Virtue Is Weakness

"Honesty is fatal, it should be taboo
Diligence a fate I would hate
If charity means giving, I give it to you
And fidelity is only for your mate."
Mordred, "The Seven Deadly Virtues", Camelot

Compassion, generosity, mercy, honesty, empathy, honor, loyalty, justice, friendship, and love. It is by these values by which people are able to cooperate and society is able to function.

One way to show a bad guy really Kick the Dog is to express his distaste for these virtues. It's not that he absolutely can't comprehend good; he understands exactly what goodness entails, and views it as an unnecessary burden that would hold him back. He sees goodness as nothing but a weakness to be exploited in others.

This is a very common subject of a Breaking Speech when the Big Bad is confronted by the hero. It's also common for the villain give a short speech about this when the hero is confronted with the choice of kiling the villain and refuses to kill him. The hero usually responds by it is from good where his strength comes and that it's through the power of goodness that a diverse species as humans were able to succeed. Depending on where the work falls on the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism, the hero may be vindicated...or not.

Belief in this is a telltale sign of being The Sociopath, or at least thinking It's All About Me. Cynically interpreted, one who believes this can be seen as the Übermensch. Or, alternatively, a Social Darwinist who sees empathy for others as a bad trait in favor of literal struggle between life and death. This can be one of the Jerk Justifications for a character to be a Jerkass with a Lack of Empathy. The Unapologetic may justify themselves for not apologizing by believing that remorse makes a person weak.

See also Straw Nihilist, who believes that good is pointless rather than a weakness (though it's not uncommon for many villains to believe both). Supertrope to Love Is a Weakness. Contrast Evil Virtues, where evil displays virtues/morals in order to be effective.


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     Anime And Manga 
  • Death Note: When Soichiro chooses to try to arrest Mello rather than kill him with the Death Note as Light expected him to do, despite the fact that Mello had kidnapped and traumatized Sayu, Light is annoyed and openly declares it an act of stupidity. Light's way of thinking comes back to bite him hard when, later on, he mocks Soichiro in front of his former assistant Matsuda and, in a fit of rage, Matsuda shoots Light's right hand, preventing him from writing into the Death Note.
  • It's a common theme for the villains of One Piece to share this sentiment, some of the best examples are:
    • Don Krieg from the Baratie Arc considers sympathy, pride, and honor as signs of weakness and is willing to kill anyone in his crew for showing it.
    • Crocodile and few Baroque Works officers during the Alabasta Arc sees camaraderie beyond professionalism and a common goal as a sign of weakness. Crocodile and Daz Bones now softened their view a bit.
    • Pre-timeskip Bellamy mocks Luffy for believing in his dreams, and the present is all that matters, he gets one good punch in the face for it.
    • The Time-Skip shows Hody Jones laughing at Princess Shirahoshi for not hating him while knowing that Hody was the real killer to his mother the whole time, because that would go against her mother's wishes. Speaking of which, Hody and his crew would see any of their fellow merfolk and fishmen attempting peace with the humans as traitors.
    • Vinsmoke Judge aka Sanji's father, is a firm believer of this. He considers Sanji feeding common folk — "rats", as he calls them — to be disgusting, as "royalty should never serve commoners" in his mind. He's also not big on mercy, believing that those with power have a right to brutalize the weak. The worst, and possibly most self-destructive part? He considers being a chef a worthless profession, certainly not one fit for "royalty." All his children, bar Sanji, share this mindset. It would seem none of them have heard the old adage "armies march on their stomachs."
  • Dragon Ball Z:
    • Freeza has nothing but disgust and contempt for Goku for showing mercy to him, and even goes so far as to mock him for it point-blank. In Resurrection 'F', he says that Gohan choosing not to kill any of his Mooks actually makes him sick.
    • Vegeta is a firm believer of this, to the extent that during the Buu Saga, he let himself be enslaved by Babidi's magic because he wanted to rid himself of the feelings he had developed for Earth and his family. By the end of the series, he realizes otherwise and has embraced virtues like love and friendship, though he's still in the Good Is Not Nice camp.
  • InuYasha: During the later part of the series, Naraku states outright that just seeing Inuyasha and his companions show mercy to Kanna, who he had sent on a Suicide Mission to kill them, actually makes him sick.
  • Gilgamesh from Nasuverse has a complicated view on this as he's canonically mocked and praised virtue, which seem to vary depending upon the person he's talking to.
    • In Fate/Zero, Gilgamesh at first sees Rider as a fool for challenging him for the Grail, but ultimately comes to view him as a Worthy Opponent upon seeing the strength of his convictions and his bonds of loyalty and friendship with his warriors. He even goes so far as to spare the life of Rider's Master Waver simply because his loyalty to his Servant/king was so strong, praising him for it. As for Saber, while he mocks her desire he does find a fascination for her convictions and willpower, as well as her stubborn refusal to ever be his, which is why he's attracted to her.
    • In Fate/stay night [Unlimited Blade Works], Gilgamesh defeats Berserker with ease because he wouldn't stop shielding Illya from his attacks. Gligamesh mocks him and says if Berserker had just abandoned the child to her fate and attacked him full force, he might have stood a chance. He also mocks Shirou and Rin for wasting time trying to save Shinji's life when killing him would have accomplished their goal faster (stopping him from being the host of the Holy Grail). In both these cases, he sees Illya and Shinji as beneath notice (Illya is an Artificial Human whose only purpose is to be the Grail, and Shinji is a pretty despicable human being) and wouldn't see why anyone would fight to save their lives.
  • Pokémon: During the Diamond and Pearl arc, Paul is firmly convinced that befriending one's Pokémon is a waste of time, and regularly abandons any Pokémon of his that he considers weak or doesn't meet his expectations. This bites him in the ass when Ash takes in a Chimchar he abandoned, raises it into an Infernape, and defeats him in the Pokémon league with it.
  • In Gate, Emperor Molto Sol Augustus shows contempt for Japan's policy of caring for and rescuing as many citizens as possible, unlike his Empire which doesn't care about "peasants" and will sacrifice as many men as needed to achieve victory. He declares that in spite of Japan's superior military might, their compassion is a sentimental weakness that can be exploited.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman. Jim Gordon's sociopathic serial killer son James Gordon Jr. believes that empathy is a weakness.
  • The Big Bad in the first Blacksad comic book is a notorious Corrupt Corporate Executive who murdered his mistress in cold blood and uses his vast wealth to place himself above the law. When Blacksad tracks him down to exact vengeance, the bad guy taunts him that he wouldn't dare to perform a Vigilante Execution because Blacksad is held down by his moral scruples. The villain prides himself on being so cold-blooded that he would do anything for power and his own gratification. Blacksad blows his brains out, noting afterwards that he wouldn't have been able to go through with it if for not for this display of sheer haughtiness.
  • Usagi Yojimbo: "What fools, who mistake honor for weakness." Usagi usually gets called a coward when he refuses to fight, in this case in a duel for other people to bet on with an opponent who is clearly not on Usagi's level because the guy needs money for his family and unbeknownst to him his "agent" knows exactly how good Usagi is and doesn't want to share the winnings.
  • Judge Dredd: In a prequel story it is shown that Judge Fire tracked down two Dark Judges who had gone rogue, one of whom was a female colleague that he was infatuated with. When he confronts them, he kills her sycophantic subordinate on the grounds that "love is a crime".

    Fan Works 
  • Queen Chrysalis in ''Metamorphosis'' not only doesn't understand why Twilight still fights for them, despite all of them having cold-heartedly left her, but is disgusted at the fact.
    • The sequel, Directions after Trixie is freed from the Alicorn Amulet, Olive Branch laughs at the idea that she would feel remorse over it.
    • In the same story, Chrysalis in her second appearance gave Rarity a Shut Up, Kirk! speech on how the Mane Five got over their guilt in the wedding over the past year.
  • Sonata in Turnabout Storm mentions feeling pity for others (in other words, compassion) as a weakness. There's a catch though: She doesn't see it a weakness of character, but as one in a pragmatic sense. Continuing with her blackmailer schemes became difficult when she started to realize how much damage she was causing to others.
  • In I Against I, Me Against You, The Director tells Celestia this after he reveals his intentions to hold Canterlot hostage with the Mother of Invention
    Director: Perhaps now you see the cost of letting your conscience take precedence?
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness: The original Falla had nothing but disgust and contempt for both Luna and Complica, her own sisters, for their Nice Girl attitudes; she even went so far as to send Complica to her death, deeming her a disgrace to the chronofly species for her kindness. Of course, as a whole, the chronoflies were a peaceful, reclusive race, with Falla as the main exception.
  • In the fics How We Met and Radiant Garden Renegades, set in the same universe as Kingdom Hearts 3: Final Stand, Orochi Mae repeatedly expresses disgust at his son Kaname's kindness and virtue, openly telling him as such and going so far as to commit suicide in front of him out of spite.
  • Pony POV Series: Makarov mocks Shining Armor for lacking the willingness to sacrifice his men to achieve victory.

    Film - Animated 

    Film - Live Action 
  • The Dark Knight Saga:
    • Batman Begins has Ducard trying to talk Bruce into executing a criminal during his martial arts training, arguing that Bruce's compassion is a weakness that his enemies will not share. Bruce counters that that's why compassion is so important, since it's what makes him different from his enemies.
    • In The Dark Knight, once Gotham's top crime bosses call a truce to take down Batman, they discuss the fact that Batman does not kill and how it is a reason to not really fear him at all. Batman later proves the mafia leader, Sal Maroni, wrong by dropping him from a non-lethal, yet quite painful height.
  • In Batman & Robin, Mr. Freeze zaps Robin, forcing Batman into a Sadistic Choice: "Chase the villain or save the boy." He concludes, "Emotion makes you weak. That's why the day is mine. I'll kill you next time."
  • This is more distaste for one virtue, but in The Karate Kid (1984), Sensei Kreese delivers a denigrating speech about mercy to his students.
    Mercy is for the weak. We do not train to be merciful here. If a man faces you, he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy.
    • This of course comes back to bite him in the rear. After a student is permanently banned from future competitions when he forces the kid to show "no mercy" in the climactic POINT SPARRING TOURNAMENT, followed by his vicious assault on his senior student for failure to win (and then his humiliating defeat at the hands of a most definitely merciful Miyagi), his students all leave him and the third film in the trilogy shows him bankrupt and ruined as a result.
  • In Man of Steel, Faora-Ul gives Superman a speech about this combined with rantings of social darwinism.
    Faora: You're weak, son of El. The fact that you possess a sense of morality and we do not gives us an evolutionary advantage. And if history has proven anything, it is that evolution always wins.
  • Superman II. During the battle in Metropolis Superman spends a lot of time saving people from falling debris. General Zod shares an observation with his fellow villain Ursa.
    General Zod: This "Superman" is nothing of the kind. I've discovered his weakness. He cares. He actually cares for these people.
  • In Flash Gordon, as Flash is going to be executed, Dale is crying. Ming the Merciless and his daughter have this exchange:
    Aura: Look! Water is leaking from her eyes!
    Ming: It's what they call "tears". It's a sign of their weakness.
  • Various Sith in the Star Wars universe believe that the Jedi's adherence to their Code (which promotes self-control and peaceful conflict resolution) is what makes them weaker than the Sith themselves (who give lip-service to valuing freedom from restraints above all else while being just as dogmatic and order obsessed in their own way as the Jedi).
  • In Downfall, Adolf Hitler gives a speech during one of the dinners in the bunker that he believes it is natural and right that the strong should kill off the weak, citing how apes bash in the skulls of smaller ones during fights. He calls compassion towards other people a "natural sin" and morality a human flaw. Although humorously enough, after giving this speech, he receives news that Himmler and his forces have surrendered to the advancing Anglo-American allies (who are certainly the "strong" in this situation) and flies into an explosive rage, calling him a traitor with no morals. A rather meta case of Moral Myopia.
  • In Alien, Ash expresses an admiration for the extra-terrestrial monster which is stalking and killing off the Nostromo's crew. He prizes it for being a remorseless predator who survives because it is "unclouded by delusions of morality".
  • The Third Man: This attitude is implicit throughout Harry Lime's speeches to Martins, especially on the Ferris wheel.
    Lime: Victims? Don't be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?
  • In Blade, Deacon Frost taunts Blade about his humanity, and escapes from him in one scene by throwing a little girl into traffic and forcing Blade to waste time saving her.
  • In Blade: Trinity, Drake also taunts Blade about his humanity, and escapes from him in one scene by throwing a baby into the air and forcing Blade to waste time catching him.
  • In Jonah Hex, Turnbull uses Lilah as a shield. Jonah cannot bring himself to risk shooting her and surrenders. Turnbull mocks him, saying his inability to sacrifice anyone to achieve victory is his weakness.
  • In Godzilla Final Wars, Ozaki holds back when sparring because he doesn't want to hurt his teammates and cares more about saving people than fighting the bad guys. His teammate Kazama angrily lectures him that his compassion is holding him back. Later, when Kazama is Brainwashed and Crazy, Ozaki defeats him without killing him. A grateful Kazama admits he was wrong before pulling a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • In A Knight's Tale, Adhemar calls William weak when he shows mercy to an injured jousting opponent.

  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish remarks that Eddard Stark's honorable nature is his greatest weakness even though he treats it as his armor. This comes back to bite Ned when Cersei Lannister and Littlefinger exploit that Good Cannot Comprehend Evil and capture him, leading to his public execution by the new king Joffrey.
    • This is a common belief that is passed down through the current Lannister family. Even the otherwise good-intentioned Tyrion considers honor to be a way to death.
    • It could even be argued that this is the central theme of the entire franchise.
  • Voldemort of Harry Potter considers love, friendship and anything related to compassion a weakness. And then does his damndest to prove his point by using these traits in other people as a weapon against them. Justified by his loveless upbringing and the fact that he is extremely powerful in areas of Black Magic that require you to genuinely want to hurt people, so being anything other than a remorseless sociopath would severely crimp his style.
  • Carcer, the Big Bad of Night Watch is basically convinced that morals and laws are just arbitrary lines in the sand that lesser people draw to pretend that they're safe, and hence, he can do whatever the hell he likes - he's a man who, if he wanted to know the time, would stab you to death and take your watch rather than simply ask you. Vimes doesn't take kindly to that way of thinking. Not at all.
  • The protagonist of The Secret Place by Tana French believes that friendship is a weakness. His point of view is partly influenced by the fact he grew up with people who wouldn't have supported his ambition to have a career in the police force. Not a villainous example, he does get some character development with regard to this attitude, too.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The A-Team, "Curtain Call". Col. Decker talks about how having one man wounded will make the A-Team's ability crumble as they try to save their injured member. He's right that it hampers them, but it doesn't stop them. Given that the "virtue" in question is loyalty to their injured friend, it overlaps with a platonic version of Love Is a Weakness.
    Col. Decker: [The A-Team] think as one, feel as one, and act as one. But with a wounded man in their midst, they cease to be that. The good of the unit becomes the good of an individual. And that will be their undoing.
  • Game of Thrones: Cleaving to virtues like love, honor, and justice comes at a very high price for several characters, but others use it to inspire Undying Loyalty from those around them.
  • Lionel Luthor in Smallville believes in this wholeheartedly, and he has been teaching this to his son Lex his whole life. Lex initially tries not to follow and to be genuinely good at first, but later on, everyone's constant rejection of his attempts at goodness leads him to gradually embrace his selfishness and exploitation of others.
  • In Lois & Clark, after Lex Luthor analyzes Superman through a series of tests of his strength and speed, he remarks to his servant that he has found the chink in his armor; the fact he has morals.
  • In The Big Bang Theory, once Sheldon Cooper realizes that his girlfriend Amy had been making him more compassionate and open-minded he goes and attempts to break up with her, realizing that she had been weakening the strength of his own values of stubborness and complete disregard for others' opinions.
  • Discussed in the "A Scandal in Belgravia" episode of Sherlock, with Sherlock asking his brother is his lack of caring about others is a good or bad thing.
    Sherlock: Look at them. They all care so much. Do you ever wonder if there's something wrong with us?
    Mycroft: All lives end. All hearts are broken. Caring is not an advantage, Sherlock.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Space Seed", when Marla McGivers asks to be excused from seeing her captain and the other officers executed, Khan comments, "I had hoped you would be stronger."
  • Doctor Who:
  • In The Flash (2014), while Leonard Snart/Captain Cold acquires a "cold generator" that allows him to hurt The Flash, he considers his real weakness to be his focus on saving people instead of beating the bad guy. Snart uses this to his advantage by derailing a train and forcing the Flash to save everyone, then attacking from behind while the Flash catches his breath.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer: As the Chaos Space Marines say it best, "Sanity... is for the weak!" Given that one of their gods is a literal embodiment of excess in every way, shape and form, they actually gain favor with him (her? It's complicated.) by corrupting the virtuous and the faithful. The others aren't much better, like the Chaos god of disease, plague and love being very generous with his gifts of boils and pestilence, while the god of backstabbers, mutants and sorcerers is hope incarnate. And then there's Khorne, who was the god of martial valor before becoming an enraged berserker who doesn't care if his followers, their enemies or non-combatants shed blood in battle note .
  • In Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Mercykillers from the Planescape campaign setting are zero tolerance on injustice. Their credo is that 'mercy is for the weak, and the merciful should be punished'- they preferred to exact brutal, final punishments for criminals, and viewed mercy as a weakness to be purged from the multiverse.
    • The Drow generally hold this belief, thanks in part to a goddess who thinks Chronic Backstabbing Disorder is the only way to live.
  • This is one of Black's traits in Magic: The Gathering. It rejects all virtues that won't help it reach it's own personal goals and ambitions; Black isn't necessary evil, but it doesn't care about morals.

  • In Camelot, Mordred sings a song called "The Seven Deadly Virtues", saying that courage, purity, honesty, humility, diligence, fidelity and charity are "ghastly little traps" fit only for those more foolish than he.

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 
  • At some point in Girl Genius, Gilgamesh Wulfenbach complains that every time he tries to be reasonable or show compassion, other people see it as weakness and attack him, forcing him to beat them up instead (in the process of doing exactly that). Then it clicks for him that the same happens to his father.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender, Ozai refers to Aang's unwillingness to kill him his weakness and tries to exploit it to kill Aang back. Of course, Aang uses his newly-acquired Chi-bending to render Ozai unable to firebend, which probably makes Ozai wish he was killed instead.
    • His daughter Azula shares the same sentiment as she scoffs at Long Feng's idea that they are Worthy Opponents.
    Long Feng: You've beaten me at my own game.
    Azula: Don't flatter yourself. You were never even a player.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "The Return of Harmony", Discord manages to emotionally break the mane six (right before hypnotizing all but Twilight) by explaining how the virtues represented by the elements of harmony are weaknesses. Specifically, honesty causes others to know things you don't want them to know, laughter hurts the feelings of the one being laughed at, kindness opens yourself up to being abused by others, generosity prevents you from getting the things that you want, loyalty means nothing when you can't be in two places at once and have to choose between two loyalties, and in general harmony is pointless as its own elements lead it to collapse on itself.
  • In the short Education for Death, a German boy's teacher is horrified when he expresses sympathy for a rabbit killed by a fox in a story. Instead he claims that the fox is to be admired and the rabbit hated because according to the Nazis, Might Makes Right. After being the class fool for a day, Hans becomes a fanatic who screams that he wishes the rabbit would die.
  • David Xanatos, from Gargoyles had to ally himself with the heroes to save his fiancee, and after succeeding Xanatos said that love was his only weakness. Goliath is sick to hear this.
    Xanatos: So now you know my weakness.
    Goliath: Only you would regard love as a weakness.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012): In the episode "Requiem," Shredder outright tells Splinter that he views Splinter's compassion as a weakness Shredder himself lacks.
    Shredder: Your weakness is that you care about others. I have torn all weaknesses away and become all powerful.
  • The Powerpuff Girls: The episode "Bubblevicious" does this for laughs with a Shout-Out to the Karate Kid example listed above:
    Small Harmless Dog: Bubbles.. have mercy..
    Bubbles: Mercy is for the weak!! [WHAM]

  • People on The internet often use the term "virtue signalling" to disparage anyone who uses their utter, undeniable goodness as a justification for harmful actions or beliefs.
  • Adolf Hitler is on record saying that humanitarianism was a form of stupidity, as he wanted to eliminate all the "inferior" races of the world and populate it with pure-blooded Aryans.
    • Then there's his approach to geopolitics. He saw everyone else as a land-grabbing empire who would turn on each other if they smelled weakness; for example he expected the US to gobble up British possessions in the Americas if the homeland fell, and the British to do the same to French colonies in Africa. This of course didn't happen.