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Well-Intentioned Extremist

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"The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
Bernard of Clairvaux

A villain who has an overall goal which the heroes can appreciate in principle, but whose methods of pursuing said goal (such as mass murder) are problematic; despite any sympathy they may have with their cause, the heroes have no choice but to stop them. Taken to extremes, they may fully believe that Utopia Justifies the Means. Such an idealistic extremist is likely to be either a Totalitarian Utilitarian or a Principles Zealot, depending on whether they’re aiming For Happiness or For Great Justice. The most well-written examples of this trope are the kind that the reader/viewer stops just short of agreeing with.

Other times, the villain may be out for simple revenge against a person, corporation or other entity that has undeniably wronged them. Again, the heroes may sympathize with their plight, but are obliged to stop them because they care not who gets in the way of their planned revenge. However, the heroes will often investigate the villain's grievance themselves and will complement stopping the villain with bringing the offending party to justice as well.

Maybe they started out with actions as good as their intentions, but were forced to take more extreme measures. Either way, it's a common end result of Jumping Off the Slippery Slope. Their favorite phrase is I Did What I Had to Do.

There are four basic flavors of Well Intentioned Extremist:

  • The problem is the means:
    • The Extremist has a good goal that many would support, given that it is fundamentally good and noble, but only the Extremist thinks the means they have chosen are acceptable. Perhaps this particular road to utopia is Powered by a Forsaken Child or simply includes a nauseating level of so-called 'necessary' sacrifices.
    • The Extremist has a good goal that many would support, given that it is fundamentally good and noble, but the means the TU has chosen have hidden/'hidden' costs. Though it'll 'solve' the original problem, it'll bring about something even worse. For example, they may try to prevent crime... by sacrificing everyone's souls to an eldritch abomination so they will no longer have personalities or feel the desire to steal. They may not have even realized that this is a problem.

  • The problem is the goal:

  • The problem is the consequences:
    • The Extremist sees a real problem and offers a real solution that may or may not be ethically acceptable, but the bigger issue is that they are not taking into account the negative side-effects of their actions. For example:
      • The Extremist wants to assassinate the evil dictator of an oppressed country, but can't or won't take the time and effort to ensure that the country is not taken over by another who is just as bad or worse, or perhaps the country falls into chaos without the tyrant or a stronger, benevolent replacement to hold it all together.

  • The problem is the "problem":

On the extreme end, may result in the even darker Knight Templar who chooses to either remove free will, believing it the best way to save the world or destroy whoever they don’t consider worthy enough to live. Unlike this, The Well-Intentioned Extremist isn't a punisher of all flaws or a dictator who argues that they are good and therefore everyone else is bad; they actually realise that some of their victims don't deserve to die or suffer, but insist that it is for the greater good and actually isn't entirely wrong. They could also be a fallen Wide-Eyed Idealist that was driven over the edge, and sometimes a Worthy Opponent or even Reluctant Warrior. Vigilante Man is a case where the Well-Intentioned Extremist hasn't (yet) descended to the point of not caring who gets hurt. Often ends up in rivalries with the Knight in Sour Armor. Maybe they're Obliviously Evil and don't realise they're the bad guy, in which case they're prone to My God, What Have I Done? and becoming wracked with guilt and horror if they're ever enlightened. Some of those seeking to bring about a One World Order to end international strife may count as this.

This can be a difficult line to walk: push too hard in one direction and you make it seem as if the extreme methods are acceptable; push too hard in the other and you run the risk of denying the validity of their initial cause, of arguing for oppression (for instance) instead of against it. When the balancing is done they more often than not tend to be either Anti-Villains or even dark Anti-Heroes, especially if put more emphasis on the "well-intentioned" part than the "extremist" one. However, there are some who seem like WIEs but in reality are just straight-up villains, particularly if they are the other way around in terms of what they put more emphasis on and if they are obviously just using their philosophy as a shallow excuse to commit evil. Another version of a darker villain being this trope is that they have an actual philosophy which they believe will "improve" the world but the philosophy itself is too obviously evil to garner any sympathy, such as is often the case with the Misanthrope Supreme and genocidal maniacs (especially those who believe they're in a Guilt-Free Extermination War and act accordingly).

Often, these characters are presented as more dangerous and terrifying than some who are straight-up For the Evulz and Take Over the World types and with good reason: Even Evil Has Standards does not usually apply to them, as it might be for some others. After all, if you think you're doing the right thing, then it's easy to consider even the most horrific actions an acceptable compromise.

Compare with Necessarily Evil, where the villain in question has a Heel Realization and recognizes that he deserves punishment (of course, he may always choose to just Ignore That Epiphany). See also A Lighter Shade of Grey. A staple trope of the Master Computer gone mad. If the positive intention is overthrowing an evil government, the Well Intentioned Extremists will be an example of The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized. If his extremism actually succeeds in making the world a better place, it's The Extremist Was Right. The Small Steps Hero desperately wants to avert this trope. The Complete Monster will instead subvert this trope.

As this trope often goes hand-in-hand with the Face–Heel Turn or may involve the reveal of a villain's true plans (or intentions), expect spoilers.

Examples (No Real Life Examples, Please!):

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    Asian Animation 
  • Motu Patlu: Chaiwala becomes one in "Gold Samosa", where a samosa restaurant opens near his stand. Chaiwala is so determined to keep the restaurant from putting him out of business that, instead of just pulling a protest against the restaurant or doing something similar, he not only encourages John the Don when he hijacks one of the rival restaurant's trucks, but actually goes out of his way to keep Motu and Patlu from stopping John from stealing the truck.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Bible: Deconstructed by the Apostle Paul in Book of Romans 3:8 (NKJV), "And why not say, 'Let us do evil that good may come'? - as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just."

  • In Gospels of the Flood, Simon is genuinely trying to better the world. His understanding of what the problem is and how to solve it is not what most people would find reasonable, though.
  • In the Sick Sad World episode "Cult Classics", Dev and Jasmine remark that cult leader Jim Jones had good ideas about religion and the Bible, but his context for them was awful.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Simon Dean is tired of traveling this country and seeing so many fat monstrosities. So he is going to help solve the problem by selling his patented Simon System at a discount. Because even though he does not like you, Simon Dean believes in you!
  • Stevie Richards in TNA, trying to save the world from Abyss, and Abyss from himself, turned out to be worse than Abyss by the end of their feud.
  • Coming out of left field, "The World Famous" Kana, then on a mission to defeat Yoshihiro Tajiri and all the other "old men" of his SMASH promotion, wrote a "manifesto" on the Joshi half of Puroreso, emphasizing, among other things, a need to isolate every wrestler and dump the worthless ones after evaluating them all.
  • Jessicka Havok has always been a menace to WSU, but was cast in a new "heroic" light after DJ Hyde took over the company and proclaimed not only her but many others who were long time fan favorites Persona Non Gratanote . Since Havok did not care about WSU rulings to begin with, she continued to show up anyway and do what she does, to cheers. Jessicka's also fond of the Shine promotion, admitting that she had consciously not stooped to her usual lows while working there, not complaining when punished by officials for her post match rituals and attacking those who she feels are bad for the promotion or disrespectful to it, though she ignored the Legion of Doom who were guilty of every "crime" she charged all her other targets with because Allysin Kay, Havok's best friend from WSU, was a part of it.

    • Tuyet keeps trying to take over the universe because she genuinely believes that she can make it a better place. Unfortunately, her definition of "better" involves hundreds of innocent people being slaughtered, the Toa being brainwashed into Knights Templar, and the Matoran living in fear in a Big Brother Is Watching version of Metru Nui, as seen in an alternate reality.
    • Makuta Teridax was alluded to be this, as revealed by his lines in the film Mask of Light and LEGO's internal documentation, which stated he was a misguided but noble villain under the influence of his Mask of Shadows. He terrorized the Matoran, sought to kill the heroic Toa and blocked the passage to their home Metru Nui so that the deity Mata Nui would never awaken. Makuta argued that keeping Mata Nui in a coma "spares him pain". He was right — Mata Nui's body was under the island where Makuta had imprisoned the Matoran; if he woke up, he'd destroy it and kill his own people. Franchise co-creator Christian Faber described Makuta as an illness that ultimately strengthens one's body, serving a good cause via bad means. In later media, this side of Makuta was retconned. The movie Legends of Metru Nui painted him as fully evil, thinking he'd be a better god than Mata Nui, and author Greg Farshtey further re-imagined him as a Complete Monster who put Mata Nui to sleep not for his protection but to kill him.

    Web Video 
  • The Director of Project Freelancer in Red vs. Blue summed up his philosophy with this line: "When faced with extinction, every alternative is preferable." This led to him performing highly unethical and illegal research on fusing Artificial Intelligences with elite human operatives, which ended in plenty of deaths and more than a couple of breakdowns of sanity (for both humans and A.I.s). It's mentioned that entire sections of ethics law regarding AIs were added and rewritten once the full extent of what he had done was revealed.
  • Duncan, from Arby 'n' the Chief, simply wanted to remove game police. If he had to ban other people, so be it. To be fair, he at least refused to participate in Clyde's plan to bring down the network.
  • In Belkinus Necrohunt, Nathaniel has claimed that "the ends justify the means" as an explanation for some of the shadier activities the Witchtakers have done, such as how frequently they engage in Recruiting the Criminal without disclosing it to the public. In the Grand Finale, Chandrelle has a similar mindset, claiming that everything she's done was for the sake of achieving a True Resurrection, which helps Nathaniel realize that he can never be sure what "the ends" will be until they happen and that the Witchtakers need to be more focused on "the means", which is why he makes Renee his successor.
  • Fortnite The Movie: Jokeman Ranch. If not for his deeds, everyone would be dead. The only thing between White Skull and world domination was Ranch himself, but after he is killed by a character, The Oni is finally able to enact his plan to dominate the world.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The End Justifies The Means, Well Intentioned Extremism


M. Bison's speech

As he explains in a visionary speech, M. Bison wants to create an army of genetic super soldiers swearing absolute obedience to him. Then by conquering the world he can do away with conflicts based on race, nation, or creed, and everyone can live peacefully under his dominion.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

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Main / WellIntentionedExtremist

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