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Intellectually Supported Tyranny

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"Every single empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort. And, sadder still, there always is a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic empires, as if one shouldn't trust the evidence of one's eyes watching the destruction and the misery and death brought by the latest mission civilizatrice."
Edward Said, Orientalism

The regime has established a tyranny that oppresses people, or carries out or initiates policies that are tyrannical, or otherwise express a lot of nasty views of Fantastic Racism and so on. Most of the people who support this have to be pure evil, right? Sure some of them are, but it's possible that some or most of them are Just Following Orders, or are being bribed by Better Living Through Evil, are intimidated into submission by fear and reprisal. But surely, no smart person could rationally condone and support such actions. Cue the ultimate Broken Pedestal, the individuals who are smart, who are competent, and even achievers in their profession, supporting an organization, state, or a set of policies that are directly harmful to others. Such individuals both believe and support such policies and even articulate elaborately written justifications that on the face of it, may sound convincing and you might even approve, reluctantly or honestly, that Jerkass Has a Point or Villain Has a Point.

This trope has historically been very much Truth in Television, despite the general assumption that intellectuals are supposed to be responsible in their social and political opinions. In these cases, the intellectuals themselves can be the ones pulling the levers of power, and genuinely believe that what they are doing is for the greater good. Perhaps paradoxically, other intellectuals are then still likely to be among the targets of their oppression: namely, those independent spirits who disagree with the approved ideologies of the regime. If an anti-intellectual regime ends up catching its supporters in the crossfire, the Original Position Fallacy may be at play as well.

More sympathetic fictional depictions may show the intellectuals as misguided sympathizers of the Evil Overlord du jour either because they Draco in Leather Pants said Lord for some reason or other, or see them as Byronic Hero and Not Evil, Just Misunderstood, which the villain might even invoke to better manipulate said intellectuals to serve as tools and builders of their Cult of Personality. This is a good variation on Not Brainwashed, and it provides a more nuanced and gray look at such conflicts to better explain why La Résistance is always on the back foot to The Empire. Alternatively, the author may themselves be an anti-intellectual, in which case the intellectuals will be the most ridiculous strawmen imaginable.

Archetypes that are similar but not exactly this trope include Well-Intentioned Extremist, Mad Scientist, Evil Genius, differing from this trope in that it better fits villains or Villain Protagonist. Intellectually Supported Tyranny are not really main characters but usually supporting players, and where the other archetypes commit evil actions believing them to be good, such figures know fully well that the actions are tyrannical but are both "necessary" and "correct". Given that they tend to reference actual totalitarian governments, dystopian works often have the heroes interacting with this type, who tends to have power in a paradoxically anti-intellectual state. For the good version, where the state is ruled by intellectuals but this is presented as a good thing, see the Philosopher King.

In real life, all states and systems of government have more or less "official" philosophers, ideologists, and journalists who promulgate and propagate their respective ideologies, and this has demonstrably been so at least as far back as we have written records. Naturally, tyrannies are no exception. However, precisely which historical (or worse, present-day) regimes qualify as "tyrannies" is a matter not everyone is likely to agree on, and debate over the said matter would be overwhelmingly likely to produce more heat than light.

Therefore, No Real Life Examples, Please!.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Kiyomi Takada has this kind of vibe in Death Note, being an important example of a sane Kira supporter who is established to be on the same intellectual level as Light (albeit only academically). In her profession as newscaster, rather than helping to secure society against the Kira-cult, she becomes one of its major propagandists.
  • Diethard in Code Geass is another journalist example of this type, becoming a propagandist for Lelouch/Zero. He's motivated by discontent with the entrenched Britannian aristocracy but ends up as a more negative version as, ultimately, he's really looking for an interesting Magnificent Bastard to follow, and thus defects to the side of Prince Schneizel, who is even more so a Villain with Good Publicity.
  • In Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School, humanity's new leadership, the Future Foundation, is full of tyrants and weirdos, many of whom seem not much better than the bad guys. Tengan, the FF's seemingly sensible founder, turns out to be the worst of all — he's decided a worldwide Lotus-Eater Machine is the only way to save mankind from itself.

    Comic Books 
  • Marvel Universe:
    • In Civil War (2006), Reed Richards, the Skrull impersonating Hank Pym, and Tony Stark together support the (inconsistently) brutal Super Registration Act.
    • In Marvel Zombies, Reed Richards becomes Les Collaborateurs for the army of zombified superheroes invading from another dimension. It's clear that the grief of losing his children left him.... slightly unhinged.
    • In Runaways, Alex Wilder dresses up his decision to betray his teammates to cultists who are trying to destroy the world as simply being the most logical play given the circumstances. Of course, it's left ambiguous whether he actually believes this or is just trying to make excuses for a selfish decision.
  • In Watchmen, the Big Bad Ozymandias is a former super-hero who once believed in Save the Villain and Thou Shalt Not Kill. Reluctantly he comes around to accepting that it's necessary to unleash a massive atrocity to end the Cold War by means of Genghis Gambit. The final two issues of the comics all deal with how he arrived at this decision intellectually and justifying it by means of the same.

    Fan Works 

    Film — Animated 
  • In Persepolis, Marjane's father initially tries to rationalize the theocratic bent of the Iranian Revolution as a bump on the road to a new government that will be friendlier to intellectuals like him.

  • Atlas Shrugged has a handful of 'intellectuals' supporting the People's States, although the overwhelming majority are unwilling to put forward works stating anything more than uncertainty. Dr. Ferris, author of Why Do You Think You Think and political force behind creating Project Xylophone with a range focused within the continental United States, is the most overt of that branch. Dr. Stadler is the more conventional intellectual, and his brilliance lends to a couple Pet the Dog moments before we discover exactly what he was willing to sell his word and his soul for.
  • Brave New World has a rare example of this character as the Evil Overlord himself, in Mustapha Mond. Also unique is that he comes across as more complex/likely to be right than other examples. Mond is one of the few who realized how oppressive the system is, since he is smart enough to see that the science which they practice is repeating what was already known to avoid upsetting the status quo with new breakthroughs. The difference between him and the protagonists is that the World controllers had an opening. When Mond realized it, he took their offer. He argues that their system really does produce the most happiness, in spite of it being less meaningful than life as it was before, and John never actually refutes this.
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky dealt with this so often (in Crime and Punishment, Demons, The Brothers Karamazov), that some argue that he comes dangerously close to Anti-Intellectualism since his novels frequently presented characters inspired by Western ideas to be both insane and anti-Russian, and likewise said the only alternative was community with the Orthodox Church and accepting the Tsarist regime. Russian critics indeed accused Dostoevsky of Psychological Projection in that he condemned radical and left-wing ideas for intellectually justifying violence while himself providing intellectual justifications for Tsarist autocracy, while once being a leftist revolutionary himself.
    • Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment argues by citing Napoleon and other Byronic heroes that exceptional people and smart individuals have a right to fully control and determine the lives of those beneath him. Most of the novel is a series of interactions between him and other characters to test out whether his ideas are right or wrong. In the end, Raskolnikov in a What You Are in the Dark moment decides that he is in fact right, and that most of the world and social values are bunk and hypocritical, and that the only thing stopping him from being a good person is himself, and in the end, he willingly turns himself in for his crimes.
    • The Brothers Karamazov has this conflict play out between the three brothers of Alyosha, Ivan, and Dimitri, children of a nasty father. Ivan is the intellectual who believes that in a world without God or religious belief, "everything is permitted", and is sympathetic to revolutionary violence and other ideas. He even provides a famous parable to Alyosha called "the Grand Inquisitor" that a Corrupt Church's tyranny dwarfs, co-opts, and destroys Christ's goodness. But ultimately he faces guilt for the fact that his ideas drove Smerdyakov, his bastard brother, to commit Patricide and frame his other brother Dimitri for the crime. Ivan can't handle the guilt of what his ideas achieved in reality and goes insane when Dmitri is sentenced and faces imprisonment for a crime he didn't commit.
  • Fahrenheit 451 has Beatty, who is Da Chief for the Firemen and (typically for a dystopian novel) is a well-read intellectual devoted to his job of burning books. It's implied in the novel and more explicit in some adaptations that at heart, Beatty hates himself for what he has become.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows states that in his younger days, Dumbledore, the smartest wizard of his generation and the Child Prodigy of his time, came dangerously close to supporting Gellert Grindelwald's crusade to Take Over the World and civilize/conquer the Muggles. Dumbledore even admits it in a letter discovered by the protagonists, that they must accept and present "For the Greater Good" as the primary motivation to prospective converts, a phrase which became Grindelwald's slogan in his Dark Wizard campaign and his Cult of Personality. A tragic mishap snaps Dumbledore out of this phase and he becomes for the rest of his life a committed anti-Dark Arts activist and philanthropist, personally defeating Grindelwald then opposing others of the same bent like Voldermort to his death.
  • This type is very common in literary works with 19th-century Bomb-Throwing Anarchists, the originators of the Terrorists Without a Cause idea. This character is generally someone with a good knowledge of chemistry who applies it to arm the anarchists with explosives.
    • In his novel Under Western Eyes as well as at least one short story, Joseph Conrad has a character called the Professor. It's been noted that this was a somewhat unfair presentation of one of Conrad's friends from the Rossetti family (the same as Dante Gabriel and Christina), who, while politically radical and a chemistry expert, was not involved in terrorism. Same thing in The Secret Agent. Appearently based on a real person.
    • The play The Firebugs (also translated as The Arsonists) has the title pyromaniacs aided by a character identified only as Professor. However, he grows disgusted after realizing the other firebugs are only doing it for fun, not radical politics, and disassociates from them.
    • In E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime, one of the sons from the main family of wealthy WASPs starts out by making fireworks and ends up in this role in the actual anarchist movement (e.g., with Emma Goldman), but is presented sympathetically, more along the lines of He Who Fights Monsters. This contrasts with other "Professor" characters who lean in the direction of simply enjoying things going boom despite a basis in radical politics.
  • In The Wheel of Time, the leader of the Forsaken was once a philosopher - and since the Dark One will destroy time forever if he succeeds and gets to keep trying until he manages, decided to throw his lot in with the winner. In fact, almost all of the Forsaken were intellectuals before the Bore was opened. Sammael (athlete), Moghedien (investment broker), and Be'lal (lawyer) were not (and Rahvin is a cypher), but the Forsaken include a doctor, a geneticist, a composer, a university lecturer, a psychiatrist, an academic mage studying the nature of magic, a historian/anthropologist, and the aforementioned philosopher. The others are mostly well-versed in history, literature, and especially magic, among other things.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has the Citadel and the Order of Maesters. The Maesters are supported and patronized by the feudal lords, and they write the court histories and advise the King or High Lord on matters of policies and educate the children. This results in many of them invoking Hobbes Was Right, Working-Class People Are Morons, and other tropes to not only justify and cement the power of the aristocracy but to make them feel good about it. Maester Pycelle, the utterly corrupt Grand Maester of the Citadel, in particular serves as the propagandist for tyrannical Tywin Lannister and more or less justifies all his most heinous crimes for the greater good.
  • Things Fall Apart portrays colonial officers and others serving as part of the British Crown justifying and enabling colonialism by elaborate intellectual justifications, being so trapped by their racist views of Africans and others that they are Dramatically Missing the Point of their actions and cruelty. The story which deals with the manner in which Okonkwo becomes a Tragic Hero ends with the nasty irony that his story will more or less become The Greatest Story Never Told, a footnote in a book written by a chronicler documenting the pacification of African tribes in the local area.
  • In the 1927 La Trahison des Clercs ("The Treason of the Intellectuals"), French philosopher Julien Benda accused most European intellectuals of the 19th and early 20th centuries of having done this, becoming apologists to tyranny by supporting ideas like nationalism, communism, warmongering, and racism; he critisizes them for dropping universalist ideals (truth, justice and reason) to advocate instead the promotion of collective egoism of groups such as nations and social classes. He republished the book in 1946.
  • Karl Popper believed that The Republic was an example of this, since the ideal state as defined by Plato is quite frighteningly totalitarian. He felt that it negatively influenced Western civilization given Plato's acclaim, which he saw born out with the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. It can be said Italian Fascism was The Republic Gone Horribly Right. Giovanni Gentile, the head philosopher of the Italian Fascist Party, was strongly influenced by Plato. Further, the Nazis were fans of Plato's ideas.
  • Animal Farm: The pigs generally seem to be the smartest animals on the farm, and all are the beneficiaries of Napoleon's dictatorship. Benjamin the donkey is usually taken to represent intellectuals who grumbled about the rise of the Stalin but did nothing to actually stop it, supporting it by inaction.
  • The Traitor Baru Cormorant: Falcrest is the most scientifically advanced nation in the known world, and it uses that science to justify things like racism and eugenics. As a citizen of Falcrest, your career opportunities depend on your performance in the civil service exam, and to take the civil service exam you must grow up in and graduate from a Falcresti boarding school, which aside from educating you also does its best to assimilate you into Falcrest’s culture. In other words, if you want to have a world-class education and a position of authority in Falcrest, you must also learn its values by heart: intellectuals support Falcrest because Falcrest has taught them that’s what intellectuals do. The title character, an Internal Reformist and mathematical genius from a culture Falcrest is trying to erase, almost finds herself parroting its own talking points to a rebel from another colonized nation when confronted with an example of the very brutality she wants ended.

    Video Games 
  • Doctor Wallace Breen in Half-Life 2 acts as the voice and face of the alien Combine occupation, but it's not entirely clear if his support is out of self-serving misanthropy or actual misguided idealism. Regardless, he constantly tries to provide "rational" and "scientific" reasons for why aliens committing genocide and suppressing human reproduction is a good thing for our future.
  • Stellaris: You can have a materialistic imperial government type, named Despotic Hegemony, with a research speed bonus and absolute disregard for political rights.
    "This government is a materialistic form of hereditary autocracy, where citizens are viewed as little more than cogs in the state machinery. Efficiency and technological progress are valued above all things."
  • In Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, we learn the answer to Apocalypse How. There's been a global revolution of murderous nihilism — led by mankind's best and brightest, the 77th Hope's Peak graduating class. The subsequent anime Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School retconned this somewhat (they were brainwashed by Junko and may even have thought they were doing good) but also introduced new examples, as noted above.
  • Far Cry:
    • The United Front for Labor and Liberation in Far Cry 2 is implied to be this; their name evokes socialist left-wing nationalist academia, and their leader is strictly Armchair Military. Of course, nothing about their ideology is spelled out for certain, and they're all but identical to their enemies, the Alliance for Popular Resistance (implied to be monarchists and military elites).
    • Anton Castillo, the dictator of Yara in Far Cry 6 appears to have such an opinion in the reveal trailer, as he tells his son Diego:
      Anton Castillo: I am el presidenté. Which means that, someday, you will be el presidenté. And our people, they do not know how to be happy. They are torn apart by opinions, noise, indecision... strangled by their own freedom. And even if you have love in your heart... even if you want what's best for them... if you only want to save them from themselves... they will hate you, Diego. Everything you say, do, believe... will be wrong.

  • Guilded Age: The Gastonians are primarily manipulated by the 'altruists', who push their human-supremacist agenda so that Gastonia may become a utopia. This screws everyone over when one of the altruists' children reveals himself to be a tyrannical sociopath and uses their nuclear deterrence like a video game.
  • In The B-Movie Comic, Professor Dr. instantly supports captain Emo's tyrannical regime. This whole trope is lampshaded in The Rant.

    Western Animation 
  • Beast Machines: Rhinox, one of the most intelligent Maximals, sides with Megatron's scheme of removing organic life and free will from Cybertron, claiming to have seen all the sides and deciding his plans are the best path to peace. The only difference is he wants to be the one in charge. When he dies as a result, he meets Optimus in the afterlife and admits he was wrong, subverting this trope.

Alternative Title(s): Treason Of The Intellectuals, Trahison Des Clercs