Most of the modern world is built on the principles that justice is blind and that no man is above the law. Thing is, much as those principles are great, they rely on someone being willing and able to enforce the law. This trope is what happens when there's nobody who can or will.
Maybe someone has a bigger army than the police, maybe they have a nuke buried under a major city, maybe they just have superpowers that render them nigh-invincible, but in any case they are free to break any law they want without fear of any sort of official justice.
More formally, this is known as the "Argumentum ad Baculum"note or the Appeal to Force, whose logic goes essentially thus: "I'm right, and if you disagree, I will physically harm you." The fact that this is obviously not valid doesn't stop it from being persuasive. The phrase "talk shit, get hit", while crude, is one of the most common real-life applications of this particular fallacy.
Some political theorists consider this to be the basis of all law and ethics. The idea is that laws are just rules enforced by the threat of violence — they don't have to be good or noble, they just have to threaten you if you break them. Hence why anybody can get away with useless, inefficient and silly laws if the legislators have the weapons. Needless to say, this argument is rather on the cynical side of the sliding scale, and one of the most popular themes of a totalitarian dystopia, though that doesn't necessarily make it untrue.
Of course, there is a catch. Unless you have the ability to live without sleeping and eating, sooner or later you have to put down the weapon. If you're the biggest badass in the room, there's always the risk that somebody will slit your throat from behind. If your gang of supporters will avenge your death...that leaves you with the need to keep your gang happy. Plus, there's always the problem of old age... Besides which, while you may be able to convince people that you're right just by being more powerful than them, nature is not so forgiving: you can threaten people all you like to extort everything they have from them, but you can't take from them what they don't have, and threats will not make goods appear out of nothing.
See also 2 + Torture = 5, An Offer You Can't Refuse, Fisticuff-Provoking Comment, Hobbes Was Right, Might Makes Right, Shoot the Shaggy Dog, Screw the Rules, I Have Supernatural Powers!, Sexual Extortion, Questionable Consent, and Sword of Damocles. Frequently the next step after Screw the Rules, I Make Them! does not work.
- Subverted in Get Backers' IL arc: The hacker Makube X tries to threaten the God of Infinity Fortress with a literal nuke (not concerned about the fact that Tokyo would be destroyed in the process) but is defeated by the titular heroes. As Kazuki points out, it never would have worked — no matter how powerful you are, God always holds all the cards.
- In Code Geass, Prince Schneizel's master plan to bring about world peace with Sky Fortress Damocles essentially comes down to this. So in his case, it would be "Screw the rules, I have a lot of F.L.E.I.J.A.!"
- In Naruto, Pain wanted the nuke in the form of a powerful jutsu.
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: This is actually the ultimate goal of Kuze's plan. Once the rebels have nukes, the government can't refuse to grant them independence.
- However the government is willing to just drop a nuke on the revolting and claim it was the rebels messing up building a homemade atomic bomb.
- Death Note: Light Yagami takes full advantage of the Death Note to kill criminals and those who would interfere with his plans, working as an anonymous God and walking deterrent. Within six years, all wars stop and the global crime rate drops by 70% because everyone's scared of being killed by Kira.
- Pokémon: The First Movie's Mewtwo is more "Screw The Rules, I Am A Nuke, and an infinitely reusable one at that".
- This rules the world in Fist of the North Star, in every single village on the planet, until Kenshiro visits and kills all the bad dudes.
- In chapter 5 of Savior of Demons, Goku, in trying to understand why Frieza is the way he is, asks him why he couldn't just change the rules — after all, he's so strong, nobody could tell him no, right? Frieza tells him that it would be suicidal, even for him, suggesting that he's not the biggest fish in the galactic pond, at least in terms of influence.
- Forum of Thrones: This is implied to be Hobert's back-up plan in case he would not manage to secure Raylansfair for House Lowther. The presence of Argella Durrandon and her troops kind of ruined this plan for him, but even without her, it is highly questionable if it would have ever succeeded.
- Aegon Targaryen has absolutely no legal right to the kingdoms of Westeros. However, what he does have are three adult dragons, capable of raining fire and death down on the woefully underequipped Westerosi armies, establishing him as a major power player only weeks after his landing.
- In My Huntsman Academia, Weiss has to talk Izuku down from overworking and hurting himself when he offers to get a job on top of his already busy schedule and tendency to break his own limbs. She makes him hold to his promise not to strain himself by threatening to hurt him if he doesn't.
- In Django Unchained, Candie tries to get Django to blow his cover by discussing phrenology, even sawing the skull of his father's favorite slave open while talking on the "inferiority" of black brains in an attempt to disgust Django. It doesn't work, so he moves on to threatening to bash in Broomhilda's skull with a hammer. That works.
- Star Wars:
- A New Hope: The Death Star was explicitly built for this purpose, as Grand Moff Tarkin explains: a planet that refuses to submit to the rule of the Empire will be destroyed. Demonstrated when Tarkin threatens to destroy Princess Leia's home planet of Alderaan if she doesn't give him the location of the Rebel base... and then blows it up anyway to prove to every other planet that he can carry the threat out.
- The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader keeps changing the terms with Lando Calrissian, knowing that with the Empire holding all the cards, he doesn't have to keep his word. This backfires, as Lando decides that if Vader won't keep his word to him, then he's got no reason to hold up his end, either, and so helps Leia and Chewbacca escape.
Darth Vader: I am altering the deal. Pray that I do not alter it any further.
- Return of the Jedi shows that thermal detonators (literally nuclear fusion grenades) make for great negotiation tools.
- The Last Jedi: Kylo Ren and General Hux are arguing about who gets to be Supreme Leader of the First Order with Snoke dead. By which we mean, Kylo Ren says he's Supreme Leader, Hux starts to argue about it, and Ren gives him a Force-Choke to shut him up. (Which makes this Appeal to The Force...)
- Discussed in Dr. Strangelove. When asked why the Soviets would build the Doomsday Machine, a device that could wipe out all life on Earth, the doc explains that the aforementioned implications would deter any attack on the Soviets by enemy powers. Unfortunately, the Soviets failed to tell the rest of the world that they just plugged in the Doomsday Machine, leading to The End of the World as We Know It.
- The Patriot. Col. Tavington does this in his introductory scene. When Benjamin Martin tries to reason with him about his brutal conduct by citing the Rules of War, Tavington responds by aiming a pistol at his head (an unarmed civilian, natch) and asks him if he would "like a lesson in the rules of war". Then he points it at Martin's children. Tavington's own superior is disgusted with his methods, though he still eventually decides they're necessary to defeat the rebels, and thus save his career (not that it works).
- Scanners: When the psychic protagonist Cameron Vale infiltrates ConSec's computer system through the telephone lines, Revok's mole within ConSec orders a computer technician to wipe their whole system in an attempt to hurt Cameron. The technician initially refuses to do so because that kind of data loss can only be authorized by the company's board of directors. The mole's response is to shove a gun in the guy's face.
Mister, this is your authorization.
- There's a scene in Serenity when a guard at the bank the crew is robbing asks for a password. Jayne fires his machine gun.
- In Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th, during a game of strip poker, the pizza delivery guy doesn't want to lose a piece of company clothing because it's against rules. He complies after Officer Doughy whips out his gun and gives him a Death Glare.
- In My Fellow Americans, the fugitive ex-Presidents hitch a ride with some illegal aliens being smuggled across the border. They're discovered by both the INS (in ordinary police helicopters) and the Government Conspiracy (in military attack helicopters) at the same time. There's some Jurisdiction Friction between the two groups, which a conspiracy chopper deftly solves by firing a missile across the INS's nose.
INS Pilot: Authorization received. Have a nice day.
- In the 1968 film version of The Lion in Winter, King Philip of France complains to King Henry II of England over some territory the latter has taken from him, asking by what right he holds it. Henry cheerfully replies "It's got my troops all over it-that makes it mine."
- This exchange from Sinbad the Sailor:
Yusuf: She bears no mark.
Sinbad: Nonsense! All ships bear identity! It's the law of the sea!
Yusuf: Law? What law is stronger than strength?
- In Eraser, Kruger tells The Mafia that The Mafiya are buying secretly-developed weapons from a government contractor. They don't care until he mentions that it's happening on their docks. Since it's their turf, they head to the docks but are stopped by heavily-armed guards. The Mafia guys pretend to be members of the dockworkers' union, demanding their cut. The guard captain simply tells them to get lost and indicates his assault rifle. He gets distracted by Kruger making noise and is promptly beaten down by the mob.
"Don't mess with the union!"
- Nineteen Eighty-Four introduced and popularized the concept of 2 + Torture = 5 in order to demonstrate how totalitarian dystopias are dependent on this trope. The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Party, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Party says of such and such an event, "It never happened" well, it never happened, even though the facts say so in your face. If he says that two and two are five well, two and two are five. Those who fail to accept the self-contradictory lies of the Party are sent off to Room 101.
- Isaac Asimov's "The Encyclopedists": When the Board of Trustees attempts to claim complete independence from local politics, Anacreon points out that the Empire isn't around to enforce said independence, implying that they are free to conquer Terminus with their more powerful military. Mayor Hardin is the only one who tries to find a solution to the Kingdom of Anacreon trying to annex the Foundation.
- A quite literal example in Snow Crash. Raven's habit of motorcycling around with a stolen Russian warhead rigged to explode when he dies ensures that everyone "tries to make him feel welcome."
- The Culture of Iain M. Banks's novels retain this option. Described as "space hippies with super-nukes", they would prefer that you get along with them in a friendly fashion and (notwithstanding the machinations of Special Circumstances) practice the last word in "live and let live". But their ships can lay waste to planets if they have to, and that's not even the warships.
- Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes, is one of the works best known for using this theory to explain Real Life. Hobbes argued that people either had the choice of living in a "state of nature" (i.e. lawless chaos) or giving up some rights in return for security from a state powerful enough to enforce laws, with the latter being the better option. Along with forming social contract theory, this was innovative by stating in no uncertain terms that the state's authority rests ultimately on force, rather than divine right, justice, or any other ideal political theorists usually appealed to. Those might be well and fine, but amounted to very little without force to back them up.
- Thrasymachus, one of the characters in Plato's Republic takes it a step further-he doesn't just say that law is the will of the strongest, he actually defines justice in those terms.
- This trope is the reason that Abul Sabah's theocracy is able to take over the world in Nuclear Holocaust Never Again-his country had a nuke, and none of the peaceful democratic countries did, so his government nuked every capital city except their own, causing billions of deaths and leaving the democracies with no choice but to accept Sabah as their overlord.
- Specifically averted in the Dune books. Not only will use of atomics bring the wrath of the rest of the universe down on you, but the most (directly) powerful faction turns out to have no military to speak of at all; guaranteed trade and economic growth is far more important than a few million lives here or there. Further, most of the players recognize that politics and power are actually a complicated web of balances and counterbalances, and blatant use of raw power rarely produces the results you intended. The Bene Gesserit especially understand this, and Leto II took it further. In the Dune world, a direct-approach power player is almost surely being manipulated by someone else toward some end he doesn't even imagine. The Beast Rabban, for example.
- Less so in the prequels (written by Herbert's son and Kevin J. Anderson), as shown by the rabid House Moritani that has no qualms about attacking anyone who so much as looks as them sideways, completely ignoring Landsraad rules (including Kanli). How does The Emperor respond (especially since their actions were openly endangering the Imperium)? By shaking his finger at them. It's no wonder that they get bolder and bolder. By the end, the ruler of the House is openly threatening the Emperor with a nuke. Luckily, his Dragon turned out not to approve of his boss's methods.
- Paul Atreides is another exception, though with somewhat more finesse than Rabban; he ultimately takes over Arrakis using an army of fanatical soldiers, a tactical application of atomic weapons, and in the end a Duel to the Death. After becoming Emperor, Paul wages a religious war of conquest that results in dozens of planets being sterilized for refusing to bow down to him as Emperor. Paul didn't want to do this, but his core following, made up exclusively of religious fanatics, wouldn't have had it any other way.
- In Robert Howard's Kull stories, Kull at one point announces that he will rule by virtue of his battle axe, unless some noble wishes to challenge him to combat. There was a touch of wish fulfillment in that story.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- Stannis Baratheon insists that he should be king because he's the eldest brother. Younger brother Renly points out that he has the largest army, claiming he's just doing the same thing as their eldest brother Robert (neglecting to mention that Robert was part of a coalition acting against a tyrant, Renly is just a power-hungry jerk). Meanwhile the Queen Regent Cersei Lannister is furious that her father is refusing to withdraw his forces from Harrenhal (where they're strategically placed to threaten any force that moves against the Lannisters) to directly defend the capital from the Baratheons. Her brother Tyrion points out that their father can afford to ignore her royal commands, as he has a very large army.
- Ever since the divine right of kings was initially challenged 15 years previously when a coalition of lords overthrew The Caligula and installed a new regime, the idea has germinated that kingship is just defined by a combination of force of arms and political ratification. When a second civil war breaks out, more and more people start to realize that all you need to be able to do is convince enough other people that you're able to win the throne, and you'll have a decent chance of doing so (meanwhile, the pre-rebellion dynasty only held the throne in the first place because they used to have dragons and burned anyone who didn't give fealty to them).
- The trope comes up quite prominently in the history of Westeros as well. Aegon Targaryen the First, who invaded the continent and became the first king of the Seven Kingdoms, might not have had a very large army, but he did have three very large dragons. Several incinerated armies and castles later, Aegon and his sisters were the unopposed rulers of most of Westeros.
- Aegon's younger son Maegor the Cruel invoked this. After his brother Aenys I died Maegor claimed the throne. When a Grand Maester protested that his brother's children came before him, Maegor decapitated the Grand Maester.
- Also lampshaded when two members of the royal family are accused of adultery. Mace Tyrell (who's not one of the brightest men in the kingdom) is nevertheless smart enough to keep his entire army on hand during his daughter's trial. She's treated a lot more gently than her rival, Cersei, who was foolish enough to send her army and (plus the more skilled members of her bodyguard) off on a wild goose chase to other parts of the kingdom.
- Invoked quite openly by Balon Greyjoy. When asked by what right he claims rulership of the North, he responds, "By right of conquest." This is part of his culture, what the Ironborn call "paying the iron price." It's regarded as more honorable to take something by force than it is to purchase it. (This was actually a principle of international ''law'' until recent times.)
- This is largely the basis around which the Aes Sedai from The Wheel of Time organize their hierarchy: with a few notable exceptions, more powerful channelers always outrank less powerful ones, wisdom and experience be damned.
- In I, Claudius, Caligula summons soldiers to hear him give a speech-including soldiers who had disobeyed him, ready to have them executed, telling that particular group to not worry about weapons or armor. His uncle, Claudius, manages to drop a hint to one captain. Caligula quickly changes his tune when those guards let it be seen that they are carrying their swords underneath their tunics.
- A Series of Unfortunate Events jokes on this when discussing the Gordian Knot.
"Besides invading other peoples countries and forcing them to do whatever he said, Alexander the Great was famous for something called the Gordian Knot. The Gordian Knot was a fancy knot tied in a piece of rope by a king named Gordius. Gordius said that if Alexander could untie it, he could rule the whole kingdom. But Alexander, who was too busy conquering places to learn how to untie knots, simply drew his sword and cut the Gordian Knot in two. This was cheating, of course, but Alexander had too many soldiers for Gordius to argue, and soon everybody in Gordium had to bow down to You-Know-Who the Great."
- Done by Granny Weatherwax in Wyrd Sisters when she threatens to boil a demon alive unless it tells them what the hell is going on. The demon (who had spent their last questions being a Literal Genie and intentionally answering in an obtuse as manner as possible) weakly protests this is against the rules but quickly relents when it's made very clear Granny isn't joking.
- In Going Postal, Archchancellor Ridcully mentions that the Unseen University has a whole pond full of frogs that were once people who tried to sue the University.
- Captain Vimes tries this in Night Watch, but it backfires. When asked who his authority is, he says it's "Mr. Burliegh and Mr. Stronginthearm!", meaning the manufacturers of his crossbow. But he's gone back in time, and they haven't started making crossbows yet...cue *Click* Hello.
- In Victoria's generally post-apocalyptic, Scavenger World America, Azania exerts a powerful appeal far beyond its borders: its functioning modern economy, medicine and advanced technology are attractive to many, and so are its woman-friendly policies and its tolerance of LGBT people and other minorities. The country's chief enemy, the reactionary, fundamentalist-dominated, anti-technological and moderately-to-heavily misogynist Northern Confederation, realize that its ideas will be more appealing to many than their own, and that Azania, even without actively interfering in their politics, functions as an example and beacon of hope to their dissidents. So rather than debating politics, they contrive an excuse for war, intending to crush their ideological opponents with military force and thus silence all dissent. (In case you're wondering, the Confederates are supposed to be the heroes.)
- Deconstructed in Star Wars Legends: The Empire's continual use of this trope typically just engendered more resistance to their rule. As stated by Leia in A New Hope: "The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers."
- In The Han Solo Trilogy, one of Han's Space Cadet Academy classmates defected to the Rebellion after the Empire put down a peaceful protest by incinerating it with a starship's engines.
- In X-Wing Series, Imperial Intelligence Director Ysanne Isard's increasingly brutal tactics after the New Republic captures Coruscant from her gradually alienate the very allies she needs to maintain her grip on power. One remarks that a soldier working for Isard had just two outcomes: death by the Rebels, or death by her.
- Called out directly by a disguised Grand Admiral Thrawn in Tatooine Ghost. As an object lesson to an overly zealous stormtrooper commander who had tortured civilians, Thrawn punches him out and then asks him if that made him like Thrawn better. He then states that the new doctrine of the Imperial Remnant isn't ever-increasing brutality, it's Pragmatic Villainy. As shown in The Thrawn Trilogy (written earlier but set about a year later), while Thrawn is willing to be a Bad Boss who executes subordinates for failure and even depopulate entire planets if he finds it necessary, he does carefully weigh the practical pros and cons beforehand: the subordinate he killed on screen had failed due to incompetence and then tried to pin it on his supervising officer (and in a Call-Back to this incident, he later promotes another man for being creative when faced with a similar problem, even though the attempt failed).
- Alexis Carew: If you're a Space Pirate and Alexis has you at gunpoint, do not think that the tiny young woman in New London Royal Navy uniform will bend if you try to negotiate away her ultimatums. She will shoot you in the head without a word and ask your Number Two.
- Encyclopedia Brown: The canonical reason why none of the bullies and petty criminals whom Encyclopedia defeats retaliate against him is because his friend Sally beats up anyone who tries.
- Game of Thrones:
- A recurring theme. Aegon the Conqueror didn't seize the kingdoms because he had any claim or right, he seized them because he could. Power may come from knowledge, the gods, or be derived from the law, but ultimately a swordsman decides whether the king, the priest, or the rich man live or die.
Lord Tywin: You really think a crown gives you power?
Tyrion: No, I think armies give you power.
- Renly decides to make a claim for the throne based on right of conquest like his big brother Robert. By law, his claim is weaker than Stannis', but Renly's charisma provides him with a bigger support, which in turn is used to press said claim.
Renly: Look across those fields, brother. Can you see all those banners?
Stannis: You think a few bolts of cloth will make you king?
Renly: No. The men holding those bolts of cloth will make me king.
- Defied by Tommen when he balks at hacking his way through the Faith Militant just to talk to the High Sparrow.
- A recurring theme. Aegon the Conqueror didn't seize the kingdoms because he had any claim or right, he seized them because he could. Power may come from knowledge, the gods, or be derived from the law, but ultimately a swordsman decides whether the king, the priest, or the rich man live or die.
- In late season 5 of LOST, the cast's mindset becomes "Screw the rules of time, I have a nuke!" and then proceed to detonate the nuke to disrupt said rules of time.
- Played quite straight near the end of Farscape's final story-arc: John Crichton casually strolls into a high-level diplomatic meeting between the Scarran Emperor and Peacekeeper Commandant Grayza (as well as their lackeys among the Charrids and Kalish) on the Scarran capital moon, Katratzi. At first not killing him simply because they're stunned he arrived, the Scarran Emperor asks why they should let him live another minute. Crichton then pulls open his coat to reveal that he is carrying a home-made nuclear bomb, which forces the Emperor to call off his guards. Crichton then starts merrily strolling around the room while detailing the various deadman switches that the bomb operates on...then starts walking around on tables as he explains that the reason he has come is that he can't keep running forever, so he's settled for a new plan in which he will sell wormhole technology to the highest bidder among the assembled galactic political superpowers: in exchange for the bidder's protection he'll basically sell them galactic dominance. Crichton was of course, lying. His real plan was to gain access to the Katratzi to rescue a prisoner, and then, to plant the nuclear bomb in a vital area of the base and "blow up the Death Star".
- The Outer Limits (1995):
- The episode "Final Exam" featured a disgruntled student who invents a cold fusion bomb and threatens to destroy a major city unless his demands are met, including have certain people he dislikes executed in view of him. They do execute one person.
- In the episode "Final Appeal", a time traveler uses a similar bomb to threaten the US Government of Twenty Minutes In The Future, where the world has banned complex technology, to keep the ban, while another time traveler argues that it should be lifted. After he allows himself to be sent to the past without his Time Machine, his device activates and explodes, destroying Washington, D.C.
- Screw the rules, and the nukes. I have sun-busters. In Andromeda, starship captains have access to Nova Bombs that are capable of destroying entire solar systems. Averted in the fact that High Guard captains are too noble to ever use them in combat.
Example: In the first episode, Andromeda is facing over 9000 enemy warships.
Rhade: Captain, I recommend we deploy Nova Bombs.
Dylan: This system is inhabited! We will not use strategic weapons no matter how many ships we're up against.
Rhade: As you wish...
- In another episode, Hunt finds an old High Guard station controlled by teenagers. After he enters his command code, the hangar unlocks, and he finds dozens of slipfighters, each of which has armed with a Nova bomb. Tyr looks at them and tells Hunt that he could have his Commonwealth back... today. Hunt, though, claims that it wouldn't be a true Commonwealth, merely a dictatorship held together by the threat of annihilation. Though, having been Taught by Experience in the pilot, he does keep one of the bombs, just in case, and later uses it against the Magog worldship.
- As Jayne Cobb of Firefly would say: "You know what the chain of command is? It's the chain I go get and beat you with until you know who's in ruttin' command here!" Actually an example of a Defied Trope. Simon knew he'd try and do this so he pulled a "Screw the Rules, I have tranqs!" gambit by injecting Jayne with an anaesthetic while patching him up from an injury. Jayne's bid for power occurred just as the anaesthetic started to kick in, resulting in him falling asleep before he could complete his take-over. The crew was extremely relieved by Simon's foresight.
- Star Trek:
- Worf, as security chief, is quite famous for doing this continually. A classic example is in the very first episode, where Q appears on the viewscreen, causing Worf to leap the tactical console and nearly fire his phaser right at his image. Lampshaded by:
Picard: Lieutenant, do you intend to blast a hole through the viewer?
- In the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Q puts the Enterprise crew on trial, the accusation being that humanity was once and still might be a "dangerously savage child-race". Picard says they will successfully defend themselves against the accusation if the trial is fair. Q replies that the trial will be absolutely equitable, and then promptly orders that Picard and crew be summarily executed if they enter any other plea besides guilty. Subverted in that Q is just trolling them: he actually does want them to pass the test, but he can't pass up an opportunity to mess with their heads for his own amusement while they do it.
- The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Learning Curve" has Tuvok put some of the ex-Maquis crew members through Starfleet boot camp aboard ship after some discipline problems. Kenneth Dalby, the guy who started the whole thing, resists and says he'd rather do things "the Maquis way." Chakotay promptly lays him out with a left cross and tells him "the Maquis way" is Dalby and the others obeying Tuvok or Chakotay will kick their asses.
- Worf, as security chief, is quite famous for doing this continually. A classic example is in the very first episode, where Q appears on the viewscreen, causing Worf to leap the tactical console and nearly fire his phaser right at his image. Lampshaded by:
- Blake's 7. While the Terran Federation uses all the tools of a soul-crushing sci-fi dystopia like brainwashing, torture, censorship and propaganda, the High Council is not above thinking that Murder Is the Best Solution.
- When Albian legally demanded their independence, the Federation hid a Doomsday Device on the planet and threatened to detonate it if they rebelled.
- When Saurian Major rebelled, half the population were deported and La Résistance wiped out with biological weapons.
- Once Agravo had been mined of all useful minerals, the Federation evacuated the skilled personnel and left the others to die a slow death when their resources ran out. As it turns out an industrial accident kills them first.
- Gauda Prime was designated an agricultural world, but when it was discovered to have mineral wealth on the land that the Federation settlers legally owned, the High Council declared it an Open Planet where all law & order was suspended. Anyone who refused to leave could then be legally murdered.
- When Servalan herself becomes President she commits mass genocide just to blackmail the Auronar into cloning children for her. And they say Babies Make Everything Better...
- Denis Leary's song, "I'm an Asshole" features a spoken rant that's all about this:
You know what I'm gonna do? I'm gonna get myself a 1967 Cadillac Eldorado convertible, hot pink, with whale skin hubcaps and all leather cow interior and big brown baby seal eyes for headlights. Yeah! And I'm gonna drive around in that baby at 115 miles an hour, getting 1 mile per gallon, sucking down quarter-pounder cheeseburgers from McDonald's in the old-fashioned non-biodegradable Styrofoam containers! And when I'm done suckin' down those grease ball burgers I'm gonna wipe my mouth on the American flag and then toss the Styrofoam containers right out the side, and there ain't a God-damned thing anybody can do about it. You know why? Because we got the bombs, that's why! Two words — nuclear fucking weapons, OK? Russia, Germany, Romania — they can have all the democracy they want. They can have a big democracy cakewalk right through the middle of Tiananmen Square and it won't make a lick of difference, because we've got the bombs, OK?
- In a Peanuts storyline from 1974, Sally starts carrying around Snoopy when she goes to the playground to drive away bullies. She calls it "Speak softly and carry a beagle." Eventually, she changes it to "speak loudly and carry a beagle" and tries to take over the playground. This works until Snoopy gets distracted by seeing his first sweetheart and ditches her.
- Paranoia: Depending on the edition, The Computer is either a mad dictator, hopelessly senile, or a well-intentioned maintenance system that's been reprogrammed one time too many. Regardless, the entire society it maintains accepts its Insane Troll Logic and obeys immediately because anyone who disagrees with it (or even just seems unhappy with its pronouncements) is shot. Or worse.
- Some editions of Paranoia include quotes from The Computer in the margins or to take up white space. One recurring quote is "Have a Nice Day or I'll Kill You."
- In the adventure "Hunger," The Computer decides to replicate some of the worst falsehoods of Soviet and Maoist science and apply them to food production. As the people in charge of one such facility, the Troubleshooters watch as the delicate algae ecosystem dies and food production drops to zero. Reporting this, of course, is disagreeing with The Computer, making you a traitor. The adventure is intended to end with a Complex-wide famine with only one solution.
- In the adventure "Whitewash," a low-security Infrared (black) hallway is accidentally painted over with high-security Ultraviolet (white) colors, leaving an entire sector's labor force unable to get to work. So many people report the situation that The Computer decides they must all be part of a massive conspiracy and executes them. A literal case of "Say that white is black, or I'll kill you."
- Warhammer 40,000:
- One of the dangers of authorizing an inquisitor's use of Exterminatus. The command is used when a world is found irreversibly corrupt, damaged or infested, and is only used as a last measure, however there might be the occasional hiccup, and an entire world lost. Although Inquisitors are just as susceptible to being on the receiving end: they don't have a nuke, merely the authority to procure one. To perform Exterminatus, they need either the Space Marines — who are autonomous and deadly enough to reverse the trope against the Inquisitor with a minimum of hassle — or the Imperial Navy — who are commanded and equipped by organizations powerful enough that any individual Inquisitor isn't going to take them on. Only the most respected Lord Inquisitors have private warships capable of performing Exterminatus, and, lets face it, they won't make bad calls like that given the penalty for failure in the Imperium.
- Used heroically after the First War for Armageddon, following which the Inquisition and the Grey Knights decided that surviving residents of the planet would be sterilized and worked to death in concentration camps. The Space Wolves leapt to the civilians' defense, making their objections to the intended genocide known rather violently and effectively (in numbers alone they outman any other Space Marine chapter, especially the Grey Knights, having never spun off successor chapters). There's still bad blood between the various organizations over the whole mess.
- In Dungeons & Dragons, the players themselves can let their characters' power go to their heads and decide that the laws of the land don't apply to them since they can kill any number of guards, paladins, or anything else short of (or in some cases, far exceeding) gods sent to stop them. And, of course, the DM can always say Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies.
- In Ars Magica, if a magus is prosecuted for a violation of the Code of Hermes, declares Wizard's War on the prosecuting principle, and kills the magus in question, the charge is dismissed. This is even true if the prosecuting principle is a Quaesitor (the judges and lawyers of the Order), though only the mightiest magi can expect to triumph in this.
- This is how the Lady of Pain is the Shadow Dictator of Sigil. Simply put, nobody has enough power to dethrone her, and most are afraid to try, given what tends to happen to those who defy her. (Not that there haven't been any who have tried, given how valuable Sigil is, but she's crushed all challenges thusfar.
- Lothar is a powerful, eccentric and immortal necromancer who lives in Sigil and pretty much ignores the existence of the city's civil service and mortal authorities through this trope. Since the only being in Sigil who could regulate his activities is The Lady, and Lothar doesn't do anything that warrants her attention (he collects the souls of the already dead, which does not involve killing people or disrupting the order of the city), the rest of Sigil leaves him alone.
- Demon Lords rule layers of the Abyss this way. Demons are way too chaotic to have any proper government, so the strongest demons are the rulers, plain and simple. Guys like Demogorgon and Orcus are constantly fighting bloody wars in efforts to gain more territory and followers.
- In Infernum, attaining new positions in the hierarchy of a House requires increasingly-complicated mechanics to simulate the politicking involved in taking control of an empty dominion. This trend abruptly reverses itself when you reach the level of Head of House, which has only one requirement: "Last Demon Standing."
- This is a valid legal argument in the Clan justice system. As they are a Proud Warrior Race, any decision not already settled through battle or a Trial can be nullified through a Trial of Refusal, in which the defender essentially fights their accuser(s) for the right to undo the decision. Because the Clans aren't complete idiots, however, they built the system so that the odds you face is equal to the degree by which you were found guilty: A "he said, she said" situation Decided by One Vote boils down to a 1 vs 1 duel between accuser and defender. A 16-person council finding one side unanomously guilty, meanwhile, means 17-to-1 odds as the defendant has to put down the prosecutor and everyone else who agreed with them.
- Outside of the Clans, "bigger army diplomacy" has been generally accepted as the way things are, even in the Inner Sphere. The formation of the Ares Conventions are noted In-Universe to have formalized warfare as a valid form of conflict resolution, by laying down clear rules for what is and isn't acceptable during a conflict, and caused centuries of open warfare until the formation of Star League (who would go on to use the same argument to 'convince' the Periphery realms to join it).
- In an Easter Egg in BioShock 2, you come across three splicers talking about what happened to the protagonist of the first game and two of them suggest that he took either the good ending or the bad ending. The one who states that Jack took the bad ending that "heck, and if anyone messes with him, he's got a nuke".
- AI leaders like to invoke this trope in Civilization. "Our words are backed with NUCLEAR WEAPONS!" For some reason Gandhi is especially prone to this in all games of the series.note
- In Civilization V, once you get nukes, any other leader whom you talk to will have "AFRAID" as the status regardless of his or her disposition towards you. This is especially useful if you build nukes before everyone else and then manage to push a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty through the UN, leaving you the only one with them.
- Civs in Civilization V will also be "afraid" if your army both wildly outguns theirs (at least twice its strength) and is nearby. City-states can be intimidated in much the same way to give up money or units.
- The Autocracy ideology in Civ V has a tenet that takes City-State intimidation a step further — with Gunboat Diplomacy, you gain a hefty amount of influence each turn with City-States you could successfully demand tribute from. It's amazing how quickly a city is willing to ally with you when you've got a few divisions parked outside their front door.
- Carried over into Galactic Civilizations, except instead of nukes (which are kind of weak compared to orbital railgun strikes and doom rays) you have "Terror Stars" (star destroyers in the most literal sense) or fleets of dreadnoughts with black hole guns.
- Present twice times in the backstory of the Homeworld series. The first time is when in the ancient times the Galactic Council had been called to settle a territorial dispute between Hiigara and the Taiidan Empire and favored the latter: when the Hiigaran found the Second Great Hyperspace Core (that allowed the ship with it to just go everywhere in the galaxy bringing a fleet with it) they just laid waste to the Taiidan homeworld, with the implied threat that they could do it to anyone. This backfired horribly, as the Galactic Council set on them the Bentusi, who had the First Great Hyperspace Core and enough firepower to destroy their fleet. Then, with the Hiigaran utterly defeated and the Bentusi traumatized by the battle into disarming themselves, the Taiidan Empire was left as the single strongest military power of the galaxy: the Council ordered to leave the now harmless Hiigarans alone, but the Taiidan continued burning Hiigaran worlds until the surviving Hiigarans accepted to cede their homeworld and leave in exile on a desert planet.
- In Knights of the Old Republic you have to pose a Sith wannabe trying to get into the Sith Academy on Korriban. You'll come across a Sith student having some 'fun' with a couple of hopefuls. One of the ways to get him to back off is to simply threaten to kill him. He'll even be rather impressed with you and be rather friendly for the short time you know him. He will still try and kill you, but that's just how the Sith work, sorry chum.
- Played for laughs in Mass Effect 2. A woman on Omega is trying to get back into a district that is under quarantine due to a plague killing non-humans. When Shepard shows up, the guard lets them right through, and answers the woman's complaint with, "You don't have a grenade launcher, lady."
- Metal Gear:
- Done in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater's secret theater "The Ultimate Weapon." Naked Snake "cheats" playing rock-paper-scissors with The Boss by using a bizarre combination of all three gestures. So she trumps him by nuking him with a Davy Crocket at point-blank range.
- This is also pretty much the grand scheme in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, which involves Skull Face planning create and handing out nuclear weapons that he still has the off-switch for all of them, infecting the world with parasites that will kill anyone who tries to speak English, allowing him to use Metal Gears and nukes to replace it as a global language. Resulting in his own vision of world peace.
- In Overlord you could be a nice evil dictator and let the peasants worship you in peace or you could randomly kill them and ransack their homes because you know they can't offer any real resistance.
- Late-game meetings with the Dark assembly in the Disgaea games can seem a bit this way, especially in new game + . if your proposal gets denied, your insanely overpowered team can beat the senators into submission without breaking a sweat.
- And if you have beaten Baal, they recognize that you have a nuke and don't even dare to object proposals made by a main character.
- In Sid Meier's Pirates!, you aren't allowed to enter a port if you have bad relations with either the port or its controlling power. You could sneak in, but it's usually easier to open the port at gunpoint.
- In the PC and console versions, the player can land troops and play a turn-based strategy game against the defenders. In the mobile version, this has been replaced with a mini-game where you shell the city defenses.
- In Spore, once you reach the Space Age you can cause a planet-wide extinction with nothing bad happening to you. You can even use this as a strategy when trying to take planets.
- This is the creed of Barbaric Despoilers: What's yours is mine, if I can take it.
- Having a Colossus allows an empire to declare Total War without limits, and likewise allows other empires to do the same to it; a state of affairs normally limited to Fanatical Purifiers, Determined Exterminators, Devouring Swarms and Driven Assimilators. In other words, the Colossus represents the breakdown of galactic "international law" in favor of this trope, as an expy of the Death Star should.
- One of the method of control in the Tropico series. Provided you have a large enough army you can remain in control of your Banana Republic pretty much indefinitely. You can also invoke this in #4; building a nuclear program will prevent the USA and USSR from invading your island.
- Leo Caruso, one of two playable characters in A Way Out, has dialogue/action options that involve violence, be it through weapons or physical means, and/or threatening someone. Justified, as he grew up alone with no parental guidance or education, and ended up turning to crime.
- RWBY: James Ironwood holds two seats on Atlas' council and commands most, if not all, of the kingdom's military might. He repeatedly uses his large fleet of soldiers to see his way through both in Vale after the breach, and in Volume 7 to maintain order. It's implied the council is too intimidated by him to voice any actual protests first. Ironwood contemplates invoking martial law to get Mantle to deliver the necessary supplies for the Amity Tower project when Robyn inspires them to take a stand against him. When he finally succumbs to his paranoia and chooses to launch Atlas into the sky to protect it from the Grimm, Weiss asks what the Council would say to his plan; Ironwood calmly says martial law will be declared, so it wouldn't matter.
- Schlock Mercenary:
- Tagon's mercenaries have been legally commissioned to hunt and kill attorney-drones. People tend to get very upset when you gun down their lawyers, but as Captain Tagon says to one such upset client: "Get as mad as you want. You'll have a hard time suing me."
- During the CSI Affectionate Parody, the Warrick Expy says that while they have enough evidence to hold Schlock, they have to let Tagon go. The Grissom Expy comments that Tagon can go back to his mercenary company and return in force to break his sergeant out, which is why the judge is "visiting friends" in a bunker on the other side of the planet.
- This is how Kevyn overcomes the problem of getting everyone in without an invitation.
Doorman: I was going to say "Not on the List". Did you say "armed"?
Kevyn: No, I said "you should check the list again, this time in Edit mode."
- Adventurers!: "That doesn't make much sense." "I have the most powerful handgun ever made. It doesn't have to."
- Bob the Angry Flower believes that if everybody had a nuke, then nobody would ever argue with each other. It doesn't work.
- How I Killed Your Master: #055
Fang Lin: So this nobody of a farmer, Meng Qi, he pops up and says he's Yan Yu's nephew. He accuses General Wen of usurping the governor's court, says he has no authority beyond the tip of a spear.
Liu Wong: What'd Wen Yuan say to that?
Fang Lin: "Good thing I have five thousand of them."
Liu Wong: Ha! [beat] Well, it is a good point.
- In Sinfest, Satan says he has a permit to hunt angels -- his gun, pointed at the person asking.
- Nedroid: When Reginald is taken hostage:
Beartato: Give me three thousand dollars!
Bank Teller: Do you have an account with us?
Beartato: I have a missile!
- Used with a Lampshade Hanging in this Existential Comics strip, when Simone Weil uses an Appeal To Force to convince Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx that force is the driving force of history.
Weill: I think I can convince you both if you hear me out.
Hegel: What argument could you possibly offer for such a simplistic doctrine?
Weill: **pulls a gun** Say that it's force, or I'll shoot you! SAY IT!
- In the Web Serial Novel Worm the main character (Skitter) often threatens people with horrible fates if they don't do what she says due to her power to control bugs, including some unpleasantly venomous spiders.
- Forms the basis of society in the Battlegrounds of Citadel, large regions of North America that have had normal government overthrown by a series of superpowered individuals or gangs, only to have the new rulers overthrown in turn, etc
- Enter The Farside: Shaun is more than capable of hurting anybody with ease, so he intimidates and uses small displays of force to get that idea across to people, without actually having to hurt them at all. As long as people are aware that he can, they know better than to try anything.
Leegola: Prepare to fire again, brave cowards!
- In "War Is The H-Word", Bender has a bomb implanted inside his body and it will "detonate the instant the robot unwittingly speaks a certain word", wiping out an entire planet. It's the one word he uses more than any other: ASS. After finding that out he starts a game of "Make Bender happy or he blows up the planet!".
- This trope also happens in "Bender's Game" (Screw the Rules, I Have A Big Stick) when Leegola tries to convince the peaceful centaurs to join in the fight against the Evil Overlord and agrees to their contest for leadership... Tedious Debate! Later Leegola shows up leading the army:
Hermaphrodite: I still say, I won the debate. (Leegola strikes him in the stomach with a piece of wood)
- In the Finnish political satire Itsevaltiaat, the Finnish government finds an abandoned handheld nuclear bomb. In the next EU meeting, the Finnish president tries to speak but is constantly interrupted and ignored. The Finnish PM proceeds to pull the nuke out of his case and demand attention. Later his government comrades call him out.
Man: You can't just pull that nuke whenever you want to talk.
PM: Yes, yes I can. We have a nuke now, and it gives us access to tables where decisions are done.
- In Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths the Crime Syndicate, made up of superpowered criminals, is so powerful that the police won't act against them and Slade Wilson, the President of the United States, will acquiesce to whatever demands they make of him.
- The heroes pull this in the ending of Gravity Falls. When Dipper and Mabel are about to take the bus home at the end of the summer, the driver says that Mabel can't bring her pet pig because animals aren't allowed on the bus. Grunkle Stan makes a show of putting on his brass knuckles and Grunkle Ford lifts his coat to show off his gun. The driver decides there's no problem with letting a pig ride on the bus.
- The Fairly OddParents has Jorgen von Strangle, the self-proclaimed strongest fairy in the universe, who uses this sometime. One of the Oh Yeah! Cartoons shorts had him using this to win every award at a fairy award show.
- According to Carl von Clausewitz, "War is the continuation of Politik by other means". However, focus on the words alone has often led to significant misunderstanding. One common (mis-)interpretation is that he meant 'when diplomacy fails use the military'. What he actually meant is that wars are generally political and (are intended to) serve political ends. In short, 'We fight for things and not for fighting's sake'. This was a counter-argument to the argument (which he posited earlier in the text) that war was always fought for its own sake and had no political dimension, a position which he examined extensively and determined 'made no bloody sense'.
- Russia pulled this on Georgia when they moved in to "liberate" South Ossetia from them, betting that the United States and Europe wouldn't intervene and get into a direct conflict with Russia. Notably this happened after Georgia attempted to attack Russian soil while the world was busy with yet another big sports event and failed spectacularly.
- China relies on this for some of the stunts it pulls in the South China Sea, such as unilaterally expanding its airspace, betting that no one will call them on it because it would be too costly to fight a war over it.
- North Korea seems to take this approach to foreign policy; if they have nukes, they can threaten other countries into giving them what Dear Leader wants. Not that it's entirely successful, mind you, but it does tend to get them aid as long as they make promises they can later just go back on. There's a great deal of evidence to suggest that China is no longer interested in North Korea and apparently has privately communicated with the United States that if the US reunifies Korea under South Korean rule, China wouldn't stop them. Other reports suggest that this only applies if North Korea starts the conflict — if the USA or South Korea pre-emptively invades, China would be forced to do something (whether just lodging A Very Angry Letter with the U.N. or fighting The Second Korean War) to avoid getting a reputation for leaving its friends in the lurch and just generally looking bad. Even if that means supporting North Korea.
- When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait over slant drilling, he first floated the idea by the US ambassador to make sure that the United States wouldn't intervene. He thought (or seemed to believe) that the ambassador was implicitly saying that the US would not intervene. The 1991 Gulf War was the result.
- This was Ancient Rome's MO. "Give us your country. No? Good luck with that!"
- A rare one-man example is Julius Caesar, who proceeded to conquer Gaul despite the Roman Senate's protests that doing so was both unnecessary and illegal. He then went on to use his army to force them to appoint him dictator. Once Caesar had shown that power, not the laws of the state, determined who controlled Rome, he set the stage for the state of Roman politics for centuries to come.
- The Romans had sharp memories of being on the other side of this, though. In the semi-legendary past, the Gauls sacked almost all of Rome, and agreed to spare what was left in exchange for a ransom of 1,000 pounds of gold. A balance scale was brought out to weigh the ransom. When the Romans complained that the Gauls were using dishonest weights, the Gaulish chieftain threw his sword onto the scale with the words "Vae victis" ("woe to the vanquished").
- The British Empire, most notably during the Opium Wars, where the choices presented to China were to trade on Britain's terms or face war.
- Especially since the Chinese originally assumed that the British government had nothing to do with the opium trade and thus felt that there'd be no consequences to destroying all of the opium in the warehouses. The Royal Navy showed them the error of their thinking.
- The Chinese themselves pulled this trope many times in their long history, right up until the Opium Wars, when they effectively held British traders and capital hostage in exchange for the cessation of the Opium trade. This turned out to be a bad move — this tactic only works if you have the biggest nuke.
- Exemplified in the USA's case by Theodore Roosevelt's (in)famous quote, "If you speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far." Roosevelt himself was quoting a supposedly West African proverb. The idea was you walked and talked normally but made sure everyone knew you were carrying a big stick.
- One faction of early Muslim leaders claimed to be descended from one of Muhammed's daughters. When asked to provide evidence of this by a group of scholars the leader apparently drew his sword, placed it against the man's neck and said "this is my evidence". The scholars decided not to press the issue.
- The security council of the UN has the 5 traditional nuclear powers with veto powers that can prevent any action. Thus, by having a nuke, you too can help set world policy. If you were on the winning side of World War II, that is. (And it's no coincidence that none of the countries from the losing side have nukes.) It made sense when the UN was set up in the 1940s, when Britain and France controlled most of Africa and much of Asia.
- "You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word." — Al Capone. This sounds incredibly awesome when spoken by Leonard Nimoy for Civilization IV.
- This is what every Banana Republic and 3rd-world extremist group wants to do, all day long.
- Louis XIV of France referenced this when commissioning artillery for his armies: every cannon was cast with the motto VLTIMA RATIO REGVM on the barrel. The meaning? "The last argument of Kings."
- This is how gangs and school bullies gain local power. You do what they say, or they beat the crap out of you.
- There is a story about a group of Templars who were put on trial in a small village a short time after the order was declared heretical. This group, being the dominant military power in the area, arrived to their trial mounted on horseback, fully armed and armored. They were all acquitted and set free.
- This is how Domestic Abusers maintain so much power over their victims to keep them from leaving, or even "stepping out of line" in the slightest. They threaten their victim with being hurt (or killed), with hurting their children, pets, and/or personal property, with reporting them to the immigration department, with ostracism from a community (such as relatives, or a religious community), or with abandonment, just to name a few ways.
- Many anti-spanking advocates argue that disciplining a child through Corporal Punishment is essentially this trope. The argument being that it doesn't actually teach a child wrong and right but rather the parents telling them "do as I say or I'll hit you".
- Card shark Canada Bill Jones' famous saying, "A Smith & Wesson beats four aces."
- Mao Zedong was on record saying that "political power comes from the barrel of a gun."
- Averted with contract law in most places. A contract is usually invalid if it's signed "under duress." But then again, that law is based on the state's ability to enforce it in the first place...
- Direct action, ranging from demonstrations, strikes and sit-ins to sabotage and vandalism, is meant to force an opponent to remedy certain social issues.
- "Rubber-hose cryptanalysis," or torturing someone to get a password or other security key out of them. Without torture, people may be compelled by law enforcement to unlock devices, such as when crossing a border or they are a suspect in a criminal case.
- During the English Civil War, Cornet George Joyce came to arrest King Charles without any such order from Parliament. The King demanded to know what warrant Joyce had; after a few uncomfortable attempts to think of a reason or avoid the question, Joyce pointed to his soldiers.
"Your warrant," said Charles, smiling, "is writ in fair characters, legible without spelling."
- Honor-Related Abuse: Don't make waves, step out of line, or otherwise threaten our Family Honor, or we'll hurt/kill/maim/etc. you
- Arguably the basis of all law enforcement, by State Monopoly on Violence. Follow the law, or the state will enforce it on you.
- In the Wild West, a judge named Roy Bean released an Irishman accused of murdering his Chinese coworker on the grounds that while murder was defined as the killing of a human being, there was no rule against killing Chinamen. His decision probably had less to do with racism and more to do with the mob of Irishmen threatening to lynch him if he didn't let the man go.