I’ve heard this one before and the best answer I can give is… no. The bad guy or villain in a story does not necessarily have to be evil at all. When Chancellor Palpatine said that goodness is a point of view in Revenge of the Sith, despite how self-serving his remark was, he was actually right on many different levels.

There are actual philosophies out there that good and evil are actually just varying degrees of one another. Where one person may say that what they’re doing is for the greater good, another might call it the lesser evil. In the end, good and bad in many cases are largely based around one’s own morals and values.

Let’s look at a few examples, shall we?

From one of the greatest literary classics, Les Miserables. Javert is the bad guy. There is no getting around this. He is the chief antagonist and the villain of this story. What do we know about him? Well… he’s a self-made man who was born in a prison, living around the worst France had to offer. He worked his way up from there and became a prison guard, and then a police officer.

He spends his life hunting a man who broke into another home, robbed it, and attempted to flee. After being caught and spending time in jail, that man breaks his parole and takes up a fake identity. Okay, now I know that this is a gross over-simplification of the circumstances around Jean Valjean, but it’s the basic jist of the situation.

Now, looking at the two characters based on those descriptions alone, who would the good guy be? Not knowing the rest of the story, you’d probably guess Javert and you wouldn’t really be wrong to. This is not an evil man. He’s a man with a very basic view of right and wrong and believes whole-heartedly in value of Law and Order, so much so that when his view is challenged, his mind simply cannot handle it.

So why is Javert a bad guy? Because he’s the antagonist from the perspective of Valjean, whome this story is the focus of. This is what I mean by point of view. The same can be said for Terry Benedict from Oceans Eleven. He’s a successful businessman who makes it a point to know everything about the people who work under him. He actually takes the time to ask his doorman how the new baby is doing. He’s even accomodating to special requests in his casinos. Yes his priorities are a litle out of whack and he’s a little ruthless with people who cross him, but that kind of comes with business.

Again, not evil. Not really even what I’d consider a bad guy, vs. the gang of theives and tricksters who we’re supposed to be cheering for.

So Jim, does that mean that you don’t believe in the concept of pure evil?

No, definitely not. There are some examples that breach all lines of morality and ethics right down to the basic core of right and wrong. Let’s go to the most typical example, Adolf Hitler. What he did and how he did it breached those lines. Now one could argue that maybe he did what he did because he saw it as the greater good and what he was doing was a necessary evil… well… honestly I’ve never seen any evidence that Hitler acknowledge that what he was doing was in any way wrong.

I can also say that in my own experience, I’ve met people that in my opinion, would fall under the umbrella of pure evil. I will cite one specific example… I used to work at a program that took kids out abusive homes, took kids that parents simply couldn’t handle anymore, and/or kids who were awaiting DSS placement.

Let me preface what I’m about to say by saying that I love kids. I have some of my own, I gave up the first few years of my professional life to work with kids, I donate as much as I can in both time and money, and always drop off a lot of presents to Toys for Tots at Christmas time. I’m all about kids. So when I was working at this program, I made myself a promise to never give up on any of those kids, never.

Sadly… I broke that promise. There was this one kid who’s mother couldn’t handle his behavior anymore. He would hurt other kids, cause the other kids to get in trouble, hurt animals, and destroy things… why? Because he thought it was funny and it entertained him. During his stay, he sent multiple kids and staff to the hospital, myself included.

I remember one night he ran away from our program and went home to his mother’s house. The program director called down to the residence and said that one of us had to pick him up… if we didn’t and the police were called in, this was his third strike and he might not be returning. Down the list, the five of us crossed our arms and refused to go get him.

Then they turned to me. I crossed my arms and said, “No… I’m sorry, but it’s my life, my livelihood and my insurance on the line if he decides to try to cause problems while I’m driving. I do not feel comfortable getting behind the wheel of car with him as a passenger, nor do I think he belongs here. You don’t pay me enough to put that much on the line.”

The director obviously wasn’t happy, but what’s done was done. This was one kid that I had completely given up on. Why, because I don’t think a kid who would light a forest on fire just for the pleasure of watching it burn can be helped.

Jim, come on! He was just a kid! You really think he was Pure Evil?? Maybe he had mental deficiencies! Did you ever think about that?

Every day of my life from the moment he showed up to the moment he left. However here’s the problem, how many of the people we consider evil have mental deficiencies? Take a look at Hitler’s life before he became the ruthless dictator. Secondly, there’s a reason that the insanity defense only goes so far, which is why it rarely holds water in court. There has to be a level of personal responsability. We can’t chalk everything up to mental disorder. Everyone has problems, everyone had a parent who was either too overbearing or not caring enough and we all dealt with it differently. Its a fact of life.

All right… so what about pure good?

Well… that one is a little harder to do, but yes I think in many cases there are obvious choices that are the right and morally and ethically good ones.

So that’s where my opinion on the whole concept stands. True/Pure good and evil exist, but they aren’t as common as people may think. More often than not, good and bad are a point of view and are largely abitrarily based on perspective of those watching and whomever a narrative follows.

Take it with a grain of salt.


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10 Comments on “Does a Bad Guy Have To Be Evil?

  1. What you are talking about in basic terms is that many baddies are Machiavellian, based on the book the Prince the principle is that many leaders and those higher up have to act for the ‘greater good’ in order to maintain power. Every great baddie is Machiavellian.


    • I wouldn’t say that every baddie is Machiavellian. Arguably, you are correct, that many of the baddies I speak of fall into that category, but let’s take a look at a more basic villain, one that I actually love.
      Maleficent, From Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Why is she mean and evil? We don’t see any political aspirations or self promotion. She wants to see everything burn because… well from my perspective, she used the rather petty reason of not getting invited to a blessing for a baby as an excuse. She pure evil, seemingly for the sake of being pure evil. I wouldn’t necessarily qualify that as Machiavellian. You might disagree.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I do becasue Maleficent was protecting her kingdom when the king granted his favour to whoever would kill here. The Guy cut off her wings and she sought revenge becasue she was angry. At this point you could claim she was evil but really was angry and you couldn’t blame her. She didn’t let the little girl die, despite a number of opportunities.
        In the end of course she killed others to save sleeping beauty – again a higher purpose in here mind. It all fits, but I know what you mean.


  2. Really enjoyed this article and I’ve had similar thoughts, especially regarding how mental illness can influence your actions. It is an interesting moral question over how responsible mentally ill people are for their actions. I guess it’s easy to say that somebody’s faking it to avoid punishment, but whether that’s true or not is another matter. For me, I think the best villains are ones that in a different life, in different circumstances could very well be villains of their own stories.


  3. As someone with Bipolar, and a mother of 3 special needs children, I agree with what you’re saying here in this article. I piss a lot of fellow parents off in support groups all the time on this one. Disorders do not give us a free pass to do whatever we want. We do not get to be jerks just because our brains happen to be wired differently. However with that said, with the right supports put in place I believe we have the best opportunity to learn how to cope and adapt to make the right choices to be decent human beings. I breaks my heart to read about that kid you wrote about BUT I understand why you did it. Safety must always be first priority and there also comes a point where a person must own their behavior, regardless of what’s going on – be it pure evil or mental illness.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There’s a lot of interesting stuff here regarding morality as a whole. Is morality relative, or is it universal? Your personal anecdote provides some bearing to the “some people just want to watch the world burn” assertion. Thanks for sharing this, you got me thinking!


  5. Fantastic post. I hold similar beliefs. Though Hitler’s actions were undeniably evil, I find it interesting and horrifying that he probably never saw it that way. The human mind is capable of carrying out such carnage and malice without seeing it as evil. Our minds are dangerously flexible.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Javert is defiantly the antagonist but he is not a villain. The true villains of Les Mis belong to the Thenardiers. That is just my opinion. Javert honestly thinks he is doing the right thing so he is seeing the world in black and white, but he still does not know how to show mercy or compassion or even love towards others, but he follows the law strictly, but he is not a villain, but guided in the wrong: he only has one goal and that is to recapture Valjean and that obsesses him. Just my thoughts


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