Rousseau Was Right
"It's difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart."
In this setting, everyone is born as a moral blank slate (or tabula rasa as John Locke put it), with a natural inclination to goodness. All villains in such a setting are a product of environmental influences, such as upbringing, society, or maybe just an unlucky spot of brain damage. Of course, they may just be Well Intentioned Extremists. This isn't to say that evil doesn't exist in such a universe—it does, and regardless of their excuses, people (or aliens; Rousseau probably wouldn't discriminate) who do bad things still bear full responsibility for their actions. However, since nobody is naturally evil, some spark of goodness will tend to remain within even the most black-hearted of characters; redemption is always a possibility in such a universe, although it may not be easy.
Settings in which Rousseau was right always avert Card-Carrying Villain, In the Blood, Moral Event Horizon and Complete Monster. On the rare occasions when characters who would be regarded as Complete Monsters in other settings do show up, their unrealized potential for good and the depths to which they have fallen instead are usually played up as tragic.
It should be noted that Rousseau did not philosophize that humans in their natural state were actually "good", but rather humans who are without a social contract have no morality/concept of good and evil and as such, will act in their own self interest but cannot do so maliciously.
- Shugo Chara is just a bit like this, although they do have the Easter leader and the X Eggs they have to stop.
- Mazinger Z: The "Theme of Z" seems to think Rousseau Was Right. Kouji and his friends meet many people behave like jerks but deep down are not bad people, and even Big Bad Dr. Hell's reasons for being a Complete Monster are he was The Woobie when he was young. However, this series somehow manages mixing this trope with Humans Are the Real Monsters.
- In Medaka Box, this is a major part of the series. Almost all of Medaka's True Companions, including some that are introduced as protagonists right off the bat, were once her enemies.
- My Neighbor Totoro was intended as an embodiment of this trope. Other Studio Ghibli works tend to have at least a nod towards it.
- Princess Mononoke beautifully carries out this trope. The humans and the forests all harbor understandable, sometimes irrational hostility against each other. Yet they have intentions that see for the better.
- The Vision of Escaflowne has the good guys and the Well-Intentioned Extremist antagonists. It does have Dilandau, but he is the inverted personality of Celena Schezar, Allen's Dead Little Sister. Which makes Celena, the opposite to Dilandau in every way, likely the nicest person in the entire world, while Dilandau cannot be counted since he is not a human being found normally in nature.
- Dr. Tenma operates on this principle at the beginning of Monster. The main conflict of the series is Tenma's idealism versus Johan's nihilism. In the end, Tenma's idealism wins out, as he saves Johan's life.
- Yoshiyuki Tomino's Brain Powerd is a series in which no one is truly, completely evil. The Reclaimers are dangerous, but misguided, and people always have a reason why they act a certain way. Yes, even the show's resident Smug Snake Jonathan has some good in him that can be brought out. If Victory Gundam was the work of a depressed man, Brain Powerd is the work of a man who has overcome his depression.
- Elfen Lied plays this as straight as possible: all of the main characters have Dark and Troubled Pasts, and each of them have had some falter in their relationships and friendships with others. The only truly evil characters are the Unknown Man and the Kakuzawas (of whom said unknown Man is implied to be a part of), who abused their power and took it to a ridiculous extreme.
- I think the only exceptions are those sociopath kids that caused Lucy's Start of Darkness. Even if the writers will show that they had a Freudian Excuse off-screen, it's not enough to justify their depravity.
- And even they have a Freudian Excuse: They were relentlessly persecuted due to the horns sticking out of their heads, and it eventually reached the point where they had to hide into a radioactive island to avoid literal ethnic cleansing. Eventually, they developed myth of their superiority to humans (which was reduced due to interbreeding with them) and began expecting a Messiah to come for them. Turns out said messiah was our protagonist: Lucy, who promptly kills them upon finding out.
- At least a few episodes per series of the Pokémon anime, as well as the first movie, are devoted to the theme of "there are no bad Pokémon, only mean/abusive/neglectful trainers." The implication is that bad people as well are just the result of a bad upbringing.
- The manga Rave Master largely supports this view. Many villains execute a Heel Face Turn sometime after their defeat, and even the ones who don't generally have a Freudian Excuse. Of course, there's little indication that the countless Mooks and Elite Mooks Haru and company mow down like weeds have any sort of redeeming qualities, but that's because they don't count.
- With the Light has a lot of this. While there are people who are insensitive or antagonistic towards the autistic Hikaru or his mother's struggles in raising him, you can count the people who do so entirely out of spite on one hand. Most everyone else is just uneducated about autism.
- Mashina Hiro's next work, Fairy Tail, largely continues these trends (minus the Mooks thing). Perhaps best demonstrated in the Cursed Island Arc, which ends with the main villain getting past the baggage he had from his former master and fellow students and reforming along with his entire team.
- Mahou Sensei Negima fits the trope. Many people like fighting, but the only really Evil person seems to be Chachazero, a powerless doll of Evangeline's. Even demons are quite decent people. Poor Communication Kills and Cycle of Revenge provide a steady supply of conflict, through. A lot of antagonists could've pulled Negi to their side if they bothered to explain their goals.
- Although even Chachazero has been able to show restraint, at the end of the Kyoto arc. She only scares Chigusa so badly that she faints, as opposed to using her freaking huge knife to actually do some damage. The only character so far who's outright evil with no Anti-Villain tendencies or Freudian Excuse of some kind is Psycho Lesbian / Blood Knight Tsukuyomi, who has some serious issues regarding Setsuna.
- Real Drive is made of this.
- Most of Kimi ni Todoke's supporting characters are popular girls and jock guys who befriend the shy, outcast protagonist without any ulterior motive.
- Kero Kero Chime comes pretty close. There's only one human in the entire series that's actually evil, with most of the conflicts coming from misunderstandings or well-meaning efforts. The track record is similarly good for non-humans: Although his minions are pretty nasty, even the Demon King himself turns out to be not that bad -- he's completely reformed by the time the main cast meets up with him.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion. No, seriously. The series may be best known for its ruthless cynicism, bleak tone and disturbing content, but some reading between the lines reveals the conclusion to suggest that all human beings really want is to be loved and accepted, and that the things they do, no matter how twisted, are merely the result of fear, self-hatred and lack of understanding for themselves and others.
- Sailor Moon lives and dies by her belief in this. She will never allow herself to believe that someone is beyond saving. She proves time and time again it is a rare villain she cannot redeem.
- Note that this really only applies to the anime -- in the original manga, a good portion of the villains are just outright evil, and it's the rare villain who gets redeemed rather than summarily killed.
- In all of Kyō Kara Maō!, there have been perhaps two Big Bads that are not redeemed. One of them is literally Sealed Evil in a Can, and the other becomes a mindless puppet for the Sealed Evil in a Can.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh!, this trope is featured numerous times with Yugi Muto repeatedly believing that goodness resides in everyone and that their dark side needs to be defeated for this to become free. Examples include Dartz, Raphael, and Marik Ishtar while characters that independently seemed to change their ways and become good having been previously evil would include Pegasus and Valon. Seto Kaiba also tends to be obnoxious and mean a lot of the time while actually being shown to have decent values at heart, not least his love for his little brother Mokuba. To elaborate:
- Even the absolute worst of the villains play this trope straight. Yami Marik is the Ax Crazy Omnicidal Maniac split personality of Marik. While there's nothing sympathetic about his character, his origin is: he was born from the pain and anger Marik felt having his back carved by his own father. Yami Bakura is an Omnicidal Maniac trying to summon Zorc Necrophades, ultimately to avenge his entire town being murdered. Said Zorc is summoned by the Millennium Items, which ARE the collective group of townspeople that, while criminals, still didn't deserve the fate they got.
- Don't get us started on Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's. Who would have thought that Yliaster, Paradox, and Z-One were just trying to prevent a Bad Future?
- There are two major villains in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, and both of them have good intentions: Lordgenome suppresses the growth of humanity in order to avoid getting the attention of the Anti-Spirals, who in turn want to destroy humanity in order to prevent them from destroying the universe through overuse of spiral energy.
- Even though they have similar names, this is not Rossiu. Though it might be a call out, as Rossiu eventually learns a lesson and starts to believe more along the lines of this trope.
- Like the main branch of the series, Sonic X has at least one moment that alludes to this. During the Metarex saga, the dub tries to explain Knuckles' getting tricked by Eggman by saying that he believes everybody is capable of good, or of turning over a new leaf. Considering the way he joined the cast, this is Fridge Brilliance... but only in the 4Kids! dub, since the original presents us with a Family-Unfriendly Aesop instead.
- In The Dark Knight, a recurring theme is the question whether Humans Are the Real Monsters or Rousseau Was Right. The Joker preaches the former, that all humans are cowardly, cruel, self-serving and will happily slaughter each other to get to the top of the pile. To this end, near the end of the film, he sets up a social experiment to determine which. He rigs two ships with explosives, one ferrying innocent refugees and the other carrying convicts, with each ship having access to the other ship's detonator. If one blows up the other, that ship is allowed to leave. The Joker gives them 10 minutes to decide, and if no action is taken, the Joker will detonate the bombs on BOTH ships. Not only do they both defy the Joker and refuse to condemn the other to death, it's the convicts who refuse to do it first.
- With the exception of the organ traders, this is pretty much the main tragedy of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. This fact makes the ensuing spiral of vengeance even more tragic.
- The Venus Project, thoroughly discussed in the second Zeitgeist movie, is built around the assumption that greed, corruption, and ignorance are not intrinsic human qualities but were instead drilled into us by the harsh primeval environment and later, by our obsolete social institutions.
- Which is kind of ironic, considering the movies themselves allege almost everything that ever happened is part of an evil conspiracy.
- Even though it's not apparent in the first film, the combined message of movies is that conspiracies like those mentioned in the first film are naturally occurring in the world, due to the system based on people and groups fighting each other for every and any advantage they can get. And honestly, that view is actually quite logical. While it is insane to believe in every conspiracy out there, we should understand that secrecy, subversion, and sabotage are a big part of the world, and they pretty much always have been.
- Casablanca. Everyone is a bright-eyed idealist disguised as a cynic—Rick the Knight in Sour Armor, Louis the Magnificent Bastard, even the local crime lord. Either that or a Nazi.
- Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan in Boys Town: "There is no such thing as a bad boy."
- This is the entire point of The Lives of Others: The main character is a Stasi agent named Wiesler in early 1980s East Germany, spying on a playwright suspected of Western sympathies. Wiesler is portrayed as torn between his loyalty to his job and his fundamental human sympathy with the target of his spying, and when the playwright conspires to write an article for the West Germany Der Spiegel about the high rate of suicide in East Germany, Wiesler does all kinds of things to keep his bosses from knowing.
- The Green Goblin seems to think Humans Are the Real Monsters in the first Spider Man movie, but is proven wrong when some very irate New Yorkers come to Spidey's aid.
- In a bit of accidental Fridge Brilliance, the movie depicts NYC just after 9/11, where it was ill-advised to mess with New Yorkers.
- Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies is a good example of this. He wasn't born evil, has a pretty decent Freudian Excuse and did a Heel Face Turn at the end.
- He's not the only one. Count Dooku was a former Jedi, and thinks the Empire will be better for the galaxy. The Separatists have their own reasonable gripes with the Republic. General Grievous has had his planet devestated by the Huk, and the Republic didn't help his planet out because it was of little use to him. Even Darth Maul has excuse of being taken as a baby and forced under extreme circumstances to be living weapon. The only main villain exception is Palpatine.
- Antoine de Saint Exupery.
- Ben Bova's Voyagers II: The Alien Within: After waking from cryogenic suspension and rescue from an alien ship, astronomer Keith Stoner goes to a war-torn part of Africa, gathers the local leaders and hammers out a peace that's seemed impossible so far.
- This is a huge theme that resonates through Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture.
- In an odd hybrid, the Timeweb trilogy by Brian Herbert applies this to characters' thought processes (with exceptions for the occasional Biological Mashup or Eldritch Abomination), but has them act as if they were in a setting with Black and Grey Morality. This is justified: either they're culturally brainwashed into hating everyone who isn't of their own species, or they're facing off against those extremists and are forced to kill them.
- Patricia A. McKillip's novels seem to feature this a lot, with The Tower at Stoney Wood as a particularly strong example.
- Terry Pratchett has said that he doesn't believe people who can actually tell the difference between right and wrong would ever choose wrong. As a result, many if not all of his villains, particularly in the Discworld, are in some way deeply disturbed, if not outright insane.
"It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people."
- Arguably, the Lord of the Rings. It appears to be black and white morality at first, but several points in the story suggest otherwise. Tellingly, Elrond's comment that no one is born evil, not even Sauron, and when they see the dead eastlander and wonder what caused them to do what they did. Moreover, in the appendices it clearly shows Sauron thought, at least at first, that he was in the right, which reeks of Rousseau Was Right.
- In the novel Miracle Monday, Superman faces Saturn, an agent of Satan who is trying to break his morals by tricking him into killing an innocent girl. The hero responds by stating these beliefs - about the demon! Whether he was serious or was just Talking the Monster to Death (or both) isn't clear. (The demon was in fact, very much evil, but Supes still won the "game".)
- The Coral Island. It's the book Lord of the Flies was basically written in response to, where the three boys stranded on the island live in perfect harmony, defeat a shark, stop some pirates, convert natives to Christianity and everything works out well (in fact, two of the main characters are called Ralph and Jack, the same as two main characters in Lord of the Flies).
- Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern novels have a couple of evil characters (Fax, for one), but just about everyone is a decent human being (and all dragons are invariably good).
- Janet Kagan's book Mirabile.
- To Kill a Mockingbird: Although it's arguable whether this trope applies to the book, this conversation between Scout and Atticus at the very end is an example:
Scout: (talking about a book read to her) Atticus, he was real nice...
- Doctor Who - The Doctor believes this... most of the time. Occasionally, the humans around him prove him wrong. Doesn't seem to stop him giving the Patrick Stewart speeches, though.
- In Lost, the character Rosseau is not mentally well, and later dead. She is also extremely mistrustful of...well, everyone. Take that as you will.
- She is probably named Rousseau in honour not of this idea but his concept of the noble savage.
- In Season 6, this idea is expanded upon. If Jacob is to be believed, part of his job on the island (aside from containing the Man in Black) is to demonstrate that yes, Rousseau Was Right, and people ultimately make good decisions.
- This is basically true across the board in Kingdom, and it works well.
- This Trope is true for the most part in Power Rangers. Even the biggest Jerkasses tend to have a hidden heart of gold, and all but the most vile, over the top, and freaky looking villains tend to have their occasional Pet the Dog moments, if not an outright Heel Face Turn.
- In Warehouse 13 H.G. Wells was originally a person who believed that humans were brilliant and the future would be an amazing place, but when her daughter was murdered she stopped believing in humans but still believed the future would be a utopia, only again to lose that faith when she wakes up in the 21st century and saw that things were worse.
H.G. " You know that I foolishly believed that if I could find a way to travel through time then things would have improved, a utopia would have emerged, but here we are over a century later and things have actually gotten worse!"
- John Lennon's Imagine.
- Nickelback's If Everyone Cared.
- A number of Eurovision songs.
- 'Aordig Doen Tegen Mensen Die Niet Aordig Doen' is Exactly What It Says on the Tin ... if you speak Dutch, and even then, it's a very specific dialect... The singer basically says that you should be nice to people who aren't nice themselves, because they need it and didn't become that way because they wanted to.
- Who Taught You How to Hate? by Disturbed is either a Deconstruction or Subversion. The title really says it all. This song is far from optimistic. The eponymous Driving Question is a meditation on Children Are Innocent and the Freudian Excuse, as the narrator asserts "[this] isn't in your blood, not a part of what you're made" and "there's always one who plants an evil seed". However, there are also lyrics which undermine these themes and suggest they are merely excuses or justifications for evil, such as: "Can it still be if you're what made you this way?" (After all, even if every child is born an
indiscriminatenondiscriminatory tabula rasa with an inclination toward good, the corrupt are no less so for their innocent origins. There are plenty of killers who Used to Be a Sweet Kid, so, in the end, a hateful soul is nothing more than the spiteful anger they embody, making them "dead to everyone (you're not anyone)".) Ultimately, Who Taught You How to Hate? could be said to be a pessimistic condemnation of holding grudges, because that was the only way a fundamentally blank slate could be tarnished -- by choice, willfully neglecting to forgive and wipe the slate clean.
- Pokémon generally goes off the idea that people are basically good and even evil masterminds can reform. (This is, after all, a world where parents apparently feel safe sending their 10-year-olds off into the wild blue yonder with only a single Pokémon to defend them.)
- In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Explorers of Sky, this is basically Guildmaster Wigglytuff's personal belief: though there are plenty of criminals, there is no such thing as a truly bad Pokémon. In a way, he's proved right each time. Grovyle was good all along, Drowzee, Dusknoir, and the Sableye pull Heel Face Turns, Primal Dialga was just insane and very grateful to be returned to normal, Team Skull's last act is to return what they stole, Armaldo was really not all that bad, and even Darkrai shows a capacity for good (after he gets amnesia, that is).
- Even the various Big Bads of the games show this. Giovanni - despite his selfish motives - still faces his defeat with a degree of honor, the leaders of Team Aqua and Magma are both Well Intentioned Extremists that pull a Heel Face Turn when they realize just how badly their plans backfire, even Cyrus is implied to have had a pretty horrible childhood, and N is an Anti-Villain with his heart in the right place. Ghetsis, however, has no excuse at all. Which has made him the most depraved of all Pokemon villains.
- The first Mega Man Star Force game follows this trope to an extent. While there are some truly bad people (all but one of them are humans), including an unnamed person who took advantage of Brother Bonds just to steal somebody's invention, Chrys Golds, and Gemini, the Big Bad isn't one of them. The motivation of his actions stem from everybody on his planet, including his family, wanting to kill him to over take his throne. As a result of this, he was (with some assistance from Gemini) convinced that those from all other planets wanted to destroy him as well. Once Geo Stelar became his friend, he decided to repair the planet that he destroyed.
- The Mother/EarthBound series. In MOTHER 1 and EarthBound, the Big Bad, an Eldritch Abomination, is defeated by reminding him of the feeling of love; in Mother 3, the Big Bad never really repents but ends up happy with his fate, while The Dragon gives up thanks to the memory of his mother. The whole trilogy is about familial love.
- In Knights of the Old Republic, a LS character with a high persuade can pretty much prove this trope works 60% of the time, as you can convince plenty of the Dark Side characters you speak with to put down the shiny red saber. Some, like Kel Algwinn and Juhani don't take much work at all, while others like Yuthra Ban and Bastila are a bit more of a crapshoot.
- The default assumption behind the Sakura Taisen series seems to be that people are innately good, although they can end up going astray without the proper guidance—the Humongous Mecha teams are also actresses so they can promote and nurture the innate goodness within humanity through the magic of musical theater. The real villains are forces external to humanity, such as demons or undead Japanese warriors.
- This is a philosophy used a few times in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, notably at the end of both of the titles in the Sonic Adventure Series (Tails and Amy, respectively).
- Metal Gear has this as a running theme. No matter how depraved a villain, they will either be a Well-Intentioned Extremist, or have a very elaborate Freudian Excuse. Psycho Mantis? Burned down his hometown as a child, and then was 'infected' by the mind of a serial killer. Vamp? He was traumatically forced to drink his family's blood, and then his lover and the father of his best friend was murdered. Fatman? He was bullied all his life to the point where the only person he cared about was his bomb disposal instructor who he then sought to surpass. Ocelot tortures people and does what he does for love of Big Boss. The only truly evil character who doesn't have a tragic backstory explaining their villainy is Volgin, and even he has some leading dialogue about his relationship with his father, the inheritor of a cartoonishly large sum of money. Then there's Coldman who is a complete psycho who plans on inciting a nuclear war just to prove his point on human behavior.
- As revealed in the NG+, almost all of the conflicts in NieR are a result of tragic misunderstandings, with several foes just having been trying to protect themselves/loved ones. In fact, the Big Bad who kidnapped your daughter/sister? He was just trying to save his. And was responsible for keeping the remnants of humanity sane.
- Hazbin Hotel; Charlie truly seems to believe that, at least with humans, nobody is truly born evil and no sinner is truly beyond redemption. Unfortunately, trying to convince her contemporaries - the rulers of Hell - usually fall on deaf ears, given the Machiavellian outlook that most of them have.
- In El Goonish Shive, After Tedd calls out half the school for making fun of Susan when she's the only one trying to change the uniforms, most of them are quick to apologize, with one saying that "we aren't a Borg Hive Mind." Earlier, when Grace runs out of class (due to not having heard of WWII) and is very embarrassed upon coming back, the other students are quick to offer their condolences over her leading such a sheltered life, and are angry at the people who subjected her to that rather than her. In fact, this comic demonstrates in many places that, with a few exceptions, high school students aren't the bastards that most media would have us believe. They're just normal people, with basically good natures.
- At one point the Alpha Bitch (who seemed to be a textbook case of that trope) showed genuine concern for one of her henchgirls.
- Freefall is set on a planet where artificial intelligences (mostly robots) have unexpectedly become sapient without the humans around them being aware of it, as the planet is still being terraformed, and most robots live their lives with fairly minimal human supervision. There's a great deal of worry among them about how humans will react when it all comes to light, and a Corrupt Corporate Executive who is trying to do away with them entirely for his own reasons. But most of the population is oblivious to the entire conflict, and much like in this strip, most other humans seem pretty reasonable about the whole concept.
- This is a key trope in The Dragon Wars Saga.
- Captain Planet and the Planeteers, with Gi as the self-appointed spokeswoman of the philosophy that Children Are Innocent, everyone is good at heart, and hate, prejudice and other things people learn as they grow up are responsible for evil. Usually. Except all the villains seem to be doing it For the Evulz. Please ignore the rubble.
- Gargoyles, though it's never explicitly stated, brings the Rousseau principle home through making each of its recurring characters as complex and 3-dimensional as possible. Even the Spin-Off comic, Bad Guys, calls its team of former ne'er-do-wells the "Redemption Squad."
- He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and its sequel She Ra Princess of Power (heck, most Filmation cartoons) had this as a recurring theme, with even the main villains showing they had a good side underneath all that evil.
- Lilo and Stitch fits this, even if its Recycled: the Series throws it out the window.
- The whole premise of Disney's Phineas and Ferb, where the Big Bad is usually an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain with countless Pet the Dog moments, and the so-called bully is a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
- Doofenshmirtz' ex-wife explicitly tells her daughter Vanessa that "No one is evil".
- My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic
- Villains in Batman: The Animated Series, and, to a much lesser extent, its Sequel Series Batman Beyond, almost always start out innocent, until some horrible tragedy befalls them. Batman will inevitably try to bring them back onto the side of good before fighting them. This had always been the case for some characters, like Two-Face, but the concept is taken to an extreme. Mister Freeze is the most obvious example. The character had always just been a Card-Carrying Villain. In the show, he was a scientist trying to save his wife, but an evil executive destroyed his research and turned him into a monster. Other characters (including Harley Quinn, The Ventriloquist, The Penguin, The Riddler, Poison Ivy, Baby Doll and even Killer Croc) are all given their own episodes where they give up their evil ways and start to become productive members of society, only for some twist of fate to send them back to the dark side.
- The Batman, however, even applies this Trope to the Joker. In the episode "Strange Minds", Batman finds one lucid man in the insane nightmare that is the Joker's mind, a small remnant of what he was before and showing that even the Joker was not born evil. The scene does, however, seem eerily similar to the guy he claimed to have been in the origin story from The Killing Joke.