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"No. Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise."
Rorschach, Watchmen

A character who cares too much about his principles, often at the expense of caring about the results of his actions. While many characters believe in ideals like truth, knowledge and the rule of law, these guys take it to uncomfortable levels. May be Played for Laughs, or played straight in one way or another.

A person who Will Not Tell a Lie, for example, crosses over into Principles Zealot when they maintain truthfulness even in the face of horrible consequences that they know could be averted by lying. A hero who will commit any atrocity rather than break a promise, even if they were tricked into making it, is a Principles Zealot. Please note that such a Principles Zealot isn't necessarily more principled than someone who normally Will Not Tell a Lie but can make exceptions in extreme cases. The difference is that the zealot refuses to see the big picture, clinging blindly to the principle and the principle only. (Which has a certain bloody-minded logic: the threat of looming negative consequences could always be a trick or illusion, or there might be an escape route, but once you tell the lie to avoid it, there's a 100% certainty that you are now a liar.)

A Principles Zealot can be a Well-Intentioned Extremist, Knight in Sour Armor, Knight Templar, Lawful Stupid or even a Complete Monster who ended up on the wrong end of that Sliding Scale. Contrast Totalitarian Utilitarian, who is another side of these four kinds of fanaticism: While the Principles Zealot cares only about principles, the Totalitarian Utilitarian cares only about results. Note that a fanatic doesn't have to fall into either of those two categories: their fanaticism can be about a cause or a belief instead.

See also The Determinator. Contrast Honor Before Reason: Principles Zealot is a character type, while Honor Before Reason is a motivation/characterization. Honor Before Reason is explicitly idealistic and heroic, whereas Principles Zealot is an idealistic character, but is on the cynical side of that Sliding Scale.

No real life examples please, and no historical examples more recent than a century.

Examples of Principles Zealot include:


Anime and Manga

  • Suzaku Kururugi from Code Geass starts out like this, refusing to support Zero even though it would mean the end of the oppression of the Japanese people, believing results have to come the right way, but slowly drifts away from this, finally seeing that results justify the means, and to have thought otherwise was naive and foolish.
  • Light Yagami of Death Note believes in justice. This belief leads him to kill thousands of people and manipulate everyone around him. Granted, his idea of justice does shift slightly over time...
  • Greed from Fullmetal Alchemist claims that he never lies (even to enemies). If this were true then that would mean he would never lie even if it could further his goals, and being the physical incarnation of the sin itself, attaining things like status, sex, money, etc. is very important to him.

Comic Books

  • Rorschach in Watchmen follows this trope very consistently. The page quote is literal. He would rather let the world perish than neglect one of his moral principles just once.
    • This is only bad if you think Ozymandias was right. In fact, Rorschach refuses to stand by and let someone get away with mass murder.
  • Judge Dredd is in many ways a parody of this, with Judge Death as a parody of the parody. While Judge Dredd is a Knight Templar By-The-Book Cop and Judge Death a Omnicidal Maniac Complete Monster, they are still the same kind of Principles Zealot. And this is what makes them Not So Different.
  • Civil War has Captain America.

 Doesn't matter what the press says. Doesn't matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn't matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — "No, you move."

Film

  • Nicholas Angel, the hero in Hot Fuzz, takes By-The-Book Cop to zealot levels. He gets better.
  • Batman, in The Dark Knight, would rather veer off and crash his bike, leaving himself vulnerable to the Joker, than simply running the Joker over and ending the whole fiasco. Even though the Joker is unloading machine-gun fire into random motorists at the time Batman still will not kill him.
  • Harry from In Bruges snarls that if he ever killed a child, he would stick his gun in his mouth and pull the trigger then and there. At the end of the film, when he believes he has shot a kid, he follows through on his claim.

Literature

  • Galad Trakand in The Wheel of Time is described as someone who "always does what's right, no matter who it hurts," which also indicates a very peculiar idea of what constitutes "right."
  • Stannis Baratheorn from A Song of Ice and Fire. His dedication to his principles as a goal in itself approaches levels of The Unfettered, but the chapters seen from Davos' point of view also shows that Stannis himself is conflicted by this.

Live Action TV

  • In Star Trek: Voyager, Seven of Nine has this attitude to her ideals of perfection. See the page quote. Janeway also drifts into this territory sometimes, when it's her principles that are at stake.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation have a episode where Captain Picard (and thus his crew) chose to let an entire civilization die, one that they could easily have saved. They commit this genocide-trough-inaction for the simple reason that the rules say so. Of course, it doesn't take long before a sympathetic civilian The Professor character goes all What the Hell, Hero? on them.
    • Specifically, he could easily have saved some of the planets inhabitants, there was no way to save all of them. It's almost certainly impossible to transplant a civilization without destroying it, so the question is whether you let all of them die or let most of them die.
  • Not to be outdone, in Star Trek: Enterprise, Archer actually does let an entire civilization die to a disease, slowly and painfully, while they've spent the entire episode begging him for help due to a specific set of principles that don't even exist yet and wouldn't apply to this specific civilization even if they did.
  • In JAG, Harmon Rabb gets a client who is accused of war crimes in Vietnam. While the old officer doesn't plead guilty, he does nothing to defend himself or help the defense. It turns out that he is innocent but believes that no matter the cost he can never break a vow of silence once it's given.

Tabletop Games

Video Games

  • If Shirou follows this, it can lead to an infamous bad end in the Heaven's Feel route of Fate/stay night.
  • The Qunari of Dragon Age. Whilst there are exiles who do not follow their code, those that adhere to the Qun will never compromise if the "demands of the Qun" aren't met. Sten can never return home without his sword, as he will be killed on sight for having lost it.
  • Dragon Age II has several examples. Katojen submits to the Qun despite its consequences for him, and regardless of Hawkes' actions, willingly chooses death. An Arvaarad attempts to kill you even if you have his respect because you may be "corrupted". The Arishok will not leave without the relic and Isabela despite your willingness to let it all end peacefully. He and his men will leave peacefully if you hand said party member over.

 Hawke: I see a man who's willing to start a war on principle.

The Arishok: And what would the Qunari be without principle? You, I suspect.

  • In Final Fantasy VII, the Corel prison warden, while nominally a regular guy, absolutely refuses to let the party leave, even to plead their innocence. More to the point, he refuses to let them go even when Barret is waving a gatling gun in his face, valuing enforcing his prison rules more than his own life.
  • The entire mainstream Brotherhood of Steel degenerates into this in Fallout. They keep on getting more and more obsessed with keeping to the Codex as more and more schismatics splinters off from the mainstream thanks to the increasing insanity of trying to keep to all the rules. This is worsened by the fact that there is significant evidence that the Codex has been altered... to be more strict (for those that wonder why this is here and not under Honor Before Reason, the Codex, at least by New Vegas, includes parts about not helping outsiders, which is hardly heroic or idealistic), even as hiding in bunkers and keeping all pre-War tech to themselves becomes increasingly less of an option.
    • The Brotherhood have *always* been highly xenophobic and all about hoarding technology. In Fallout 1 they were so close to becoming total zealots that the assassination of just one of their leaders, Rhombus, leads to them becoming the Steel Plague, fanatics who actively hunt down anyone else with advanced technology and usher in an even darker age.

Only the Chicago and Washington D.C. Brotherhoods have ever truly diverged from rigid adherence to the Codex, mainly due to being cut off from the central leadership..

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • Adventure Time has Lemongrab. The Earl of Lemongrab, while not evil (just a huge jerk), definitely qualifies for this trope. All he wants is a clean, quiet, orderly kingdom. He tries to achieve this mild goal by screaming at everybody, terrorizing the candy people, and sending literally everybody in the Candy Kingdom to the dungeon for ONE MILLION YEARS!!!

Other

  • And When Did You Last See Your Father? was, at one time, an extremely popular painting in England. It dramatizes a scene in the English Civil Wars where a man is hiding from the opposing army, and is about to be exposed by his little son's insistence on telling the complete truth at all times.
  • Immanuel Kant advocated this sort of worldview--that one ought to determine the right tenets and stick to them in all circumstances, even if the whole world, all authority, and their loved ones begged them to give in--to never deviate from what's Right, even if it would mean the loss of one's life.
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