Unfit for Greatness

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Omnium consensu capax imperii, nisi imperasset. [1]
Tacitus, describing the Emperor Galba.

A fundamentally good and well-meaning character who attains (either by chance or through his own effort) a position of great prestige, power, and responsibility—only to cause more harm than good because he doesn't have enough willpower, foresight, and general virtue to handle them right. Despite trying to make life better for others with his power, he ends up wasting it on petty things or unwittingly pushing them into ruin. The tragedy of this character is that he often realizes that he screwed it all up but doesn't know how to fix it (and in this, he is different from someone who's simply Drunk with Power).

Such character may be contrasted by the one who is better suited for greatness but doesn't receive any recognition (at first). Both of them may want the same thing but by a twist of fate, the one who has the power is not the one who can pull it off.

Contrast Reluctant Ruler and Cincinnatus. See also Drunk with Power and Well-Intentioned Extremist. Reality Warping Is Not a Toy is a common fantastic variation.

Examples of Unfit for Greatness include:

Comic Books[edit | hide | hide all]

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Robert Baratheon from A Song of Ice and Fire fights valiantly in a just war to dethrone a mad king, but when he takes the throne himself, he proves himself incompetent in dealing with matters of state, spends lavish amounts of money on feasts and tournaments, and his inattentiveness to his own family sows seeds of disaster.
  • In Labyrinths of Echo, Chief of the police General Bubuta Bokh. He earned his rank and more for exploits during the war, remains loyal, not malicious (only noisy), his abuses of power are limited to petty embezzlement and nepotism. He's also completely unfit for this job, except the part when he scares arrested folk. Note that he doesn't actually screw anything up too much (yet) - if only thanks to the work of much more competent lieutenants working under him.
  • King Cinhil Haldane in the Legends of Camber trilogy. Having spent most of his life as a cloistered priest, he is unprepared for the machinations of politics, and is unable to prevent several human lords on his council from staging their own coup d'etat after his death. He also blames Camber (the man who engineered his succession to the throne) for the loss of his vocation and his misery over it, and he distances himself from an experienced courtier's advice when he needs it most.
  • Philipp Tagere from the Arcia Chronicles is a brave warrior and a charming diplomat but turns out to be a weak king who estranges his best courtiers and officers and surrounds himself with yes men. He is contrasted by his two younger brothers, Edmon (who dies young) and Alexander (who succeeds Philipp but is overthrown by external enemies soon thereafter). On the other hand, he is also contrasted by Pierre Lumen, who overthrows and succeeds Alexander and is simply Drunk with Power and has an "It's All About Me" attitude when it comes to state affairs, completely blind to his lack of political skill. Pierre does approach this trope once or twice when he ponders on his and Alexander's differences but he prefers to suppress these thoughts.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In Mass Effect 2, Jacob's disappeared father actually crash-landed with his crew on a planet whose environment began destroying their cognitive functions. At first, he rationed the uncontaminated food for the scientists working to get them all off the planet. Then, however, he gave in to temptation and turned the camp and mindless crewmates into his personal kingdom. By the time Shepard and crew arrive, things have gotten bad.

Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • One of themes in Vampire Cheerleaders, thanks to the very premise: Lorna at least made sure her coven have some team spirit (which she praises as all-important), but other than that, they are cheerleaders, now given much more power than their "I Have Boobs - You Must Obey!" routine allows.
    • Suki is fairly nice unless provoked, but is ditzy, and thoughtlessly creates rather nasty situations because she simply can't see the problem. And admitted doing dangerously stupid things before (which likely includes killing Zoe's boyfriend).
    • The plot is kicked off by Candice - whom Suki called brainless - getting a great idea that she may well scare her boyfriend for cheap thrills if she can mindwipe him after that... oh wait, it was wrong. Kind of fireball wrong.
    • Heather isn't stupid... but Holier Than Thou mom and nodding dad raised her on a short leash, so once she slips it and runs wild with vampire powers, she's even less capable of acting responsibly on her own than the rest. One of her early stunts made Suki admit that "even she" didn't anything that idiotic. She matured later, however.
  1. [He was] universally seen as capable of ruling, had he never ruled.