Bryan Caplan  

Villainy Amok

Doctors' Statistical Ignorance... The Inequality Fuss...

While we're on the subject of villainy, here's a challenge: Name the villains (presumably fictional) that you most identify with. My top picks:

How about you?

P.S. Check out Hero Games' Villainy Amok.

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The author at The Volokh Conspiracy in a related article titled Sympathetic Fictional Villains? writes:

    Since I have recently done posts on genocide, airport security, and - worst of all - the US News law school rankings, it's time for a lighter subject. Bryan Caplan

    [Tracked on October 20, 2007 1:45 AM]
COMMENTS (38 to date)
Rue Des Quatre Vents writes:

Gorden Gekko in Wall Street.

KipEsquire writes:


Ian writes:

Riddler or the Joker

Kimmitt writes:

Boromir. Alternately, Mr. Smith from The Matrix.

Tom Tobin writes:

Gerald Tarrant from C.S. Friedman's Coldfire Trilogy.

And ick, Hero? I'll stick with my lovely and lightweight BESM, thanks. ;-)

Greg Bain writes:

The South African government in the movie Breaker Morant – Sometimes I just want a good scapegoat.

Gollum is defiantly one of my favorites, so much internal conflict, the desire to be good, and the lust for power he could never have on his own.

I think most people, really and fictional, have these forces at work within them to some degree (maybe it’s just me), and Tolkien did an excellent job of capturing them, I particularly like how these forces appeared in Frodo as well as Gollum.

Barkley Rosser writes:

Saruman easily beats either Gollum or Boromir.

Magneto -- Although I think the psychology of the humans within the comic universe is implausible (I think the mutants would be treated more like rock stars), given that context, his behavior is understandable.

Lucifer -- He leads a rebellion against a totalitarian dictator, brings knowledge to a pair of ignorant nudists, and he looks like Elizabeth Hurley. What's not to like?

Lex Luthor -- Although merely human, through brains and hard work, he's a worthy adversary to an alien who can:

- repel most weapon attacks (including nuclear)
- fly
- shoot laser beams out of his eyes
- reverse time itself

Larry the Liquidator - His speech to stockholders is one of the great defenses of capitalism.

TGGP writes:

Does Peter Wiggin qualify?

Delving into formulaic genre crap, I thought Pe Ell from the lousy second Shannara series and Lamprey from Exiles of Colsec were pretty cool when I read them as a lad.

Peter Lorre's character from M I did not find sympathetic at all. I've only seen a little bit of Oz, but Ryan O'Reilly seems a likable bastard.

As for real people, I have to tip my hat to D.B Cooper. Jumping out of a plane with duffel bags full of money is the way to go. Carlos the Jackal was an interesting terrorist who stayed ahead of the law for quite a while. Idi Amin was an interesting dictator. I've given props to Marvin "Killdozer" Heemeyer before. I also think that Charles Lindbergh gets a bad rap.

Gollum was a villain? I thought he was just author's illustration of the Ring's power on its holder. And ultimately pretty sympathetic. That's cheating.

For some reason Hernando Cortez comes down to us as a villan, but to me he's just one of the baddest men to ever live. Cortez left home at 18 for the new world. At 24 he famously burned his boats along Veracruz and proceeded by wit, bravado and, less so, by strength of arms, to conquer the Aztecs and fight off/seduce 1500 Spanish soldiers sent to arrest him. Surrounded and unbelievably outumbered in Tenochtitlan he and 3 others bull-rushed the Aztec lines and killed the chieftan-- the Aztecs just didn't know what to do with him and left the city to Cortez. He amazed everyone by brazeness & guile that defy belief. Gordon Gekko would tremble.

You can find unflattering portraits of him by Bernal Díaz and Bartolome Las Casas, replete with atrocities, sins and vices.

tom writes:

Gargamel, Wile E. Coyote

Stan writes:

Does anyone ever worry they are more like Gail Wynand than Howard Roark?

Shane writes:

Darth Vader in the Star Wars prequels.

Grabbing a kid from its family and teaching him a bizarre moral code that doesn't allow you to be close to anyone is bound to screw him up.

Professor Moriarty. There aren't that many mathematician villains.

TGGP writes:

Hernando Cortez was impressive, but he's a piker compared to the Venetian Doge Enrico Dandolo.

Swimmy writes:

I wouldn't say I identify with Dr. Doom--too nationalistic!--but I find him very sympathetic.

Something similar goes for Phaeton from Exosquad: his cause is entirely justified, but his methods are too evil for me to genuinely like him.

Ah, I've got it: Big Boss from the Metal Gear series, especially after playing Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.

Dennis Mangan writes:

The Duke of Alba.

Richard Pointer writes:

Though not a villain to all, I like: Vlad Tepes.

Mark Seecof writes:

I dunno about "identify with," but sympathize with:

Dr. Crippen
Cesare Borgia
Robert E. Lee

and I will probably think of some others.

I don't hold Cortez to have been a villain.

Eccdogg writes:


Lex Luthor -- Although merely human, through brains and hard work, he's a worthy adversary to an alien who can:

- repel most weapon attacks (including nuclear)
- fly
- shoot laser beams out of his eyes
- reverse time itself

I have allways thought this as well. Plus the bald thing is cool.

Randy writes:

Jezebel - a typical case of the winners telling the story.

drobviousso writes:

Magneto - absolutely, no doubt. Especially when he's in the nation founding, only using violence to protect said nation mode.

Random Choir Boy in Lord of the Flies - Especially at that age, I could relate.

V writes:

Ozymandias, villain from Watchmen. I can identify with the notion that if people were led to believe something that was not true, you can make them change their behavior. Not a jab at the current administration or religion, but the idea is appealing. Example: even if cigarette smoking doesn't cause cancer, if everyone truly believed it, then we wouldn't have to smell it in restaurants, casinos, see their butts everywhere, produce less tobacco by-products...

Scott W writes:

Any villain from Captain Planet...sometimes I enjoy pouring oil into the river for no reason. Or, cutting down trees just to destroy the animal habitats.

Steve Y. writes:

Jack Nicholson as. Col. Jessep in "A Few Good Men" (quote from Wikipedia):

You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives...You don't want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty...we use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use 'em as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it! I'd rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you're entitled to!

shawn writes:

...Mr. Darcy? Do I lose my man card for that? but...he's only a 'villain' for a while...

Pete writes:

While not a villain yet it is just a matter of time. Tyrion Lannister from G.R.R. Martin's Ice and Fire saga

law and order writes:

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Enoch writes:

Brad Dourif in anything but especially Exorcist III, Alien 4, and Lord of the Rings.

J. T. Walsh in anything but especially Red Rock West, Sling Blade, and Breakdown.

Dylan writes:

Brian Leiter.

Fictionally, Brandin in Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana.

Stephen R. Kaplan writes:

The Catholic Encyclopedia says that Cortes murdered his wife by defenestration, even though neither of them was a Czech.

Bill writes:

Hannibal Lecter and the killer in Red Dragon both were pretty easy to like

bomberman writes:

I always thought Mr. Freeze from the Batman:Animated Series was good sympathetic villain. He really got screwed.
Agree with Darth Vader and Magneto too.

ThePhalanx writes:

Lord Vader, Megatron or Cobra Commander

Wesley writes:

In these days of political correctness, without a doubt, my hero would be. . .


As much as he was vilified, by certain members of our society, he would be the man!

Greg writes:

Roy Batty (from the Film "Bladerunner"). He was created as a slave, to be used as cannon fodder, and with an artificially foreshortened life even if he should survive combat, I find his response: Escape, travel to Earth, find Tyrell and try to lift the cap on his lifespan exactly what I would try to do in the same circumstances. I find him to be morally far preferable to the reprehensible Tyrell, who used his genius to create a race of slaves in the first place and whose death at the hands of his creation was fitting indeed. And when, with the final act of his life, Batty finally saves Decard, who was trying to kill him, the Tyrell Corporation finally achieved its motto of "More human than human".

John writes:

Is V from V for Vendetta a villain or an anti-hero?

If I can't pick him, I'd go with The Vampire Lestat from Interview with the Vampire, Boba Fett, or Hannibal Lechter.

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