignorant to understand it), but in reality he's far more dangerous than that. Because he can't comprehend the concept of Moral Dissonance, he will throw himself into any struggle with the same force, conviction, and resolve that The Hero shows against the Big Bad. That's because in his worldview, every enemy he has is twirling a handlebar moustache, madly cackling while tying orphans to the railroad tracks — even if said enemy turns out to beThe Hero himself.
Can often come about unintentionally as a result of a Designated Hero, most often when a writer is trying to rationalize the character's action but is having trouble doing so. A Well-Intentioned Extremist may also be one of these, provided he's genuinely oblivious to the suffering he's caused in the name of the greater good.
In general, if you feel inclined to put on a page "Well-Intentioned Extremist: thinks he is this", then you are probably dealing with this trope.
Sometimes related to What Is Evil?; People generally don't think of themselves as evil, but following the true way. In Real Life, this may result from cognitive dissonance, the psychological discomfort produced by holding beliefs that conflict with one's actions. In order to relieve this discomfort, people may subconsciously modify their beliefs to justify their actions.
A form of It's All About Me mixed with Never My Fault and Obliviously Evil. Such characters are also prone to Believing Their Own Lies. If the Designated Hero is called out for acting this way, it's What the Hell, Hero? See also Super Dickery, For Great Justice!, Lawful Stupid, Holier Than Thou, and Ron the Death Eater for when the hero really is a hero, but fans see him this way.
If a character comes across this way despite the author's intentions, you might have a case of Protagonist-Centered Morality. Compare Hitler Ate Sugar, an equally flawed argument that any given action is bad because the person doing that action is a bad guy.
A subset of Moral Myopia.
Tousen from Bleach is revealed to be this, though not too surprising as he'd turned out to be The Mole and had long appeared to be a Knight Templar anyway. It was known that he became obsessed with justice when a friend of his was murdered by her Shinigami husband who managed to get away with the crime; it transpires that the reason he turned against Soul Society was for revenge (he has previously implied it was because Utopia Justifies the Means, though this was still somewhat true), believing that forgiveness of any sort was a mockery of justice and feeling he was completely entitled to take revenge on Soul Society and all of its inhabitants, even if that means helping the Big Bad become a god and not really worrying about the countless innocent lives he was killing or planning to kill along the way.
Code Geass has its share in the Holy Britannian Empire, but no more so than Suzaku Kururugi who argues that change by "the wrong means" is meaningless.
Light Yagami of Death Note has the following to say on the subject: "Me? Evil? I am JUSTICE! Those who oppose me—they're the evil ones!" Contrast L, who readily admits when he engages in Dirty Business. There's also Light/Kira's followers-when Misa is introduced even Light thinks she goes too far when she kills innocent newscasters and police officers for just speaking out against Kira. That in itself is in an instance of templar tautology because Light did more or less the same thing when he killed FBI agents but naturally it's only okay when he does it. When Misa tries to defend her actions and dares to ask "isn't that what you did?" Light sends her a withering Death Glare and seems angrier that she called him on it than the fact that she killed people. Then there's Mikami—when Mikami's mother scolds him for fighting with the bullies at school Mikami decides she's an enemy of justice and when his mother and the bullies all die in a car accident he thinks that means that God is looking out for him. He takes the Kira mission even further that Light and Misa, killing reformed criminals and lazy people in the name of justice.
In Rosario + Vampire, Gin gives a perfect definition of this trope in relation to Kuyou: "Kuyou is the kind of guy who mistakenly believes that, without a doubt, everything he does is for the sake of justice. Anyone who goes against him is going against justice and is an evildoer, and he believes that he can do anything for his own sake, because he is justice."
In the Avatar: The Last Airbender comic The Promise Ozai thinks that the Fire Lord is always right just because he is the Fire Lord, therefore already given permission by the divine powers.
In Green Lantern, the Guardians of the Universe fall into this behavior on their worst days. It became worse and worse over Geoff Johns' run on the series until it came to a head in Rise Of The Third Army, wherein they decide that the problems of the universe are caused by emotion itself, and thus Emotion Suppression and removal of The Evils of Free Will will remove the problems. This is in the face of the fact that the problems of the previous two armies were pretty much entirely their own fault. The Manhunters were created by them (and replaced by the extremely similar and also eventually evil Alpha Lantern Corps), and the Green Lantern Corps were led by misinformation and factors completely beyond their control, with their last "problem" being that one of them managed to kill a rogue Guardian.
Lex Luthor sometimes has this attitude with Superman, especially evident in Lex Luthor: Man of Steel. He justifies his crusade to bring down the hero by proclaiming that Superman, as a godlike alien, is a menace to humanity who impedes our progress by dint of his existence, and more crudely that Luthor is capable of solving all the Earth's problems but he can't until Superman is dead, and to be more specific dead at his hands. Doesn't seem to have any problem teaming up with other aliens like Brainiac, even if those aliens really are out to enslave us all and make no secret of the fact. His supposed belief in the potential and value of humanity also doesn't seem to stop him from planning atrocities which, in attempting to destroy or 'expose' Superman, usually ratchet up a pretty hefty body count in human life in the process.
Ra's Al Ghul is going to make the world a better place, so in the meantime he should be treated like God. Notably, he is trying to murder billions of people so that his family can inherent the Earth, on his terms as well.
Chief Justice Tyrest is clearly this during the events of Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, declaring their actions perfectly valid, legal, and the right thing to do, guided by their beliefs but self-justified using their role in the justice system. Let's quickly point out that this is the same individual who believes indiscriminate genocide will somehow absolve him of his guilty conscience, and actually carries out that plan.
Until he is defeated at the end, Titan, the Big Bad of the Friendship Is Magic fanfic The Immortal Game, never stops to think that maybe, JUST MAYBE, he's the one being an overall self-righteous bastard. All he really seems to care about is (A) what he claims to be the "natural order" and (B) all of ponykind acknowledging that he is their GOD simply because he says he is.
In 3 Slytherin Marauders, Neville gains this twisted worldview as a result of both nature (his mother, Alice was a Knight Templar) and nurture (he grew up resenting Harry Potter and living in constant fear of his life from his Evil Uncle Algie.) No matter what he does, he is justified in his own mind, and no matter what anyone says or does, he believes that Harry is evil.
Films — Animated
Frollo in the Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame more or less believes that he is God's favourite person in the entire world, and that he is incapable of doing anything wrong. Thus, everything he does — up to and including rape, murder and genocide — has the blessing of God, because Frollo is doing it.
Explored in the novelization of Episode III. While debating Palpatine in the balcony seats of the Mon Calamari Ballet on Sith vs. Jedi philosophy, Anakin's only answer to why the Sith are wrong is eventually "Jedi are GOOD. That's the difference!" and can't point to any specific reasons supporting his assertion.
Subverted in Serenity. The Operative readily admits that he's a monster, and that there won't be a place for him in the "better world" for which he's killed so many.
Catch-22 has Sgt. Milo Minderbinder, who believes Capitalism is the ultimate expression of good, and as such will do anything up to and including getting his own squadmates killed to promulgate it. It's Blue and Orange Morality enough (as far as we know, he's completely honest in this belief) that it's still possible to like him somewhat, unlike other antagonists such as serial rapist Captain Aardvark.
Lady Lilith in Witches Abroad. She runs a police state and feeds people to stories to increase her personal power. But her understanding of her own story is that she's the fairy godmother, and Granny Weatherwax is the wicked witch, and therefore everything she does is okay.
This is discussed a number of other times in the Discworld series, mostly by Vimes but also by Granny Weatherwax and the wizards. Some character will suggest an action and justify it 'because we're the good guys', only to have it pointed out that being the good guys depends on not doing certain things.
Vetinari nails it in The Last Hero when he concludes that Cohen the Barbarian is supposedly "heroic" when he commits theft or arson because it's Cohen the Barbarian doing it.
Noting later, however:
"Even barbarian heroes generally draw the line at blowing up the world.. .they're generally not civilised enough for that."
Also, Cohen the Barbarian does fit how "hero" was defined back when Beowulf was written.
The cunningargument for why the Unseen University's Department of Post-Mortem Communications is absolutely not necromancy is that only bad wizards do necromancy. One of the determining features of whether a wizard is bad or not is... whether they do necromancy. Because they're not bad wizards, what they're doing cannot be necromancy.
However, Dr. Hix, the head of Post-Mortem Communications, is allowed (even required), by university statute, to be slightly evil (on the playing pranks and cheating at cards level). It also allows him to fill the role of doing necessary but slightly ambiguous things, like knocking out a possessed Archchancelor, and part of his job is hunting down unofficial evil wizards.
Inverted by lord Vetinari. To him, everyone is evil (or at least bad), it's just that some people are less evil than others.
In Night Watch, Vimes acknowledges that how he justifies bending the rules is that it's him doing it — and that this isn't a good reason, because people like Carcer use the same reasoning. Vimes, at least, watches himself very carefully to make sure he doesn't truly cross the line.
Black Dow, a Card-Carrying Villain, accuses Barbarian Hero Logen Ninefingers, the "Bloody Nine", of being this, and says it makes him even worse than him because he is capable of absolutely anything and Even Evil Has Standards, such as when he slaughters a couple of kids and his own allies in the middle of a siege after the enemy breaks through, and thinks nobody noticed. Subverted though, since in fact Logen is just a Jerk with a Heart of Gold who happens to have a Superpowered Evil Side that is the real source of his wicked reputation and (most of) his evil deeds, including the above, and he just doesn't want anyone to know that both out of fear that his allies would turn on him because he's too dangerous, and conversely because even his allies are nearly all former enemies and he worries that, even though he is a formidable warrior in his own right, they might turn on him because he's not as dangerous as they all thought he was.
In The Redemption of Althalus, at one point a priest is burning local girls for witchcraft, since they use it to put shameful and lusty thoughts and urges in his head. He's convinced that they must be using wicked magic for this, since he's too pure to experience those things — the idea that he's just having the normal male reaction to pretty girls doesn't even occur to him. It's rather frightening when you realize how long he's been doing it without anyone stopping him. It's even more frightening when you realize that after the heroes have rescued his latest victim (because they needed her for their group) and she gives him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech, they leave without stopping him permanently. Wait, what?
The Big Bad of the Safehold series, Zahspahr Clyntahn, is the Grand Inquisitor of the Church, so in his mind anyone who opposes him must be evil. He comes up with all kinds of propaganda about his enemies to justify his atrocities, and he actually believes the lies he himself invents, which the other characters (including most of his allies) find incredibly disturbing.
Big Jim Rennie in Stephen King's Under the Dome. He is afflicted with a particularly bad case of Moral Myopia. God intends for him to lead and protect the town... no matter how many townspeople need to die to make it happen. As far as he's concerned, the town of Chester's Mill is his by divine mandate, anything that threatens his absolute control of the town threatens the town itself, and any action up to and including murder and inciting a riot is justified if it helps him stay in control. To wit: it doesn't matter how bad for the town it is, if it's good for Jim Rennie, it's good for the town.
In Villains by Necessity, the side of Good is actually pretty damned evil. Not only is the world becoming "mystically unbalanced" by their actions, but they've turned it into a horrible theocratic dictatorship and most of them still insist that they are Good and all who oppose them are Evil. The so-called "heroes" are also pretty blasé about rape—at least when they're the one's doing it.
Warhammer40000: Just about every Radical Inquisitor is in danger of (eventually) becoming this. The important distinction between Radicals and Puritans (who will happily nuke a planet if the slightest whiff of heresy is found) is that the Radicals are willing to tread the thin line between heresy and non-heresy (as dictated by the Imperial Creed), as well as turn the tools of the enemy against it, e.g. Chaos against Chaos (daemonically possessed weapon and hosts, etc). Of course, many such Radicals are overconfident enough to always think they can control it, fall under the Daemon's control without realizing it, and then get surprised/outraged when another Inquisitor comes to investigate and/or assassinate them.
Of course there are also many different types of radicals. Xanthians may risk becoming this while Oblationists already are ones. Others such as the Seculous Attendos and Xeno Hybris completely dive into heresy because they believe that the Imperial Creed is actually holding humanity back and therefore aren't an example. The main reason these two forms aren't is because they don't try to use chaos. Seculous Attendos want the Imperium to become secular while Xeno Hybris think that humanity is better off trying to cooperate with Xenos (who don't have the corrupting abilities of Chaos).
This is the path to damnation for several darklords in Ravenloft, most notably Elena Faith-hold. She routinely slaughters entirely villages, convinced that she is "cleansing evil from the world."
Assassin's Creed: When they are not just in it for the power, the Templars are literally this. Why are Templars' Creed good? Because they strong-arm the world from falling into chaos, but only if it's them who gets to exercise being heavy-handed. If it's by anyone else, it will breed chaos! Best exemplified by Dr. Warren Vidic, who believes that his actions are not only pardonable, but righteous all along — unlike "those Assassins, who only take and take."
Since the demons in Disgaeainsist they're evil no matter how much good they do, multiple villains have served as their foil by insisting in their goodness no matter how much evil they do. Aurum in the third game is a particularly spectacular example: having killed the last and most powerful demon overlord, he's spent two hundred years molding a young demon into the "perfect overlord" for him to fight and defeat. He thinks he has to do this, because without villains, heroes are no longer relevant. Not until the very end does he realize that, since he's trying to create a threat to humanity, he's now a villain.
Knight-Commander Meredith of Dragon Age II is probably the best example. She gets worse as the game progresses partially due to the influence of her red lyrium sword, but believes she is always in the right because she is keeping people safe from blood mages and demons.
By Act III, she's decided that anyone who disagrees with her at all is a mind-controlled blood mage puppet. Every decent Templar still alive has realized she's batshit insane, but they're all far too afraid of her to speak out. Thrask tries to form a mage-templar alliance to depose her, but picks exactly the wrong person to be his right hand. When Meredith goes completely off the deep end, the entire Templar Order (except Cullen, and possibly Carver) runs out of sight and lets Hawke's group do all the work.
The Templars will execute anyone who is a mage but not a member of the Circle of Magi, because there is a chance that they may know forbidden magic. However, they are revered as heroes since they are the militant wing of the setting's dominant religion.
In Knights of the Old Republic, Jolee Bindo argues that the Jedi believe that since they follow the Light Side of the Force, that they can do no wrong. In the sequel, Atris unknowingly falls to the Dark Side because of the extreme methods she used to lure out the Sith.
Samara in Mass Effect 2. Her philosophy as a Justicar is that so long as she follows her Code, all of her actions are just, even when that action happens to be killing a helpless enemy simply for refusing to give her information or potentially killing a police officer for being ordered to take Samara into custody.
Samara's arguably a subversion given that she is more than willing to use loopholes in her Code to keep from having to kill the aforementioned officer. When talking to her about the Code, it's obvious that she knows that her Code is not necessarily the "good" way, but it is her way.
Team Plasma from Pokémon Black and White is against people owning Pokemon, but one of the grunts stated that it is perfectly okay if Team Plasma has Pokemon. In the end, subverted; Team Plasma want people to release their Pokemon so that Team Plasma are the only ones with Pokemon, which in that setting would make them the most powerful people in the world.
Shin Megami Tensei: The Law faction invariably has a few of these. YHVH, in His worst moments, dives straight into this.
The Pope from Tales of Symphonia believes that all half elves deserve to be executed or be slaves because he's The Pope, he never gives any further explanation than he's the Pope; he doesn't even care that The Chosen, a centerpoint of the religion, disagrees, because HE'S RIGHT. Essentially, he bases his racism entirely on being The Pope. His DAUGHTER is a half-elf, and that didn't stop him from putting her in a chamber because that's just how things are!His daughter IS the reason he hates half-elves. He started out on the half-elves' side until his daughter was born, and after she grew up, then stopped aging, he "realized" how different half-elves really were from humans, and it terrified him. Xenophobia at it's worst.
Siegfried in Dominic Deegan, "Oracle for Hire", starts as one of these.
Not just him, either. This seems to be the modus operandi for all of the Knights of Callan.
Paladin Miko Miyazaki from The Order of the Stick ends up being one of these, though at first this impression appears to have been wrought from circumstance. Time and again, she is portrayed as believing Violence Really Is the Answer in regards to even minor crimes, shows hypocrisy about lawfulness in battle, and must be given multiple commands by her legitimate lord, Shojo, to even consider taking a less extreme course of action. This finally reaches its head when she kills Lord Shojo, believing him to be the head of some nefarious anti-good conspiracy. Even when stripped of her paladin powers by good-aligned Gods, she still refuses to believe she's crossed the line, instead concluding that she's facing an even more elaborate conspiracy and the stripping of her powers is some sort of trial.
Paranatural gives us Isaac's spirit, some kind of weather elemental with an interesting definition of moral righteousness.
Montezeusma: "GOOD" is what EVIL FEARS—and JUSTICE is when YOU MAKE THOSE FEARS A REALITY!
Ćon Flux: Trevor Goodchild honestly believes that he can transform Ink City into a better place — a New Bregna — if he can just eliminate The Evils of Free Will. He is so convinced that his cause is just that when Wakko Warner and Don crash in and find him about to do horrible things to their brothers, he actually tries to convince them it's for the best. Needless to say, neither one buys it.
Worm discusses this quite a bit. The protagonist is a "villain", but is a much better person than many of the self-professed heroes, who range from narcissistic jerks to one of the very bullies who made her life miserable, unlocking her powers in the first place. Meanwhile, other "villains" fell into their situations by happenstance or just generally being victims of someone else, or were offered a job by another villain, and many are agreeable, polite and kind in their own ways.
Stan Smith from American Dad!! is always confident that his way (which is often shockingly bigoted, even by his own family's standards) is the good, righteous, and just way, by simple virtue of being his way. He often comes around by the end of an episode, but the show actually lampshades how the lesson never sticks. As a gung-ho CIA agent, he also feels this way about the United States itself — he doesn't believe that America can do no wrong so much as he believes that anything it does is justified by being America. Although ironically, despite his Aesop Amnesia, Stan has undergone more Character Development (along with Characterization Marches On) than anyone else on the show; in later seasons, this aspect of his character is less habitual and more a series of Compressed Vices.
Demona from Gargoyles wants to Kill All Humans because she blames them for enslaving and wiping out her species, specifically the eponymous clan she used to belong to, and for all the persecution she personally has suffered. All of that was entirely her fault, though it transpires that there actually are other Gargoyles in hiding around the world anyway. In truth, Demona has always hated humans, deeming them inferior and resenting how her clan was serving them (when in fact it was much more like a mutually beneficial alliance), and her poorly thought-out plan to "free" them is what got most of them killed in the first place. Her problems stem from a serious case of Moral Myopia combined with Evil Cannot Comprehend Good, and she can't (or rather, refuses to) fathom why her old clan keeps trying to defeat her.
In one South Park two-parter, EricCartman, in the guise of his "superhero" Secret Identity The Coon, manipulated Cthulhu (yes, that Cthulhu) into working for him and used it to kill and destroy everyone and everything he didn't like (and then got mad when Cthulhu was getting all the media credit), justifying it by saying that he was making the world a better place. When Kenny, as the superhero Mysterion, confronts him and angrily tells him that he's only making a better world for himself, Cartman simply and in all honesty just says "Yes, that's what heroes do", and didn't really get Kenny's point. He seriously thought Kenny and the other boys were only trying to stop him out of jealousy.
The Malleus Maleficarum uses such "reasoning" as a proof that the witches do actually fly on broomsticks and cast evil spells, rather than it happens in their imagination, as per some more reasonable claims. It goes like this: "If they didn't do those things in reality, there'd be no reasons for us to burn them. But we couldn't possibly be wrong on this accord, hence they do fly on broomsticks in reality. Burn the Witch!!"
This was endorsed by the church at the time, but a later (and presumably saner) pope cited it as a reason the whole witch-hunt thing was insane and declared the book heretical. By the time of the Spanish Inquisition (one of the last) accusing your neighbor of being a witch would get you arrested (or at least lectured heavily) for the heresy of believing in witches
Frost: So what in a sense, you're saying is that there are certain situations... where the President can decide that it's in the best interests of the nation or something, and do something illegal.
Nixon: Well, when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.
Frost: By definition.
Nixon: Exactly. Exactly.
That script specifically is more a self-assumed (by the president) case of To Be Lawful or Good, since illegal doesn't necessarily mean evil.
Signing Statements are a key mechanism that permits this. Bills passed by Congress must be signed into law by the President (or have his/her veto overridden), and it's common to add a statement describing what the President considers the law to mean and how it will be implemented. Congress often passes extremely vague laws, so clarification from the executive is useful... but recent Presidents have begun to take rather unusual views of what laws mean and how they should be implemented. Like that laws don't affect members of the Executive Branch when they don't want them to. Nowadays this happens depressingly often.