Justifying evil, logically.

I’m looking for quotes from fiction (or perhaps real life) that show how evil actions might seem like a logical choice. Since it’s a bit hard to explain, I’d like to give two examples:


To the untrained eye triage may seem like a heartless and ‘evil’ practice, but abandoning dying men to prioritise others is certainly logical.

“Evil will always defeate Good, because Good is Dumb!”
– Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) in Spaceballs.

Don’t have the book in front of me, so hopefully someone can chime in with whatever Ozymandius says to justify his actions at the end of The Watchmen.

Whatever it was, they helpfully pare it down for the movie. IIRC:

“You killed millions.”
“To save billions!”

Can’t quite tell if the OP is looking for rationalizations of evil actions, generally, or only for examples in which the evil is a simple, cold, inhuman equation. Got nothing on the latter. As for the former, here’s Saruman’s justification to Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring:

Basically, a Father Knows Best justification. The Wise should rule, and put things in their proper order.

The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the unfittest. Well, in my book you either do it right or you get eliminated. In the last seven deals that I’ve been involved with, there were 2.5 million stockholders who have made a pretax profit of 12 billion dollars. Thank you. I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much

  • Gordon Gekko, Wall Street

Consider the story of the Swamp Angel.

This article is NOT the best thing Bruce Catton wrote about the Swamp Angel for your purposes – his text in Never Call Retreat was more on-point. But I can’t find it online and would have to go home and look it up. I will try to remember to do so.

Book of Job

James Bond: You’ll kill fifty thousand people uselessly.
Auric Goldfinger: American motorists kill that many every two years.

‘The Greater Good’

“We had to destroy the village to save it.”

“The ends justify the means.”

From The 5th Element:

Zorg: 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 shatter on the floor, and several small machines come out to clean it up]
Zorg: 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.

The Sword of Good: an exploration of right and wrong in high fantasy, by a philosophy prof.

First quote that came to mind was from South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut

“…we are not virtuous by not wanting power. We are really cowards for not wanting power because power is good and powerlessness is evil.” link.

There’s a rather obscure 1980s animated film called Rock and Rule that is memorable primarily for the villain, Mok, an evil rock star who’s planning to unleash a powerful demon on the world. At one point he offers his justification to a dim-witted henchman, explaining that “We all must have our own personal view of right and wrong” and “Remember, ‘evil’ spelled backward is ‘live’, and we all want to do that!”

This is, like a lot of pop culture justifications for evil, basically a paraphrase of Nietzsche. It happens often enough that I’m not sure writers even realize that they’re ripping off Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morals, etc., they may just be getting the idea from each other. Miller’s quote from The Fifth Element strikes me as rather Nietzschean, and this kind of thing even pops up in children’s books. In the first Harry Potter book, where Lord Voldemort’s henchman says “Lord Voldemort showed me the truth. There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.”

So if you’re looking for a philosophical justification for fictional villainy, Nietzsche looks to be the hands-down favorite. This isn’t really fair to Nietzsche because it requires rather badly misinterpreting him, but it’s not as if there’s no real-world precedent for that.

Likewise, Kodos the Executioner (Star Trek, TOS, “The Conscience of the King”), who was forced to make the terrible choice of killing some colonists so that others could live, or doing nothing, letting everyone starve:

“The revolution… is successful. But survival depends upon drastic measures. Your continued existence is a threat to the order we have restored; your lives mean slow death to the more valued members of the colony. I, therefore, have no alternative but to sentence you to death. Your execution is so ordered, signed Kodos, governor of Tarsus IV.”

No. The power-obsessed assume revulsion of power to be weakness because that is how it would be for them. They cannot imagine a different set of values because they cannot at heart unconsciously trust themselves any more than extreme feminists can imagine women as other than either conforming to extreme conservative values demanded of men or inferior to them, and least of all having any equal authority and effect to assert their different ideals and change men to suit.

Heinrich Dorfmann does a fantasitc job of it in The Flight of the Phoenix

Or Willi in Lifeboat

There is something evil about cold logic, and whats scary is it’s often right.