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Pragmatic Villainy / Literature

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Pragmatic Villainy in literature.

  • Zig-Zagged in Animorphs with Visser One, who claims she wants Earth to be conquered slowly and secretly because it's more pragmatic than Visser Three's plans of open war and genocide. In reality, she's worried that an open war could coincidentally kill two children she gave birth to through a previous human host. However, since the whole point of going after Earth was because there are enough people to give every Yeerk a host, the whole thing would have been pointless if Visser Three killed a large percentage of humans. Visser One also knows that Three has vastly overestimated their advantage (having taken a human host she knows that Humanity Is Insane and Humans Are Warriors), and that in an open conflict the humans may well win.
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  • This is one of the defining traits of the Lady in The Black Company novels. She's almost entirely devoid of compassion and mercy, and totally devoid of remorse, but neither is she cruel for the sake of cruelty — everything she does is to get some kind of advantage, and her empire is designed to be stable and enduring. She's deliberately contrasted with her psychotic rival and sister Soulcatcher, who is pretty much pure chaos, and her ex-husband, the Dominator, whose empire, rather than being oppressive but stable and organized was almost literal Hell on Earth.
  • Caliphate:
    • The Imperial States are rather restrictive with their mind-control implants, not because they object to the technology in principle, but because, back when they were more common, the Chinese hacked them, and they don't want that to happen again.
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    • The Caliphate is an tyrannical Islamic state, that only tolerates its horribly oppressed non-Muslim minorities because the economy is reliant on their jizya tax and can't afford to forcibly convert or destroy them, with one slaver chiding an official for raising the taxes because the Christian population can barely afford it.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: Discussed in The Magician's Nephew. One bit of narration points out that once the witch was finished with Diggory, she completely ignored him, because witches are "terribly practical".
    • This also holds true when she tries to tempt Diggory with a forbidden apple. She first appeals to his desire for personal gain by saying it will make him immortal. When Diggory makes it clear he isn't interested in immortality, the witch starts urging him to take the apple back to his sick mother and use it to heal her. Either way, Aslan would have been deprived of the fruit needed to protect Narnia, and Diggory would have suffered in some way in the end.
    • This is shown earlier (at least in terms of publication, not chronologically) in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The White Witch captures Edmund, but is unable to catch his siblings before they reach Caer Paravel, with everyone believing that they'll fulfill a prophecy that the witch will meet her end when two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve sit on the thrones. The witch decides that it's all but impossible to stop Edmund's brother and sisters, but reasons that simply killing Edmund will render the group unable to fulfill the prophecy, since she doesn't need to kill all four siblings to stop it; she only needs to kill one of them. Fortunately, a group of Narnians find and save Edmund. Earlier on, after first establishing that Edmund was part of a group of children made up of two boys and two girls, the witch tries to trick him into bringing his siblings to her castle, with the promise of making him a prince and his siblings lesser nobility. Mr. Beaver figures that she would have turned them all into statues the instant they set foot in her castle.
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  • In Companions of the Night, "don’t kill children" is one of the first rules vampires learn. Because of moral reasons? No. It’s because missing or murdered children always attract more attention than missing or murdered adults, especially from a Mama Bear or Papa Wolf who will have no problem going on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
    Ethan: One thing we’ve learned over the years, the number one rule – after "you can never have too many covers on a window" – is "don’t mess with kids."
  • The Malkuth family in Dance Of The Butterfly. They serve as antagonists, though they also help in the fight against the otherworldly invaders. They engage in manipulation, fraud, and murder, but they are very utilitarian in the application of such means.
  • Discworld:
    • Havelock Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, does not really rule his realm with an iron fist. He has the novel idea of maintaining control by making people actually want him in charge, or at the very least, make removing him from power an unsavory prospect. In both Going Postal and Making Money he's confronted by people trying to usurp him. Instead of cracking down on them, he points Loveable Rogue Moist Von Lipwig in their general direction, and waits until he makes sure his usurpers are publicly discredited. Then he reminds them he's the Tyrant and can, in fact, crack down on them.
      He didn't administer a reign of terror. Just the occasional light shower.
    • In Jingo the D'regs have the same philosophy as Genghis Khan regarding their treatment of merchants. Kill merchants, or steal too much, and they don't come back. Rob them just enough and your sons can rob them too. Vimes compares it to farming.
    • The Assassins Guild is like this; they kill only for money, never taking sides, which allows them to survive political upheavals in the city because when one tyrant overthrows another the new one will want their services as well. They also refuse to assassinate anyone whose death they feel will destabilize the city; civic chaos is no good, and they want the city rich enough to afford their very expensive fees.
    • Chrysoprase, head of the troll mafia, pulls out of the drug trade when the "lie back and watch the pretty colors" drugs with long-term effects start getting supplanted by more powerful ones that cause homicidal rage or can be easily overdosed on to kill the user. He even points the city watch at drug labs manufacturing these when tensions are particularly high. It's hard to make money off dead customers, after all.
    • The Old Count de Magpyr is this in comparison to his modern family. The current genreation of Magpyrs have suppressed their weaknesses to holy symbols and other traditional vampire vulnerabilities through dilligent training, and insist that they are much more civilized about drinking blood by having their peasants view it as a civic duty. The Old Count by contrast made no excuses about being a blood-sucking kidnapper of comely young ladies, and was a Fair-Play Villain who left his castle littered with heavy curtains to be flung aside to admit daylight, ornaments easily twisted into holy symbols, and even caches of stakes and diagrams explaining where the heart is! But at the book's climax when the peasants rise up, they try to make the new vampires Deader Than Dead, but greet the returning Old Count fondly as a Worthy Opponent. If a vampire can be overthrown by anyone with courage and good fortune, who will then enjoy the prestige of being a vampire slayer and the gratitude of any kidnapped maidens, the peasants will be satisfied with "killing" the vampire for a few decades before he returns to repeat the routine with the next generation. But if a vampire reduces a community to Industrialized Evil, the people will take extreme measures to stop them for good.
      • Harry Dread operates on a similar theory. He knows that by following the Evil Overlord List to the letter, the heroes will spare his life after they topple his evil empire, leaving him free to do it again somewhere else. Trouble starts for him when a new generation of heroes crop up, who don't follow the Code, and actually try to kill him.
    • Even in the pre-Ridcully days of the book series, Wizards in the Discworld series avoided using deals with demons for much of anything, because they realized all the power in the bargain would come from the demon and that thus "using it for their own purposes was like beating mice to death with a rattlesnake".
  • In the Draka series, the Draka are horrified at the Holocaust. Because the death camps were a massive waste of resources.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Gentleman Johnny Marcone mercilessly crushes gang violence in Chicago and cuts down civilian casualties, imposing order in the criminal underworld, making it so that his presence is by far preferable to the anarchy that would follow, should he be taken down. He fights on the side of the good guys more often than not, if only because the villain of whatever book he's in is a greater threat to Marcone's business than Dresden is. And to top it all off, he provides Harry Dresden, a man notorious for "having problems with buildings," a lifetime membership to all of Marcone's exclusive clubs to ensure that Harry doesn't smash them to pieces breaking in all the time. This is best exemplified with Marcone, by the attitude of one of his subordinates when she saw Harry enter. "What must I give you to get you to leave very quickly."
    • Lara Raith qualifies as well. She helps Harry out each time because doing so will increase her own political power.
    • The White Court vampires turn out to have been part of a secret war against terrifying ancient gods, taking it almost solely upon themselves rather than involve anyone else. Why? Because the more people know of these gods, the more powerful they get, and if the gods were allowed to live again they'd ruin the White Court's food supply.
    • Queen Mab really wants Dresden to be her Winter Knight. Her strategy for recruiting him? Ensure that she is his least horrible option so that when he inevitably gets in over his head and needs a powerup, she'll be the one he comes running to. It pays off in Changes, when Dresden suffers a broken back while his daughter is being held hostage by vampires, and he agrees to become the Winter Knight for a chance at rescuing her.
  • From Dune: "A pogrom? That's not like the Harkonnens. A pogrom is wasteful." Because of this, the Baron doesn't much like Rabban, who is just a brute, and he is more than willing to sacrifice Rabban for his smarter younger brother Feyd-Rautha. On the other hand, putting Rabban in charge for a while, then deposing him in favor of Feyd-Rautha makes the latter look much better by comparison. So putting a monster in charge is ultimately quite pragmatic.
  • Touched upon in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, when Dr Gonzo mentions the defence adopted by one of his clients: "Why would I fuck children? They're too small!"
    • Raoul Duke had earlier objected to Gonzo's drugging and then taking sexual advantage of Lucy. Not because Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil, mind, but because Duke and Gonzo were already several felonies into a proper visit to Las Vegas and the last thing they needed was Lucy sobering up and calling the police, especially considering they were currently crashing a national police convention. Duke very pointedly wants to dump Lucy somewhere while she's still strung out to lower the risk of her remembering anything incriminating.
  • In the Fighting Fantasy books, the Sorcerous Overlord Zharradan Marr invests most of his time and his armies of darkness operating a... mining company on the frontier so he has a secure base to pursue his magical studies. He hires competent minions, obtains his coveted MacGuffins through guile rather than force, and prepares a tactical airstrike against a Hidden Elf Village with valuable secrets rather than waste resources invading the forests en masse.
  • Harmony Black: Buck Wheeler may be an amoral scumbag who bought monsters and demon-blooded to sell to customers for a variety of magical and sexual reasons, but he's not stupid enough to buy two federal agents and use them as sex slaves.
    Buck: Now, what sounds like a better business plan to you? Option A: I hold two feds hostage, have to keep 'em tied up and under constant guard the rest of their lives, and my customers get lousy service. Or, option B: I go to a couple of professional whores and say, "Hey, ladies. Wanna be my whores? I will pay you," in which case I get a couple of happy employees and a whole lot of happy customers.
  • Harry Potter Voldemort is as much of a Bad Boss as this trope allows it. Pragmatic Villainy and all this prevents him from wantonly murdering his pawns and only tortures them to scare them, with two exceptions and both had a pragmatic motive once to keep them from learning about the Horcruxes and secondly when he believed sacrificing a minion (even one of the best ones) would be the key to unlimited power. Also he is willing to play the role of the good boss who rewards whoever serves him well handsomely because it helps cultivate his image that he is not ungrateful and that he is close to each of his henchmen (which is a lie).
    • According to Pottermore, the Malfoy family, despite their Fantastic Racism, knew that trying to "keep the blood pure" by only marrying Purebloods would be impractical in the long run since there simply aren't enough Purebloods around to prevent incestuous marriages from happening at some point. Thus, whenever an unrelated (or so distantly related that a union wouldn't lead to possible birth defects) Pureblood was unavailable for marriage, a Half-blood—considered the next best thing—would be allowed to marry into the family instead.
  • The Hearts We Sold: Demons aren't inherently evil, but don't care much for humans and are seen as odd at best, and otherworldly monsters at worst. So, they have to take measures to make demon-human relations as pleasant as possible. Their one rule for making deals is that they won't bring physical harm to any humans. The Daemon, however, is willing to kill someone, for the right price.
  • In The Hobbit, the three trolls don't want to eat Bilbo, simply because he wasn't big enough to go through the trouble of skinning and boning him.
  • While Moriarty and Moran in Kim Newman's The Hound Of The D Urbervilles are not above doing things For the Evulz, they often adhere to this trope. At one point, Moriarty researched stealing the Crown Jewels of Britain, but rather than actually pulling the caper, sells the plans to the guardians, so they may tighten their security. And Moran discourses at some length about the foolishness of criminals who steal unique, one-of-a-kind, well-known (or religiously-venerated) valuables, because they're impossible to fence and often bring retribution after the thief.
  • How to Succeed in Evil: Central character Edwin Windsor makes a lucrative, if frustrating, living counseling would-be supervillains to turn their efforts away from wanton destruction and towards more profitable strategies.
    • It's not just practical in the sense of money as a goal, the book's primary plot-line centers around how genuinely terrifying and brutally efficient the man is at achieving his goal when the goal ISN'T money, but revenge.
    • Amusingly, Topper's efforts to play counterpoint to his friend by doing everything just for kicks also clarifies into a clear goal in the second book, and he is similarly successful in obtaining what he was aiming for because of his underlying pragmatism in getting there, even if the goal itself is somewhat nonsensical.
  • The Hunger Games:
    • The eponymous games have Children Forced to Kill called "tributes" as young as twelve years old in a Deadly Game. But the games' organizers explicitly forbid the use of firearms, because they're seen as an unfair advantage. If the kids all just shot each other, the games would be over too quick, and it wouldn't be as much fun for the Capital to watch.
    • The organizers also ensure that the climate of the Games Arenas are not too challenging - they want the tributes to be fighting each other, not spending all their time and effort struggling to stay warm and alive in desperate cold temperatures.
    • This trope is how President Snow convinces Katniss that he wasn't behind the bombs that killed Katniss's sister. He points out that, had he been in control of the hovercraft, he would have used it to escape instead of sending it to bomb civilians.
      President Snow: Ms. Everdeen, we both know I'm not above murdering children, but I am not wasteful."
  • In Death: Alex Ricker in Promises In Death demonstrates this in his conversation with Roarke. Alex reveals that the men who robbed his store and were found floating in the river all carved up were killed off by his father, Max Ricker. Max did this because the thieves embarrassed Alex and embarrassment is apparently unacceptable. Alex didn't have them killed and didn't want the problem handled that way, and that he doesn't do murder... because it's just not practical.
  • The Jenkinsverse: Since the Corti bred out most of their morality centuries ago with eugenics, the "heroic" Corti tend to be like this (the villainous ones are just Smug Snakes). They're completely selfish, but figure that it's best to have a good reputation selling to everyone rather than a bad reputation stealing from everyone. Askit especially stands out. As a Corti criminal famous for stealing basically everything not nailed down, he's expected to last about five minutes in the company of Adrian Saunders, one of the most dangerous men in the galaxy. Instead, Askit recognizes that it's far better to be on Adrian's side than against him, and risks his life to help him on multiple occasions.
  • The Lord of the Rings:
    • The orcs don't torture Merry and Pippin and actually heal them, because they don't have time to linger in enemy territory (and some of the orcs have orders not to search or plunder them by Saruman who needs to be the one to find the ring first). He didn't bother to give such orders about the rest of the Fellowship of course.
    • Similarly, Sauron doesn't torment or question Pippin through the palantír - because "he wanted [Pippin], quickly, so he could deal with [him] in the Dark Tower, slowly."
    • Sauron lets Gollum go after he tortures all the information he needs out of him. It could be because Sauron thought he would work more mischief if he were let go not unlike when Morgoth let Húrin go in The Children of Húrin. Characters within the story suppose that Gollum was released on orders to spy for Sauron or serve some other purpose, but Gollum strenuously denies this, never gives the full truth, and we never hear Sauron's explanation. Another probability is that Sauron hoped that Gollum would lead him to the Ring.
    • Shagrat the Uruk-hai commander defends the captured Frodo from Gorbag and the Minas Morgul orcs. Not because he cares about Frodo, but because Gorbag wants to steal Frodo's Mithril coat and other possessions for himself, whereas Shagrat has orders to take everything to Sauron.
  • Quoth Niccolò Machiavelli: "The prince can always avoid hatred if he abstains from the property of his subjects and citizens and from their women". The Prince is the textbook for Pragmatic Villainy. He also advised that a Prince was better off with popular support over the nobility. The nobles only want to oppress, and the people just want to not be oppressed. Support of the people is therefore the better and easier path.
    • This position was also noted in his Discourses on Livy. Both The Prince and The Discourses heavily influenced Enlightenment thought on politics (although people tried to mention it as little as possible), and in particular is responsible for this gem, penned by James Madison in "Federalist No. 51":
      If men were angels, no Government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on Government would be necessary. In framing a Government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the Government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the People is, no doubt, the primary control on the Government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
    • Federalist 51 is about checks and balances in the federal government. In other words, the whole point of checks and balances is to ensure that even if the whole government is composed of villains to a man, the structure of the system is such that it is in the interests of these villains to advance the public good. This is the entire theory of modern liberal democracy.
    • It's important to remember, however, that Machiavelli was in favor of republics, and "The Prince" was intended to be a critique of the behavior of despots, not a field guide. (The flip side of this, however, is that Machiavelli recognized that politicians in republics could and did use the same techniques to gain support—the key in the Discourses is designing a republic that could withstand and guide that kind of rough play).
      • When considered that way, it seems like a 15th-century version of the Evil Overlord List.
  • The Nero Wolfe novel And Be A Villain revolves around a blackmail syndicate with two unusual features: they blackmail their victims using fake yet damaging slander rather than genuine secrets they've uncovered, and they only keep their victims on the hook for a single calendar year before cutting them loose. While both seem odd and less immediately lucrative for the blackmailers, Wolfe explains that there's actually a very good logic behind both:
    • People are ultimately less concerned about fake slander than their genuine secrets. A slander can likely be disproven, albeit not without effort and inconvenience, so someone is unlikely to get emotionally invested in keeping it quiet and may be willing to settle for an 'easy' way of doing so. Someone faced with a genuine and damaging secret that may be revealed is more likely to be invested in keeping it quiet and may resort to extreme measures to do so (as is demonstrated in the novel itself, as the blackmailers unwittingly stumbled on someone's genuine secret).
    • Someone on the hook to a blackmailer indefinitely will eventually decide that enough is enough and take measures to stop the blackmail; by going to the police, killing the blackmailer, or even just deciding that the secret isn't worth the cost and calling the blackmailer's bluff. Either way, no matter how lucrative eventually the money gets cut off and the blackmailer risks exposure as well. On the other hand, people will put up with a surprising amount of inconvenience, however grudgingly, if they're given a sincere good-faith reassurance that it will eventually end.
  • In the Night Watch (Series), the Dark Others tend toward this when declining more villainous actions:
    • In one scene, a Dark Other manifests a cat to torture a mouse and his cohorts are disgusted with him because it would waste less energy to just kill the mouse himself, and he's distracted from his job of guarding their headquarters. To an extent, he's also considered to be acting Stupid Evil.
    • The Dark Other Edgar is shown not using magic to steal from a store because he wouldn't want to be caught by the other side and because since humans are the "resources" of his side, it's foolish to hurt them needlessly. Edgar also decides to do a light Charm Person on an attractive woman rather than brainwashing her, because (more or less) consensual sex is more fun than rape.
    • Zabulon/Zavulon, despite being an obvious Big Bad, is generally in the role of helping the Night Watch stop some apocalyptic scenario, since if they are allowed to happen, he won't have any victims. However, his help is always done to further some other, hidden scheme, and he's quite happy about massive casualties to the extent they help his side.
    • Their disposition towards this approach also mostly averts the common "Villains Act, Heroes React" pattern. Dark Ones are mostly content with the status quo and rarely go out of their way to try and make the world more miserable, since humans themselves could usually be trusted with it. They even more often than not go along with the grand projects devised by the Light Ones to improve the humans, because, being cynical bastards, Dark Ones are assured that the human nature will prevail no matter what and those projects will backfire spectacularly, thus proving their point and providing them with all the delicious misery they could wish. They are usually right.
  • The government in Nineteen Eighty Four outlaws the death penalty, preferring to torture and brainwash potential rebels into model citizens, rather than killing them immediately, and risk them becoming martyrs for the next generation's rebels. However, ultimately they will disappear, long after everyone has forgotten about them.
  • Sandra Arminger of the Novels of the Change is the voice of reason to her husband's pure sadism. His vainglory, too; there are times when she exhorts him to make a kill that he perceives as damaging to his reputation. Once her husband is dead and there's a firm peace between Portland and the other nearby nations, she becomes so bloodlessly pragmatic that she comes off as a particularly intrigue-oriented good guy.
  • Carl Sagan, in a footnote in his nonfiction book Pale Blue Dot, says this about fears that aliens will ship us off Earth as food.
    "Put aside the profound biological differences that must exist between the hypothetical aliens and ourselves; imagine that we constitute an interstellar gastronomic delicacy. Why transport large numbers of us to alien restaurants? The freightage is enormous. Wouldn't it be better just to steal a few humans, sequence our amino acids or whatever else is the source of our delectability, and then just synthesize the identical food product from scratch?"
  • Richard Stark's (Donald Westlake's) Parker is a career thief with no real morals, but he tries to avoid killing people because he knows the police search harder for a murderer than a thief. He does not cheat his partners because he knows they have to trust him to work together. This trope does go out the window if one of his partners betrays him, though. Then he will hunt you down to the ends of the earth.
  • In Tony Hillerman's People of Darkness, the hit man Colton Wolf kills as few people as he can manage (aside from his assigned targets), because the fewer people that are killed, the shorter the resulting manhunt is.
  • Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain: All but the most unstable villains abide by a set of unwritten rules that include not trying to learn the secret identity of superheroes or going after their loved ones, not harming civilians, and generally not actually killing anyone. In exchange superheroes return the favor for their secret identities, and they get to retire peacefully. Ones who break the code tend to get swiftly corrected by their peers who like the status quo or who do have standards, or encounter Mourning Dove, who's notoriously bad at bringing people in alive.
  • A major focus of A Practical Guide To Evil. The current Dread Empress and Calamities are really no more powerful than their predecessors (in Amadeus's case, he admits that the previous Black Knight was far more powerful than himself), but they have become the most powerful and successful leaders of the Empire due to a combination of being pragmatic enough to win the hearts and minds of their subjects rather than trying to cow them with raw power, and partly by the fact that they genuinely get along and aren't wasting effort scheming against each other.
  • In the President's Vampire series, it's shown that the Nazis recruited Johann Konrad to create Unmanschensoldaten for them, using the Holocaust as a means of gathering "parts", something he was all too happy to do. However, he refused to follow through on their secondary directive of creating magical-powered viruses to wipe out the British with, not out of morality, but because he knew that viruses can all too easily turn on their makers.
  • The Reynard Cycle: Shortly after the "attack" on Dis, the Calvarian general Drauglir had to stop his men from hanging Mosca, his Southern translator. He may consider the man to be less than a dog, but he was of the opinion that training another translator would take too much time.
  • The Corrupt Corporate Executive in Stephen King's The Running Man insists to Ben Richards that he didn't have his wife killed as part of a plan to recruit him as a Hunter. He makes no attempt to convince Richards that he's above such a thing, merely that it would have been a lousy plan and Richards would have seen through it, as evidenced by the fact that his suspicions immediately landed on the network when he heard about the misdeed.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: This work constantly reminds us that Stupid (either Stupid Evil, Chaotic Stupid or Stupid Good) has a steep price, so makes the Pragmatic stuff that much shinier by comparison (even if cold pragmatism also tends to come at a somewhat less immediately acute, if more predictable, price further down the line — that can prove a small nightmare to juggle).
    • When Joffrey acts all Stupid Evil and wants to totally wipe out surrendering enemies and their families, his grandfather, the powerful and cunning Tywin, counsels him: "When your enemies defy you, you must serve them steel and fire. When they go to their knees, however, you must help them back to their feet. Elsewise no man will ever bend the knee to you." Underscoring that this is pragmatism rather than mercy is the fact that Tywin famously had no qualms utterly wiping out families that wouldn't go to their knees.
      • Tywin also berates Joffrey for the latter's execution of Ned Stark - not because Tywin cared about Ned, but because Ned would have been a vital bargaining chip, and indeed the North rose in rebellion after the execution. Tywin's son Tyrion (who actually has a conscience) and daughter Cersei (who is perfectly capable of both Pragmatic Villainy and Stupid Evil and is sans conscience) share this opinion - in fact, Joffrey has a gift of pushing people onto this trope, because he is such The Millstone that everyone in the family is forced into frantic, ad hoc, quick-and-dirty damage control and conciliation as a result of his dumbest of dumb moves.
      • Tywin's entire relationship with Gregor Clegane is packed with this. He finds Clegane's methods of brutality, rape and mass killings to be distasteful, but finds him useful enough to still protect him and make use of him. Tywin is offended at the notion that he'd ordered the rape and murder of Elia Martell, because her death was unnecessary, and she would have been a useful hostage. Still, once the deed was done, he continues to employ Gregor, for as long as he's useful. But the moment protecting him is more trouble than it's worth, Tywin will happily sell him up the river.
    • Roose Bolton is also extremely pragmatic, with his preference for "a peaceful land and a quiet people". This leads to some annoyance with his son Ramsey's open and increasingly inconvenient sadism. He gets a Crowning Moment Of Pragmatic Villainy after his son expresses a desire to flay a related(ish) noblewoman, who quite openly doesn't like him, and make her skin into footwear. She's actually a usefully sharp political ally, a consistent Stark-hater and has a decently manned, equipped and trained levy-army with a sound cavalry wing, so...
      "How many of our grudging friends do you imagine we’d retain if the truth were known? Only Lady Barbrey, whom you would turn into a pair of boots... inferior boots. Human skin is not as tough as cowhide and will not wear as well."
      • Another example is his objections to Ramsay's horrific treatment of Jeyne who has been presented as Arya Stark. Her screams and cries can be heard throughout the castle, which are demoralizing the people, and in turn making it harder for Roose to rule the North.
    • Viserys Targaryen shows off some of his lovely Stupid Evil moves when he chooses to insult a whole hall stuffed full of "barbarians" while drunk. Unsurprisingly, this doesn't end well. That's just one of his more impressive moments, though: he had plenty, far less impressive examples than that one in the tank, all serving to underline that he'd've been a Joffrey-level (mis)ruler. Why is this here? Because his sister, Daenerys Targaryen, resolves from then on that, should she have to be nasty to regain the throne, she'll try to be neither as Stupid nor as unnecessarily Evil (when Good is not an option) with it. Hence conquering and establishing control over Essosi City States to learn the basics of ruling with: dressing this up as the liberation of slaves does little to hide the whole "foreign conqueror-queen changing your whole lifestyle through Might Makes Right simply as a warm-up" bit. She's making her own mistakes, sure: but, she's been careful to not directly duplicate her brother's. She's somewhere between being a learner Pragmatic Hero and Villain with a horribly spotty record thanks to having few decent examples to copy, as a result. Depending on who you ask.
    • House Frey: We Insult and Enrage People Wholesale... all while thinking they're being Pragmatic, in a notable inversion of the trope (or an outright defiance after acknowledging its existence). No, really. Most genuinely think this is good business with no hint of irony (we're really not joking, here). Which only makes the Stupid that much worse when you read it. Even Cersei isn't as bad when it comes to delusional competency, as she actually has some basic understanding of what "Pragmatic Villainy" meansnote , even while she chooses to try twisting reality to fit her bonkers outlook and, therefore, becomes increasingly unable to use it.
  • In Star Trek: The Battle of Betazed, the Vorta overseer Luaran objects to her colleague Gul Lemec casually shooting Betazoids during their occupation of the Betazoid homeworld. Like most Vorta, she has no moral qualms at all, but does not approve of needless violence when there are more orderly ways to keep things in check. As far as she's concerned, Lemec's brutality will only serve to increase resistance among the occupied Betazoids.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • In Darth Bane, Bane forces the healer Caleb to save Bane's life by threatening Caleb's daughter. After he is healed, he briefly considers killing them but decides to let them live since he might need Caleb's abilities again one day.
    • In Tatooine Ghost, set a few months before the Thrawn trilogy, readers can infer that Thrawn put on stormtrooper armor and went dirtside with some of his soldiers, not telling them who he was but still making them aware that he was someone very important. A squad leader is rough while trying to get information out of someone, and when asked about it says he thought that brutal was the new doctrine. Thrawn hits the squad leader with his blaster, then asks the leader if he wants to do Thrawn any favors now, and orders him to tell the truth. The squad leader says no, and Thrawn pointedly says that someone who has been threatened is likely to give nothing more than what they need to survive. The new doctrine is efficiency.
    • The Thrawn Trilogy:
      • Grand Admiral Thrawn will execute subordinates who failed and tried to pin the blame on others, but subordinates who failed at almost the exact same job who tried harder and took responsibility? Everyone braces for the order and the poor schlub sweats, but what happens? Promoted. It's a Career-Building Blunder. Thrawn explains to Pellaeon that this Tractor Beam operator tried a novel technique when faced with something he wasn't trained for, that it might have failed but still looked valid, and if the operator can perfect this technique and teach it to others (shown to pay off in the Hand of Thrawn duology), the Empire won't have a problem with people escaping tractor beams in this way. Pellaeon privately remarks that Thrawn's action also served to make everyone who saw it much more willing to give him their all.
      • And when he gives an I Want Them Alive order, he also says "if possible. If not — If not, I'll understand."
    • Tarzen Tagge makes sure that the Tagge Company only builds the highest quality construction work. That way the customers have no reason to complain to law enforcement. An investigation would reveal Tarzen's smuggling operations. Eventually the legitimate business is so profitable that the smuggling becomes redundant.
    • For obvious reasons, when Corran Horn goes undercover as a pirate in I, Jedi, he prefers this sort of piracy, encouraging the gang to kill as few as possible to encourage cooperation in the future. While a few of the pirates are in it more For the Evulz, most of them recognize the potential of this racket and end up accepting a legitimate security contract at the end of the novel. Later, when the pirate gang has to fight its way out of a confrontation with the New Republic Navy, Corran convinces the crew's leader that they should use ion cannons to disable the Republic fighters... because some forces will have to be diverted to rescue the pilots, distracting from chasing the pirates.
      Corran: Yeah, a refueling station might blow up really pretty, and might even set half a city on fire, but that's not the objective here. Look, you can kill a woolly-nerf and make a coat out of its skin, or you can shear the beast's coat and come back year after year for more wool. We play this right, six months from now we show up in the system, send a list of demands and they'll freighter the loot out to us.
    • X-Wing Series: Fliry Vorru has this as his modus operandi. Everything he does has a practical purpose. In The Bacta War, he's constantly advising Isard on the best method to root out the problem of Wedge Antilles and his squadron, even if it doesn't appeal to Isard's desire for blood (and her primary objective to "destroy the Rebels"). Often the methods are targeted at crippling the economic capabilities of Antilles and the people working with him, and/or increasing their own. This becomes increasingly difficult as Isard becomes more unstable over time.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Magic: Part of the reason that Corin refuses to work with Professor Orden (besides the moral objections) is because the organization keeps taking massive risks in order to advance their country's place in the world, but if they make any mistake along the way, their entire nation could be wiped out. Corin just isn't willing to work with people so reckless.
  • Sword of Truth series:
    • Both Darken Rahl shows shades of this. In the first book, you'd expect Rahl to pull a You Have Failed Me when it turns out Richard broke through Denna's training. Hell, she certainly expect it. Instead Rahl reasons that her failure was no fault of her own, and shrugs it off. In the same scene, Richard plans to get Rahl angry enough to kill him, so that he can't use Richard's knowledge of the Book of Counted Shadows. Rahl calmly listens to Richard, then, after verifying his knowledge, shrugs, and gives him two options, amounting to, "Help me open the right box, or don't. I've got a 50-50 chance of getting it right either way, and if I end the world, no skin off my nose."
    • Emperor Jagang perhaps manages to be a bigger monster, but he's still smart enough to gather intelligence and listen to his advisers, especially when they're experts in magic and he's not. In Phantom, for instance, he and the Sisters of the Dark are looking for the Book of Counted Shadows. On finding what appears to be a copy, he thinks it's fake, while the Sisters insist it could be real. You might expect him to simply overrule them considering they're essentially slaves. Instead, they have a pretty civil debate about it. He also reads the warnings in spell books and heeds them. Jagang also reads lots of books and sends some of his best troops off looking to salvage ancient libraries in the hopes of finding knowledge from the wizards' war that could help him. He didn't even care terribly much when the Palace of the Prophets was destroyed, because the knowledge buried under in one of the "central sites" was much more valuable to him. When Kahlan is captured, has her mind erased, and is made invisible to almost everyone, her captors are captured by Jagang, and they discover that the process that turned Kahlan invisible was tainted, and that random people will be able to see her. Instead of killing his prisoners who failed in their magic, he sends her out walking in the camp, naked (though with guards close by) to see who notices, thus assembling guards who can see her.
    • The Fellowship of Order sent spies to many of the wonders of the world to use or copy their magic. In one instance, they sent one of their top people to work in the stables just so he'd have a chance at copying a magical construct.
  • Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeers is stated to have given up such petty things as vengeance, since they end up in the way of getting and keeping power.
  • Sight, in Two Percent Power, avoids giving his minions guns because he knows that it will bring the police down on him.
  • Villains by Necessity: Robin spends most of the adventure confused why the group doesn't act like a stereotypical cutthroat band, and expecting them to backstab one another at any moment. The group realize talking to him that good and evil aren't black and white, and that being evil hardly means you need to kill your friends for no reason. Kaylana points out that had they behaved that way, the party wouldn't've lasted five minutes.
  • In The Witches, the Grand High Witch states that they only use magic to kill children rather than killing them through poison or other mundane methods as magic is harder to track.
  • Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall disapproves of pointless cruelty, but while interrogating Mark Smeaton he declines to torture him mostly because it doesn't work as well as hinting obliquely and letting Mark's own imagination terrify him into saying what Cromwell wants to hear. He can't transcribe screaming.
  • Queen Arabelle in A Woman's Work by Tanya Huff is ruthless enough to encourage her not-very-bright son to wear highly decorated bright uniforms while she wears something more subdued (because who will an assassin instinctively aim at?) but makes sure her people are educated (at government schools with an approved curriculum), employed, have a good medical system, knows many of her troops by name and rewards them for good work and initiative, and when she conquers a new territory has most of the defeated nobles' property distributed among the lower classes of the conquered country and immediately starts infrastructure programs to help improve their lives. She even allows the odd dissident to make public speeches against her reign, giving her an excuse to remind the "oppressed citizens" that she's made their lives much better. And letting them beat up the troublemaker.


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