Violent, unsound of mind
You're the yin to my yang, can't you see?
And if I were to leave
You would grumble and grieve
Face it, Bats...
You'd be lost without me!"
Evil brings out the best in people. Yes, you read that right. Without true evil to fight, Superman would spend his life getting cats out of trees.
While not a strictly "bad/evil" worldview, it is especially common to villains. Yeah, their job is thankless and unpopular — but they press on, casting the shadows by which the path of truth is shaped.
Fridge Horror ensues when you think about EVERY Black-and-White Morality story that had a happy ending - without Evil, the story wouldn't exist, and now that evil has been defeated, it's only a matter of time until the forces of good are eventually weakened from the lack of evil and meet a fitting end - like death of old age / corruption / immediate cessation of existence at the end of the story. Think about it - how many MMORPGs would shut down if all the enemies were taken out of the game?
When presented as a problem in-series, some cases will bring up its inversion, Evil Needs Good, to balance it out; a world full of nothing but crime and heresy doesn't mean much if there's no reason or means to stop it (and just might turn a potential audience off from its bleakness). No point to Rape, Pillage, and Burn a village, after all, if there's nobody around to build it back up.
See also Balance Between Good and Evil, which is usually more supernatural, and The Apocalypse Brings Out the Best in People, which involves an apocalypse rather than a villain. Compare and contrast As Long as There is Evil and Inherent in the System.
- Dragon Ball Super: Gowasu, the Supreme Kai and guardian deity of Universe 10, states his opinion that this is true: if evil did not exist to provide conflict and challenges, then good people would have no opportunity to learn and grow. He includes the gods themselves in this, stating that they are not all-wise and even they have lessons they need to learn. This is in contrast to his apprentice Zamasu, who believes that evil should be eliminated entirely, which sounds alright until you realize that anyone who was anything less than perfectly good in Zamasu's eyes would be killed, which includes pretty much every mortal being in existence.
- Justified in Moriarty the Patriot. Sherlock's deal with Queen Victoria in The Final Problem to alter Parliament never would've worked if he hadn't had the leverage of agreeing to stop the Lord of Crime in his favor to get her to agree.
- In My Hero Academia, All-Might gives a speech about this trope to the protagonist Izuku "Deku" Midoriya. He talks about how Justice wouldn't exist without any wrongs to right. However, unlike most examples, he's giving the speech to encourage Deku to fight until the day comes that Justice is no longer needed.
- The Joker, especially in the comics, practically defines himself in his opposition to Batman, and feels they need each other, and their eternal struggle of good vs evil, to exist.
- Zoom, the second Reverse-Flash, works on the principle that he's making the heroes greater by giving them tragedy to overcome.
- Inverted when the original Professor Zoom returned. Because his powers came from the Flash, the one thing he could never do was the only thing he wanted to do: kill Barry Allen.
- So long as there is The Sentry, so too must there be the Void.
- This is a pervasive theme in Wreck-It Ralph. Felix may be the celebrated hero of his game (and Ralph is the villain who's looked down on even behind the scenes), but without Ralph to do his part, he's just a guy with a hammer and nothing to use it on. Worse, without Ralph, his game gets flagged as broken and scheduled to be disconnected.
- During Satan's song in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, he sings "without evil there could be no good, so it must be good to be evil sometimes".
- The Flight of Dragons - Ommadon the Big Bad was allowed to exist because "good would be completely impotent without the contrast of evil."
- The Fifth Element: Zorg's perfect example of the Broken Window Fallacy:
"Life, which you so nobly serve, comes from destruction, disorder and chaos. Now take this empty glass. Here it is: peaceful, serene, boring. But if it is destroyed..." (Pushes the glass off the table. It shatters on the floor, and several small machines come out to clean it up) "...Look at all these little things! So busy now! Notice how each one is useful. A lovely ballet ensues, so full of form and color. Now, think about all those people that created them. Technicians, engineers, hundreds of people, who will be able to feed their children tonight, so those children can grow up big and strong and have little teeny children of their own, and so on and so forth. Thus, adding to the great chain of life. You see, father, by causing a little destruction, I am in fact encouraging life. In reality, you and I are in the same business."
- Of course the priest he's talking to immediately shows just how his argument is flawed when Zorg starts choking on a single cherry he drinks with water at the end of his speech. None of the tech or pet Zorg summons to try and save him can do so in his panicked and frantic actions. Vito notes that his whole empire is crashing down because of one single cherry. Only when Vito, despite having no love for the man, saves his life by slapping him on the back, is Zorg safe.
- Hellraiser: Judgement: The angel Jophiel uses the argument that good cannot exist without evil to let a serial killer roam free. Pinhead sees right through it, pointing out that what really concerns Heaven is continued devotion.
- Legend (1985). Just before he's apparently destroyed by the light:
Darkness: You think you have won! What is light without dark? What are you without me? I am a part of you all. You can never defeat me. We are brothers... eternal!
- Vampire in Brooklyn: When Maximillian impersonates Preacher Pauley, he tells the congregation that "evil is good" because you can't appreciate the good things in life without bad things to give contrast.
- Mihail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita has Professor Woland, an avatar of Satan, schooling Matthew Levi: "You spoke your words as though you denied the very existence of the shadows or of evil. Think, now: where would your good be if there were no evil and what would the world look like without shadow? Shadows are thrown by people and things. There's the shadow of my sword, for instance. But shadows are also cast by trees and living things. Do you want to strip the whole globe by removing every tree and every creature to satisfy your fantasy of a bare world? You're stupid."
- The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge. After being criticized for going on a crime spree, "Slippery Jim" diGriz explains that the government will reimburse the institutions he robbed, and that the crimes provided excitement for the populace, increased the sale of newspapers, provided exercise for the police and the opportunity for field exercises by the military. He suggests that he should be paid for this instead of punished.
- A chapter quote from Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea.
Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk's flight on the empty sky.
— From "The Creation of Ea", an Earthsea poem
- A major theme in Paradise Lost.
- Some of the Dragonlance books have a darker take on this. The god of good in this setting is a Well-Intentioned Extremist with impossibly high standards, and he'd like to see all villains redeemed (through brainwashing if necessary), or else slain. If he actually beat the forces of evil, he'd become just as bad. In a nutshell, good needs evil to have something to fight against. If no outside targets are forthcoming, some of the good becomes evil to fight against itself.
- This is the entire point of Villains by Necessity which essentially takes the Dragonlance example above and makes it happen, with the last villains having to set things right.
- In The Dresden Files, when Harry gets possessed he gives a plausible argument to the Fallen Angel (Lasciel's imprint) that in possessing him, there's a risk of making him a better person if he survives with his sanity. Given the circumstances, it's not implausible. Later not only is he a greater force of good, but he ends up turning her into a force of Good once more as she willingly dies to save Harry.
- The major theme of Good Omens is that the forces of Heaven and Hell should be balanced rather than letting one win over the other.
- Lord Vetinari explains it to Captain Vimes at the end of Guards! Guards! this way:
"I'm sorry if this offends you,' he added, patting the captain's shoulder, "but you fellows really need us."
"Yes, sir?" said Vimes quietly.
"Oh, yes. We're the only ones who know how to make things work. You see, the only thing the good people are good at is overthrowing the bad people. And you're good at that, I'll grant you. But the trouble is that it's the only thing you're good at. One day it's the ringing of the bells and the casting down of the evil tyrant, and the next it's everyone sitting around complaining that ever since the tyrant was overthrown no-one's been taking out the trash."
- At the end of The Wheel of Time, Rand has the opportunity to kill the Dark One and end evil forever. He then sees a vision of the world that will be created if he does so one where everyone is mindlessly happy because they lack the ability to choose evil and thus have no true free will. This convinces Rand that people need the Dark One in order to be people and opts to simply seal it away again.
- Discussed in The Stormlight Archive, where one of the Cosmere's sixteen Pieces of God is Odium, the Shard of Hatred. Odium contends that his domain is actually Passion in all its forms and that his influence is necessary for humanity to strive and thrive; others say that that's a self-serving lie, and indeed, those most influenced by him tend to lash out and claim that their actions are Never My Fault rather than act constructively. One person argues that the trope is inverted, as "He bears the weight of God's own divine hatred, separated from the virtues that gave it context".
- Played straight in The Time of Contempt, in a conversation between Geralt and Codringher, where Codringher rightfully points out that the exact thing witchers strive to achieve is a world that doesn't need witchers.
- In the Doctor Who episode "Into the Dalek", the Doctor tells Rusty that he didn't know who he was until he met the Daleks: not them.
- In Supernatural this is inverted by Amara the Darkness. She scoffs at the notion that she wants a world full of evil and asks Crowley if he seriously believes the world would be better off if everyone was evil. Crowley admits that corruptors like him would be bored and out of a job if there was no good left to corrupt. Evil needs Good.
- Defied by the apostle Paul in The Bible, against people who rationalized this as an excuse to keep doing things they know are sinful:
Romans 6:1-2: What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?
- A different spin on this is pretty standard Christian theology, though: simply put, you can't truly do good if you don't have a choice to do evil. Hence all the bad things in the world—if God got rid of them, he would be taking away our free will so we would just be robots. Of course, some object to this idea (for instance pointing out many bad things which don't come from free will, like diseases).
- Concerning the doctrine of hell, there are Christians who believe that without it, Jesus' sacrifice on the cross would be deemed all for nothing, and there would be no need for a savior if there is no hell to save people from.
- Disgaea 3. The entire plot of the game was planned out by the Super Hero Aurum, the greatest hero of mankind, in order to raise Mao into being the Strongest Overlord... because, having defeated the PREVIOUS Strongest Overlord, Mao's father, he found himself bereft of a purpose. At the very end, he gives a whole speech about how the one thing a hero truly NEEDS, is a VILLAIN. Without an evil to fight, a hero is just a man - unimportant and soon forgotten. Because of that, Aurum spent 200 years disguised as a demon, raising Mao to be evil and powerful, and pushing him towards genocidal anger against humanity - just so he'd be able to swoop in in the last second and stop him. In the 'Bad' ending, he actually succeeds on the first part, and Mao invades and attacks the human world - but when Aurum tries to stop him, he unwittingly pushes Mao's Berserk Button by killing off his childhood friend, Raspberyl, sending Mao into a Suicidal Cosmic Temper Tantrum. So really, it might be considered an inversion of this trope, though matching nicely with the current name...
- Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow has protagonist Soma Cruz harassed by a three-member cult called "With Light" that believes in this trope. For God to be Perfect Good, there must be Perfect Evil to oppose Him, in the form of the Dark Lord, a role that Soma's previous incarnation, Dracula, filled for just over a thousand years. Leader Celia Fortner decides that, if Soma is going to defy his destiny, as he did in the previous game Aria of Sorrow, then she'll just have to kill him or find a way to change his mind. If she succeeds, it doesn't end well for her.
- A variation in Red Dead Redemption; Dutch Van der Linde says that after the law enforcement agents beat him, they'll need another monster to justify their paycheck, so they'll create one if they have to. Admittedly, neither side can be considered wholly good or evil, but the principle is the same.
- Twisted Metal III: Officers Jamie and Buzz Roberts, the drivers of Outlaw, wants a world clean and free of crime. If their wish is granted, they'll promptly find themselves unemployed because nobody needs police anymore.
- Played with in Bayonetta, it turns out Angels and Demons only play nice with one another because they are afraid if the balance between them skews too much it could bring about Armageddon. Also, its not good and evil having to keep in balance in this setting, but Light and Darkness. Also, the angels decide to renege on this agreement when they attempt to make a power play to destroy the known reality (taking out Hell and the human world) and remake it as one giant Fluffy Cloud Heaven.
- In Diablo III the titular character of the Rise of the Necromancer expansion believes in this trope, that the eternal conflict between light and dark is necessary for the stability and survival of the world.
- In a DLC mission for Senran Kagura: Estival Versus, Miyabi and Homura talk about their ideals of evil. In the case of Miyabi, she wants to uphold a certain standard to evil so that the righteous have a way to flourish.
- In Shuyan Saga, Master Shan believes this, and therefore rejects the idea that wanting to eliminate evil is sufficient reason for learning martial arts.
Master Shan: It is not wrong to stop evil when you come across it. But you cannot fight evil for the sake of ridding it from the world. You will never succeed. The bad exists so that people can truly understand what good is.
- This is a major part of Tarquin's argument as to why his Xanatos Gambit is guaranteed to work in The Order of the Stick.
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal: Inverted in "Dear Satan", where Satan explains there needs to be both good and evil in the world for the evil to be meaningful. In fact, Satan says he creates the good things and God creates the bad things.
- In Interviewing Leather, Leather asserts this philosophy, claiming not only that this trope is true, but that the superheroes need villains not to just be "porn stars in capes." The protagonist, who is developing Stockholm Syndrome, buys into it until Darkhood shows up and the series switches from Deconstruction to Reconstruction.
- In Worm, Tattletale has a variation on this which she calls "Cops and Robbers", arguing that the superheroes are like football teams, and the less dangerous villains provide opposition for the public to cheer against.
- Justice League: In the Justice Lords' universe, this is what sparked Superman's FaceHeel Turn. Lex Luthor accused Superman of only ever keeping him around because he enjoyed being a hero and needed a villain to fight against, hence why he kept letting Lex live and did little to stop him from coming back to cause problems again. Superman calmly admits he's right and he did like being a hero... before frying Lex with heat vision, deciding those days are over if this is where it leads.
- A recent study of Carnegie Mellon University and University Of Pittsburgh students seems to indicate that honesty goes up when an "outsider" is said to have cheated and goes down when an "insider" is said to have cheated. This, of course, is not a case of good needing evil, but of some of the paragons of Good refusing to associate with Evil traits.
- This trope is one of many, many theodicies presented as a response to the question of the "Problem of Evil", which asks "Why does an all-powerful, all-knowing, morally perfect God allow bad things to happen to good people?" Unfortunately the Problem is paradoxical in nature, so even if we assume evil is necessary, it still leaves 'gratuitous evil' (such as cancer) unexplained. The idea that good is impotent without evil does not maintain free will, nor build people's character.
- The ancient philosophers Heraclitus and (following him) Chrysippus claimed that good without evil is logically impossible: "There can be nothing more inept than the people who suppose that good could have existed without the existence of evil. Good and evil being antithetical, both must needs subsist in opposition."note
- If deviance against significant social norms (e.g. laws and international treaties) were to be successfully eliminated, professions related to law enforcement, judiciaries, and rehabilitation would become victims of their own successes and cease to exist.
- During the glory years of the American Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. would try to set up protests in Southern cities he knew were run by brutal bigots like "Bull" Connor in Birmingham, Alabama. In short, King gambled that those bullies would be so heavy-handed in front of TV cameras that viewers across the nation would be outraged at the violence. As it happened, most of those foes took the bait with vicious gusto, therefore proving him right. Only one local sheriff didn't fall for it, and completely defeated them. Thankfully most were not smart enough.
- Predation is such an important factor in driving evolution (for both predators and prey) that it is believed that without it life most likely would have stagnated very early on.