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"I am the scourge of God, appointed to chastise you, since no one knows the remedy for your iniquity except me. You are wicked, but I am more wicked than you. So be SILENT!"
—Pious Augustus, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem

No, not the tiger (though he was named after this one).

This is when a TV show or book shows that: the only thing capable of controlling the setting is tyrants, dictators and authoritarian groups; that any plan of democracy is a stupid idea formulated by Wide Eyed Idealists who think there is any shred of human goodness left in them present in any person; that Locke and Rousseau Was Right are fools.

A benevolent dictatorship is optional.

Named after Thomas Hobbes, who wrote in the 17th-century book Leviathan that strong, centralized government is necessary to protect mankind from its own base nature and self-serving desires. The trope is based on a Flanderized version of his Philosophy. Whether this is sometimes Truth in Television is probably best left alone, though it is worth noting that many medieval kings (as an isolated example) had to be strong and bastardy to be effective. Naturally, this opinion goes hand in hand with the belief that Humans Are Bastards, possibly Humans Are Morons if the arguments are about the reliability of human judgment if power is left in the hands of the many (though when one considers whom the only available candidates for rulership are--namely, members of that same species of bastard morons...). Indeed, Rousseau — the chief defender of the contrary position — had some choice words for Hobbes (although Hobbes, being dead, couldn't appreciate the insults).

Contrast Machiavelli Was Wrong and Rousseau Was Right, compare and contrast Realpolitik and Utopia Justifies the Means.

Examples of Hobbes Was Right include:

Anime & Manga

  • In Code Geass, Schneizel tries to do this, but loses to Lelouch, who then seemingly does the same thing. Emperor Lelouch uses reprehensible tactics to take over the entire world, uniting every country under his iron first and finally bringing peace to his war-torn planet. In a subversion, Lelouch cultivated a Zero-Percent Approval Rating on purpose and then staged his own public assassination, hoping that his stint as an evil overlord would cause the various nations to abandon power-hungry monarchies and dictatorships in favor of diplomatic democracies.
    • In a minor example, the democratic nations in Code Geass found themselves quickly conquered by Britannia due to the inability to muster up a strong motivated army like Britannia nor military progress.
      • On the other hand, the Chinese Federation is an Empire as well and falls to a populist uprising lead by the Black Knights. The EU does pretty good as well, not dissolving until near the end due to precisely what was mentioned above; internal conflicts over raising an army.
  • Played with before being subverted in Death Note, where Light's desire to become a justice-dealing god in an attempt to end crime results in his using increasingly harsh measures, killing innocents, and eventually ruling over a dictatorship based on fear, suspicion, mistrust, and the Internet. After his death, mankind reverts to normal.
  • This question constantly dogs Yang Wen-Li in Legend of the Galactic Heroes. When asked by Reinhard von Lohengramm if the corrupt and cowardly Free Planets Alliance is worthy of his substantial abilities, Yang replies that he would prefer the worst democracy to the best dictatorship.
  • In Monster, this is how the series' Big Bad and Complete Monster, Johan Liebert, views the world. He at one point even said that humanity would obliterate itself through hatred and he sought to be the last man standing. The protagonist of the series, Kenzo Tenma, holds the view that Rousseau Was Right, and the series is essentially about them trying to prove to the other that their view is correct (with Johan trying to prove it by getting Tenma to kill him).


  • Judge Dredd is another example. The campaign to return democracy to Mega-City One ended miserably, as almost everyone who voted chose the judges.
    • The Judges have been shown to deliberately sabotage any efforts to campaign for democracy.
      • And not to mention that the Mega-City societies are already an unsafe place without judges. The possibility of voting in a non Judge is basically willingly giving up power to a criminal, who now has the political clout to make the city their own criminal stronghold.
  • Not done for laughs, but something similar happens in Kingdom Come, where Orion has overthrown Darkseid as ruler of Apokolips and offers the people liberty. They immediately turn around and elect him leader, much to his chagrin, and his efforts to educate them to the value of independence and liberty go nowhere. In the Novelization, not even Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, and Mikhail Gorbechev could help the "lowlies" hold free elections. Orion allows Scott Free and Big Barda to insult him openly while they teach the "lowlies" art and culture, however, to attempt to stir independent spirit. It hardly works.
    • Realistic, too. The thing that political activists and utopians of all flavors often overlook is that culture matters. The exact same political or economic system, applied to two different social/religious substrates, will tend to produce totally different results... and it's far, far easier to change a political system or an economic system than to induce any intentional change in an extant culture.
  • Hobbes's famous phrase, "nasty, brutish, and short," describes Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes to a T.
    • Hobbes the tiger himself, not being a man, is refined, well-mannered, and tall - though he does still have those "pouncing" and "hunt, chase, kill" instincts.


  • In Lord of the Flies, Jack and his band of hunters show how futile it was for ideas such as democracy to exist, due to the presence of the armed forces and how Roger was a means to keep everyone in check as he shows how willing he is to murder a person without flinching.
  • The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett has a strand of Hobbes Was Right: The Lord Vetinari is a long-running benign tyrant character, who at one point is shown to be drawing a picture of a crowned man made of thousands of smaller men--a reference to the cover illustration of Hobbes' "Leviathan." It's suggested in several places that no other form of rule would work in Ankh-Morpork. Succession in Ankh-Morpork means that when the old ruler dies, whoever had the second greatest amount of political influence in the city becomes the new one, provided that the guilds approve. On the other hand, Vetinari is the first benevolent tyrant Ankh-Morpork has had; the previous ones ranged from venal opportunists to raving madmen.
    • Ankh-Morpork is a democracy - they believe in One Man, One Vote. Vetinari is the Man and he gets the Vote.
    • It's worth noting that Ankh-Morpork is an incredibly dysfunctional near-anarchy that, thanks to Vetinari's economic genius, has also ended up immensely overpopulated considering its technology level. The city doesn't necessarily need a tyrant to effectively rule it, but it does need Vetinari (or a close equivalent) if it's to survive and retain its current greatness.
    • According to Sam Vimes, his regicidal ancestor brought democracy to Ankh-Morpork, and they voted against it. And then had him hung, drawn and quartered as a tyrant.
    • Discworld also has Lancre, which has a Parliament but the people don't approve; they think the King is trying to con them into doing his work for him.
    • Democracy, however, does work in Ephebe; the people are happy, because they have someone everyone distrusts.
      • Their democratically elected, constitutionally limited leader (unique for the Disc) is called The Tyrant. They also have slaves that get health benefits and vacation time. It's a weird place.
    • XXXX does have 'elected' politicians and PM... who are put in jail as soon as they're elected, to save time.
  • In the Dune series, Leto II determines that the only way to prevent an energy crisis and galactic war leading to the extinction of mankind is to establish himself as a tyrannical, semi-immortal God Emperor. Though this is a bit of a subversion, since the problem was that humans wouldn't leave their safety zone of the known star systems unless they were oppressed and forced to stay there for a couple centuries 3,500 years. Once Leto died, every major human civilization was then free to explore the universe again, in a bit of reverse psychology. Of course he knew it would happen that way.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's Time Enough for Love has Secundus set up (by Lazarus Long, who can do no wrong) as a benevolent tyranny where the ruler has little legal power and "the people, bless their flabby little black hearts, get none." Those "Equalitarians" who protest the setup get scooped up without trial and exiled to a primitive planet — he has that much power, at least.
    • The government of Secundus is probably the most fantastical bit of political nonsense RAH ever posited, and he posited some doozies. I doubt if even he really took it seriously.
  • Running theme in Brandon Sanderson's Well of Ascension (Mistborn Book 2). After the assassination of the nigh-godlike Lord Ruler, Elend steps in as the new king of Luthadel and promptly begins trying out these republican ideas from his favorite philosophy books. Unfortunately, his father (and a few other factions, all tyrannic slavedrivers) are preparing to besiege the city, and the parliament he established would like nothing more than to surrender to one of them and get back to life as usual.
    • Though this is depicted less as a function of human nature in general and more that the only sort of government most people in this world are familiar with is the Lord Ruler's totalitarian theocracy. Hard to have a democracy when the average person on the street doesn't know or care what voting is...
      • Culture matters. In fact, it's probably the thing that matters most in how a society works and how its government operates and behaves.
      • In The Alloy of Law, set in the same world several centuries down the line, the human civilization has developed into a functioning democracy with no monarch or dictator in sight. The world just seemed to need to get used to the idea as more than a theoretical absurdity.
  • Jonathan Swift is cynical about most human attributes and pursuits throughout Gulliver's Travels, but the end of the book devolves into a tirade against Humanity in general. Swift depicts the ideal species as Houyhnhnm, a species of super-intelligent pacifist horses. These noble, rational equines starkly contrast the 'Yahoos,' brutal, savage animals that look exactly like people. George Orwell argues the supposedly Utopian society of the Houyhnhnm is ridiculous, and that Swift's "aim, as usual, is to humiliate Man by reminding him that he is weak and ridiculous, and above all that he stinks."
    • This assumes that you take the book at face value and assume Gulliver's adoration of the horse-people accurately reflects Swift's view. Swift's portrayal of this so-called utopian society is actually pretty bleak and unpleasant if you look closely; individuals do only what they need to survive, with strict and dull diets, engage in sex only so far as is necessary to preserve the species, appear to exhibit zero attachment to their own children (any extras are given to smaller/infertile families without a thought), lack of empathy towards other creatures (see their proposals to exterminate Yahoos and rejection of Gulliver for his resemblance to them) and lack of any language besides what is required to exchange information (meaning while while there are no lies there is also no creativity or imagination). It can essentially be seen a passionless and cold existence so we should not assume Swift supports it. The contrast between the bestial passion-ruled Yahoos and the cold passionless Houynhnms can be seen as a warning of going towards either extreme.
    • While Gulliver becomes enamored of this society he ends up as a shell of a man who rejects his own family as beasts, cannot stand to be in a room with them and spends all his time talking to horses, perhaps suggesting we are not intended to view him as a particular reliable assessor of the merits of this system. Swift has also been known to use a similar approach; he wrote "An Modest Proposal", proposing the Irish famine should be solved by having the Irish population eat their own babies, as a satire of the horrendous discriminatory and patronizing attitude taken by many people in power at the time. Many people missed the point then too and regarded this as a serious proposal.
    • Gulliver is rescued at sea after his time with them. The captain and crew treat him very humanely. He tries to get to a boat and escape — to the middle of the ocean. He's caught and they conclude that his wits had been disordered by his sufferings.
  • Played with in New Spring, where Moiraine has no desire to become Queen of Cairhien, because even if the people accept an Aes Sedai as queen no ruler of Cairhien has ever lasted long without being at least a benevolent tyrant. The "playing with" part comes from the fact that the Cairhienin are in fact extremely sophisticated and intelligent rather than a rabble; the problem is that the whole country is a Deadly Decadent Court.
  • The position of the Andermani Empire in Honor Harrington. They are more likely to trust the Manticorans (a constitutional monarchy) then the "Republic" of Haven, despite their rivalry.
  • Isaac Asimov's Foundation claims outright that the galaxy cannot be run by anything but an emperor and that democracy is an archaic form of government proven to fail because you can't give everyone what they want. Subverted in that not only does the empire fall but it's slowly being replaced by the eponymous Foundation which is far more democratic. In contrast the Second Foundation is an oligarchy while the third major galactic power Gaia is more or less led by a robot or an enlightened anarchy depending on your take.

Real Life

  • The Trope Namer is Thomas Hobbes, who said that humans are inherently entitled to everything, and that when two humans try to assert their right to the same thing, conflicts ensue. The result is a "state of nature" in which every individual becomes a judge of what is right based on their own beliefs. The only solution that will allow humans to co-exist peacefully is for humans to agree to relinquish nearly all of those natural rights, on the condition that everyone else do the same. In order to ensure that everyone plays nice, a Sovereign, which can be either an individual or an assembly, be given enough power to browbeat people back into line. As soon as people agree to follow the rules laid down in this "social contract", they are free to assert their right to whatever they can, within that framework. Not everyone has to agree, but as soon as a majority signs up, the rest will follow, either by application of carrot or by application of stick. And considering the alternative is a life that is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short", most people will agree. It is worthwhile to note that Hobbes never stated that a ruler must be autocratic, positing that an assembly could do the job as well. He also never stated that the Sovereign could not be democratically elected. On the other hand, he did insist that the Sovereign--be it an assembly or a single person--have absolute power.
    • Somewhat amusingly (and alarmingly) this is exactly how the British Political System works: the power of Parliament is theoretically absolute, and most of the time since it won this supremacy (the Glorious Revolution of 1688), it was legally (if not politically) possible for British liberty to end completely with a single act of Parliament. Parliament, collectively, has as much power if not more as Louis XIV did in France. The main things protecting freedom in the UK were tradition and the fact that you had to get a majority of Parliament to agree to it (which would of course never happen). Fortunately, within the last sixty or so years, Britain has signed up to various enforceable treaties linked to the European Union that limit Parliament's power somewhat. On the other hand, the EU having no army, a Parliament sufficiently fixated on absolute rule would (again, completely theoretically) be able to break these regulations or even withdraw from the EU entirely.
    • The EU itself is an example of this, wielding considerable fiscal authority (albeit without the force of arms)while treating supposedly individual states much as a monarch or Parliament would treat individual citizens, and often with as much heedlessness.
      • Not that surprising, Hobbes was deliberately trying to develop a non-religious justification for the government that was obviously coming through the English Civil War.
      • Part of the idea behind the British system is that to check the power of Parliament is the new role of the monarch, who couldn't counter Acts but could sack individuals and retain executive control of the army. Of course, this assumes both that an out-of-control Parliament would actually be opposed to the monarch, and that the monarch's word has any real-world power - neither of which are likely in modern Britain or other parliamentary monarchies based on it.
      • In theory, institution like that exist everywhere, just the details vary. Its one of basic arguments agaist state used by many anarchists...who tend to be more Rousseau Was Right than anything.
    • In the USA, it would take 6 people to legally give the government absolute power, 5 Supreme Court Justices and the President. Note that since the President appoints the Justices (although only when there is a vacancy and the Senate has to approve) it gets scarier.
      • Not really. The United States Constitution is the highest authority in the land, and the Supreme Court proclaiming that anything, whether that be an individual or a governing body, to be higher than the Constitution is, appropriately enough, unconstitutional. This is not to say that the Constitution is untouchable. It isn't, as we know by constitutional amendments. So in order to give someone absolute power, you would need to amend the constitution to expressly say that X office has absolute power. But those amendments need to be voted on by the United States legislature, and to pass requires a 2/3 majority. Then it has be ratified by 3/4 of the state legislatures. On the other hand, if the president tried to exercise absolute power without an amendment to the constitution, he would need not only the Supreme Court to simply ignore what would otherwise be unconstitutional and therefore illegal, but also need to get by the legislature which can impeach and convict the president. Then the president would need the army on his side. The United States military swear an oath to defend to the constitution, not the government, and as such are the second-to-last line of defense if the government goes completely bonkers and starts becoming a dictatorship. I say second-to-last, because the truly last line of defense is the American people themselves. Part of the reason we have the 2nd amendment (bolstered by the 14th), which gives the people the right to bear arms, is to "deter undemocratic government." That is, giving the people themselves the ability to overthrow a government that goes too far. Basically, either way, almost everybody would need to be on board for someone to seize absolute power in the United States. The separation of powers and checks and balances is simply too strong for it be done easily.
        • all of which is made problematic by the section in the Constitution itself which decrees that international treaties, once ratified, become the supreme law of the land. Oh, and there is no particular method mentioned to withdraw from such treaties.
      • Then again, all you need to do to get everyone on the board is right justification and having it introduced to everyone in the right light. Factically, all you need is to have media on your side - which is large task enough in itself, but definitelly not unbeatable obstacle.
      • The most important factor preserving any free society, or anything else, is the habit of respect for whatever is being preseved, and the general understanding of what lines You Do No Cross, no matter who you are.
      • Indeed, imagine for a moment if the president imprisoned every member of congress (he IS the leader of the military after all and as the chief executive technically the leader of federal police as well) then murder the supreme court, pardon himself for their murder and put in his own justices with the only people that can oppose him in prison. Really and truly what seperates us from total and absolute dictatorship is not electing a massive jerk.
        • He wouldn't need to pardon himself since it's perfectly legal for the President to assassinate American citizens as the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki showed.
        • Recall what happened to Jack Kennedy, or alternatively, Julius Caesar.
        • Oh hell, just recall that this hypothetical plan requires the full cooperation of the military. Keep in mind that the military swears allegiance to the Constitution, not the President, and is trained that Just Following Orders is not a viable excuse if the order is obviously illegal. Thus, everyone, from the top brass to the lowly private in the military would also have to support the hypothetical massive jerk in order for an absolute dictatorship to emerge.
  • Over 2,000 years before Hobbes, The Book of Lord Shang advised rulers to be cruel and ruthless to keep people in line. It is worth noting that on the few occasions when the advice in the book was followed whole-heartedly, the state didn't last long.
    • To go into more detail: In China, where ruling dynasties have historically reigned for hundreds of years at a time, the one dynasty that tried to rule by the (literal) book lasted for some 15 years, and no, that's not missing a few zeroes.
      • To the credit of the Qin Dynasty(said 15 year reign regime), the arbitrary cruelty didn't arise until its founder died and was replaced by an incompetent ruler who had bad advice fed to him by a scheming Evil Chancellor. Before then, it was still harsh by today's standards, but not overly and unnecessarily so, though later Chinese sources (especially Qin's successor Dynasty, Han) would claim otherwise.
      • To go into even more detail, the revolution supposedly started when the first group of soon-to-be rebels realized they were going to be executed for arriving somewhere late anyway, and had nothing to lose. Armies and cities started switching sides pretty soon after, and the inevitable war between the rebel groups lasted longer than the actual rebellion.
    • Plato's Republic also argues that democracy, rule of the "hoi polloi" (unwashed masses) is tantamount to mob rule and the best way to go is rule by an enlightened monarch (philosopher-king).
  • Plato held democracy in very low esteem, and proposed that the ideal state would be an oligarchic meritocracy controlled by an elite class of philosopher-governors, maintaining order through the command of a standing army that would serve as both internal police and defense against foreign enemies. (Of course, there may be an element of self-interest in his idea that the best rulers would be people very much like him.)
  • In many cases, The Internet and online gaming. Let everyone be free, you get the effects of GIFT. The usual method of maintaining civility on sites that care about protecting it is to maintain dictatorships that firmly squash feuds before they get out of hand and ban invaders from 4chan on arrival. (Others, like the aforementioned imageboard, embrace the mad anarchy and free exchange of ideas, insults and badly-drawn shock porn.)
    • Even in some games and community that have such things, a lot of people just laugh at the thought of getting banned for whatever reasons.
  • Niccolo Machiavelli is often accused of being an adherent of this trope, due to The Prince. (Though it should be noted that The Prince was a government-mandated Stealth Parody and that Machiavelli himself supported republicanism.)
  • Disturbingly, studies have been conducted which find that informing the populace of facts actually reinforces their manifesty-incorrect beliefs, which seems to refute the major principle of democratic societies that, in a free exchange of ideas, the good ones will always win out.

Tabletop RPGs

  • Warhammer 40000, without the autocratic Imperium. Its bureaucracy will not be able to prevent the fall of humanity as we know it.
    • Somewhat justified, in that it's a state of continuous emergency martial law. Without the constant threat, the Imperium would probably be torn apart by rebellion, or collapse under the weight of its own rotten bureaucracy.
      • It already spends as much time and energy on infighting as it does on genuine defense. The largely-autonomous Space Marines and Inquisition are the only reason it can effectively defend itself until the real military gets in gear for each threat.


  • Fallout: New Vegas uses this trope, depending on the actions of the player. Choosing to side with Mr. House puts in place a benevolent dictatorship, where the leader is not afraid to trample on the rights and lives of New Vegas citizens for the greater good (In his opinion). Ultimately Mr. House sees himself and his plan as the only long-term survival option for humanity. The endings where the player takes control or Caesar (and his legion) rules also have shades of this, but less explicitly than the Mr. House ending.
  • The Qunari of Dragon Age dogmatically follow a philosophy/religion called The Qun. It's basic principle is that everyone must have a certain role to fulfill in life, therefore every child is evaluated while growing up, to gauge what role s/he would be best suited for, be it warrior, baker, trader, leader or something else. Once a role is assigned it can never be changed. They see the human/elven/dwarven society spread throughout the world as inherently chaotic and corrupt, and in need of correction via imposing the way of The Qun on them. Wether they convert willingly or by force is entirely up to them
  • In The World Ends With You, Joshua's plan was to destroy Shibuya, as he believed that different ideas by the populace would only cause conflicts. Neku initially believes this, but as the game progresses, he changes his mind, one of the final bosses being Joshua.
  • Fable already referenced Hobbes with the monsters of the same name, but in III, Logan believes in his ideals, and this is in fact the easiest (but not best) way to save your people: by oppressing them to raise money to fight the Crawler.
  • Shin Megami Tensei's neutral (and lawful) path basically support this. The Lawful path is essentially a Bittersweet Ending where Everyone lives in YHVH's tyranny, whereas the neutral path states that laws are necessary if you don't want to devolve into a darwinist barbarian society.
  • In Shogun Total War 2, where a ruler's ability to rule is determined by the Repression Rating and must enact harsh policies to maintain authorities (such as sword hunts to disarm the rebellious population for example).


  • In Girl Genius, the iron-fisted dictator Baron Wulfenbach is widely accepted as being the only thing standing between Europa and a new age of anarchy.
    • That's not due to the average voter, just the Sparks. Wulfenbach fits many, many villain tropes, but he doesn't seem to actually opress his people. Sparks are not all evil, but they are potentially dangerous enough in general to warrant some caution. A dictator, but not a tyrant.

Western Animation