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Evil has a lot of things going for it. It feels great, it tastes great, it has style, and it's just plain cool. For most of a given story, evil can probably be expected to give the heroes a very rough time, and often the Evil Overlord and his Mooks will come alarmingly close to victory before the end of the story.

But for all it has going for it, Evil is just not very conducive to teamwork.

You see, for a team to really come together, there has to be some level of mutual trust. People on the same side need to know their friends will be there to bail them out in a tight spot, and won't sell them out to the enemy or abandon them for some selfish gain at a bad moment. They need to know that, when the going gets tough, or when some temptation arises, their allies will still be right by their side, through thick and thin. For the most part, such willingness to put the group before oneself is inherently at odds with the whole idea of being a Bad Guy.

And so we have this trope. While the heroes cling to the Power of Friendship and trust in their True Companions to see them through, the villains simply cannot trust one another. Always, even when their victory seems closest, it seems to come undone because the bad guys are inherently treacherous and suspicious of one another. If the Evil Overlord is near to victory, you can expect The Dragon to make some bid for personal power at the last minute that gives the heroes enough breathing room to gain the victory. And if you have a team of more or less equal Card Carrying Villains in it For the Evulz, expect them to fall prey to this in no time at all, with their momentary shared goals falling by the wayside the second any of them sees an advantage in turning on their old 'friends.'

In short, this is Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, or even just chronic lack of trust, applied as a persistent Achilles heel of the bad guys. Subtrope of Evil Will Fail. Often results in an Enemy Civil War or Evil Versus Evil. Compare with The Complainer Is Always Wrong and Evil Cannot Comprehend Good. The opposite is Evil Is One Big Happy Family and of course, Honor Among Thieves. Could be considered a form of PVP Balance, to make up for the fact that the heroes aren't allowed to cross the Moral Event Horizon.

Examples of No Honor Among Thieves include:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

  • In Dark Empire, Han Solo tries to recruit the help of Mako Spince, the man who helped him out when Han was first getting into the smuggling business, someone he considers a friend. Mako sells him out.
    • For that matter, most of Han's old friends sell him out by The New Rebellion. Even Lando had, though Lando had a very good reason and had later doubled back to help him at great personal risk. The smuggler community actually regarded Han, and Lando to a lesser extent, as unrealistically honorable and idealistic even before they went straight.

Film

  • Star Wars. Somewhat in the films, but above all in the EU, the Sith, and later the Empire, have a nasty tendency to gain the ascendancy and then lose badly when they start turning on each other.
    • Darth Bane's Rule of Two was an explicit attempt to mitigate the damage that this could do to the Sith by "legitimizing" it -- there were to only be two Sith, the Master to have the power and the Apprentice to crave/take it.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean has Will Turner comment "No heroes amongst thieves, eh?" when Jack tells him part of the Pirates Code; "Any man who falls behind is left behind". Of course, all the good pirates ignore this for the rest of the series.
  • In Tangled, Flynn betrays fellow fellow thieves, the Stabbington brothers, early in the movie.
  • The hero in Dungeons and Dragons goes to a Thieves' Guild for help and to get an artifact he needs. When the head of said guild sells him out, he incredulously asks, "What happened to honor among thieves?" Said guild leader basically laughs in his face for having such a silly idea.
    • This is after the hero specifically tells his reluctant partner, a young female mage whose mentor was betrayed and killed by a fellow mage, that a thief would never betray another thief.
  • The opening scene of The Dark Knight illustrates the way Joker's henchmen kill each other for a bigger share of the loot.
  • The Mel Gibson movie Payback starts with Porter (Gibson) being double-crossed by his partner for his share of the loot on a job. After recovering from his wounds Porter starts tracking down his old partner to get his cut of the money back.
  • "The Killers", based on the Ernest Hemingway short story, has a payroll heist with double and triple crosses among the thieves.

Literature

  • Allen Drury's novel The Promise of Joy. The Soviets and Chinese work together against the U.S. throughout most of the book, but near the end they start a limited nuclear war with each other.
  • Redwall
  • Dragonlance
  • The Wheel of Time allows just as much ... individualism among the antagonists as the protagonists. Indeed, one member of the Black Ajah speculates that the Dark One may select for treachery among his servants. Back when there were more than 13 random Forsaken, however, they had apparently worked well enough together to be on the verge of winning the war.
  • The wizard-run British Government in The Bartimaeus Trilogy is vastly corrupt and falling apart, because a wizard's standard childhood and upbringing teaches them to value their own ambitions over anything else.
  • In Matthew Reilly's books The Six Sacred Stones and The Five Greatest Warriors, several factions of bad guys are forced to work together to complete the tasks necessary to save the world and gain Ultimate Power. They are even forced to work with the heroes from time to time. Needless to say, they don't trust each other and try to backstab each other at every opportunity.
  • In the Forgotten Realms Siege of Darkness Drizzt Do'Urden notes that while dwarves will fight tooth, nail, and beard for their brethren, dark elves have no such luxury. Their defeat is partly because they can't count on each other for cohesiveness.
  • According to The Zombie Survival Guide, bandit groups After the End will inevitably wipe themselves out from in-fighting.
  • "And he wondered, even as the sword came butchering between his ribs, how he had ever thought that the East, whose essence was treachery, could ever stand."
    -- Empire of the East, Fred Saberhagen
  • Varies among the Death Eaters in the Harry Potter series. Their degree of loyalty ranges from Bellatrix Lestrange, who is literally insanely loyal to Voldemort, to Igor Karkaroff, who ratted out other Death Eaters to avoid Azkaban. Most of the Death Eaters would seem to fall in the middle and will turn their back on Voldemort if it's to their advantage. Mainly because he would do the same to them.
  • In Lord of the Rings, Sauron doesn't dare let his orcs know he's looking for the Ring of Power (some orc would likely steal it). So he can't tell his armies, "If you find a hobbit, kill it and send any rings it has back to me." Instead, he orders them to take hobbits alive, and transport them (with all their possessions, even weapons) back to him. Naturally, this lets several hobbits escape from orcs at key moments--especially because while the orcs may not know what's so important, they do know that the captives are very valuable, so they end up fighting over the hobbits anyway.
    • And of course, Saruman may have gone over to Sauron, but they both know that given the slightest chance, he'll grab the Ring for himself--which limits their ability to work together effectively.

Live Action TV

  • In one episode of My Name Is Earl the criminal community (i.e. all) of Camden turn on Earl when he reports the theft of a car to the police, calling him a snitch. However when one of the criminals gets picked up on Earl's info they in turn accuse another member of their community who has committed a more serious crime in order to get immunity for themselves. Earl makes sure he is standing outside the police station as they get released to let them know he knows that they too have "snitched", and that all their bragging of thieves hanging together is just that, empty bragging as there really is No Honour Among Thieves.
    • Earl reported the theft because it was his car and the thieves did not want to give it back. In the old days the thieves would have returned it to him as a courtesy to a fellow thief. However, since Earl has gone straight, they felt that he was no longer covered by that Honour Among Thieves tradition.
      • Of course, by that same token, they have no right to complain on his "snitching". It's a two-way street.
  • In Community episode "Modern Warfare", Pierce betrays Starburns while they're stealing from the vending machines.
  • Michael Westen discusses this trope in the Burn Notice episode "Seek and Destroy":

 Michael: There are always going to be trust issues when you run a criminal enterprise. If you steal with a man, he knows you're a thief. If you kill with a man, he knows you're a killer. It's a huge management issue.

Tabletop Games

  • Warhammer 40000. Either Chaos or the Orks win for being the most enthusiastic about it, but they're far from the only ones who suffer from this.
  • Warhammer. Chaos, Orcs and Skaven especially.
  • Titan Avatars in Scion are frequently at loggerheads. Muspelheim's avatars (Prometheus in particular) all plan to waylay Surtr once Ragnarok is over. The Drowned Road's two strongest avatars, Mami Wata and Ran, act aligned but will someday go for each other's throats, while Nu sits in the background and makes its own plots. Terra is led by Gaia, but the other avatars are open to offers. Sobe-no-Kumi is led by Mikaboshi... only because he arranged for Erebus to be pinned down in a deep part of the Titan. The list goes on; the only Titan without avatar issues is Akhenaten, and that's because Aten is its only avatar.
  • Exalted pretty much says flat-out that even if the Yozis' grand attempt at the Reclamation is successful in any way, the Ebon Dragon is going to turn on the other Yozis and try to keep them permanently locked up in Malfeas while he alone escapes. Why? Because he's the Ebon Fucking Dragon.

Theatre

  • In The Emperor Jones, the title character tells his stooge Smithers, whom he can barely hide his contempt for: "Dere's little stealin' like you does, and dere's big stealin' like I does." Smithers, in Jones's absence, has nothing but hatred for him.

Video Games

  • Knights of the Old Republic. The Sith are rife with this problem throughout both the game itself and the backstory. Of particular note: the encouraged Chronic Backstabbing Disorder of the Sith leads to Malak attempting to kill his own master Revan, which deprives the Sith of their previous Magnificent Bastard leader and starts the chain of events that finally leads to Sith defeat.
    • In the sequel, the Sith Triumvirate nearly succeeds in wiping out the Jedi. Then Darth Traya's apprentices, Darth Sion and Darth Nihilus, turn on her and then on each other. This allows Darth Traya to help the player in hunting them down.
  • Warcraft. In game, merely used as an excuse for Civil Warcraft, the later backstory makes it clear that the Orcish Horde lost the second war because Gul'dan and Orcish clans loyal to him abandoned the Warchief at a decisive moment in favor of Gul'dan's own plans to find Sargeras.
    • To be fair, Gul'dan never planned to stay loyal. He was always the true power behind the previous Warchief Blackhand. Orgrim betrayed Blackhand and then threatened to kill Gul'dan. Gul'dan swore loyalty, planning on breaking his oath the moment he saw fit.
    • In fact, it was Orgrim's own sense of honor that doomed the Horde more than Gul'dan's betrayal. Not wanting Gul'dan to escape unpunished, he sent a huge chunk of his own forces to hunt him down. Not only did it force him to lift his siege of Lordaeron, but the forces sent after Gul'dan suffered heavy losses killing the traitor clans and were then further obliterated on the way back by a surprise attack at sea by Admiral Proudmoore, leaving only a few thousand warriors. Had Orgrim chosen to continue the siege instead of seeking revenge, he would have razed Lordaeron, likely winning the war.
  • Mega Man Star Force 3
  • Quest for Glory IV has a literal version of this. The Chief Thief has been turned into a giant cockroach monster, but you can earn his gratitude by finding the Artifact of Doom that did it, making him human again. At that point, you're free to kill him (try when he's a bug and he'll spit acid on you). You suffer absolutely no consequences - except for the fact that your Honor stat drops to 0 immediately. The narration even drops the trope name afterwards.
  • Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (go figure). From the get-go there's all kinds of back-stabbing and betrayals going on, even from our hero, Nathan Drake. Good thing Elena shows up to set him straight.
  • Mass Effect 2 has a classic case of this when Shepard encounters the "MSV Strontium Mule" which has been recently invaded by a group of Blue Suns mercs. When the commander takes down the groups leader Captain Vorhess, we soon find out Sergent Bootis deliberately held back his men so he'd be killed leaving him in charge and more loot for the survivors. "The fewer men left, the bigger the prize for each of us". Needless to say not combining all your available forces against Commander Shepard is essentially suicide. His betrayal only grants him a swifter death.
  • This seems to be one of the main themes of Mafia II, with the various intrigues between the 3 major crime families and the many betrayals committed by pretty much every Mafia member against each other and the player character. This is in sharp contrast to the much more idealized vision of The Family seen in the first game.
  • In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Tommy Vercetti believes that among the family nothing is more important than honor and loyalty. However as the story progresses he soon realizes he was very much alone in this belief as Sonny has screwed him at every turn.

Real Life

  • The Nazis often ran into a lot of trouble because everyone in the government was trying to carve out their only little fiefdom at the expense of everyone else, even when the war was clearly being lost.
    • The Nazis and basically every regime ever in power.
    • It did happen particularly often with the Nazis since Hitler actively encouraged this sort of behavior. His motivation was a mixture of "divide and rule" and an odd form of social Darwinism.
  • Happens with a LOT of criminal groups in the real world. If they think they can make more money by killing a "friend", or simply need to throw someone to the wolves to save themselves, they'll do so without a second thought. Many criminal organisations are often brought down by snitches who will turn informant the moment they face time behind bars for their crimes.
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