Captain America is a champion of democracy, of which the existence and use of checks and balances is a core pillar. Why, then, is he so averse to being subject to checks and balances on his own power?

He claimed said checks are vulnerable to being politicised, but that's part and parcel of any political system: has any political institution in history ever been immune to it? In this case the check & balance of superheroes will be provided by the United Nations: Does this mean he lacks faith in the UN?

Why does Captain America prefer to reject subjecting his individual, near-unlimited powers to checks and balances just so he can remain free of politics, while apparently believing that only he has the authority to tell himself what is the right way to use his powers?

  • 13
    This sounds a bit opinion-based.
    – Adamant
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 0:37
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    Following the events of The Winter Soldier, he's afraid of government corruption, for one.
    – Rogue Jedi
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 0:39
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    Uhm ... the checks and balances of American style constitutional government are one of the decidedly non-democratic features of that approach. And thank goodness, too. Not that it invalidates a question about Captain America, but it was bothering me. Commented May 9, 2016 at 1:07
  • 52
    Nice try, Tony Stank. We know it's you in disguise.
    – phantom42
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 2:29
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    If you're asking why a product of the United States Army feels hesitant to be at the command of the United Nations, then I would suggest you need to visit history, not scifi.
    – Scott
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 4:06

7 Answers 7


The Cap lays out his reasoning himself in the boardroom scene:

Steve Rogers: Tony, someone dies on your watch, you don't give up.

Tony Stark: Who said we're giving up?

Steve Rogers: We are, for not taking responsibility for our actions. This document just shifts the blame.

Lieutenant James Rhodes: Sorry, Steve, That. That is dangerously arrogant. This is THE United Nations we're talking about. It's not The World Security Council. It's not SHIELD. It's not HYDRA.

Steve Rogers: I know. But it runs by people with agendas and agendas change.

Tony Stark: THAT's good. That's why I'm here. When I realized my weapons were capable of in the wrong hands, I shut it down; stop manufacturing.

Steve Rogers: Tony. You CHOSE to do that. If we sign this, we surrender our right to CHOOSE. What if this Panel sends us somewhere we don't think we should go? What if there's somewhere we need to go and they don't let us? We may not be perfect but the safest hands are still our own.

To address your specific concern, Rogers loves democracy, and it's true that checks and balance are part of that system. But at the same time, a true democracy also has checks on the government's ability to impose its will on the people. In this case, private citizens like the Avengers are being essentially railroaded into becoming agents of the world's governments. Even if you understand those governments' concerns, you can understand why a liberty-lover like Captain America would be chafed.

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    Sounds like he's advocating that powerful people should be allowed to do what they want. Which is surprising, given, well, this: static.srcdn.com/slir/w570-h428-q90-c570:428/wp-content/uploads/… Commented May 9, 2016 at 8:06
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    @PointlessSpike I don't think he is. He just trusts himself more than the government.
    – Davidmh
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 8:25
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    @Davidmh I would trust Cap's judgement over any governments', too. After all, he made Thor's hammer wobble.
    – T.J.L.
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 12:19
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    "Checks and Balances" are not part of "true democracy". True democracy (which we totally do not have in the US, and that's a good thing) is everybody votes on everything, and the majority view is taken. It doesn't function for groups of people larger than <some amount that the political scientists will tell you>.
    – Almo
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 15:20
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    He was a soldier - he is not inclined to give up his will again, given the current people in power. He's for the current set of individuals whom he does trust keeping their autonomy as opposed to giving it up to a set of leaders whom he does not trust. Commented May 9, 2016 at 18:27

Captain America brings up a couple of specific scenarios that he asks Tony Stark directly, aside from the vague generalities of political agendas and Hydra-like infiltration.

  • What if we need to go in, and they won't let us?
  • What if we don't feel it's appropriate to step in, and they order us to?
  • Who decides that a threat is worthy of superhero intervention, or that it isn't?
  • What if they take too long to decide on the above?

The Avengers as a whole have only one purpose, to save lives. He trusts that every single Avenger will only ever take action in that interest. And ultimately, he believes that the safest hands are their own, rather than making them a will of another party. He wants the Avengers to take responsibility when they do screw up.

He does start to waver with a comment about certain reassurances, and then his lack of faith is reinforced as he finds out how Wanda Maximoff has been treated.

  • 4
    "The Avengers as a whole have only one purpose, to save lives." -- I remember a line, "we cannot save the world, but we can avenge it". -- "He wants the Avengers to take responsibility when they do screw up." -- Yes, but who will hold the Avengers accountable if they subject to no authority? (Just random thoughts.)
    – DevSolar
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 14:44
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    @DevSolar, accountability is a substitute for responsibility. You can only be "held accountable" if you have failed to take responsibility, and if you truly take responsibility then you won't need to be "held accountable" because you will have handled the situation yourself. Or to put it another way, accountability is for bad things, much like blame; responsibility is being intentionally causative of good things.
    – Wildcard
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 16:56
  • @Wildcard: And what if you made a wrong decision? Misguided, subjective, weak and selfish just for a second? Who do the Avengers answer to?
    – DevSolar
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 18:38
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    @DevSolar, you would have to take responsibility for having been irresponsible. In other words, you would have to "answer to" yourself. But that's true of anyone, not just Avengers; any person who commits harmful actions attempts to restrain himself (or herself) to protect others. If someone is unable to restrain himself outright from committing harmful actions, he will reduce his power to harm in other ways—by making himself sick, by leaving outright, or even by getting himself arrested and put in prison.
    – Wildcard
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 18:49
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    Also, hold on for a second. What authority does anyone have over the Avengers? You're talking about a team that includes a God who isn't even from Earth, an all-powerful Scarlet Witch who is only limited by herself, a Vision who is a manifestation of the Mind Stone with protocols from an AI developed by an individual, etc. They don't owe anything for doing what they do. This is what happens when you act as if you have any authority over them (sidenote: So salty that this scene couldn't be in the movie): s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/5a/0a/2b/…
    – DariM
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 22:59

If you're making this about checks and balances, then consider that governments are also kept (somewhat; Poland nowadays shows just how little) in check by their people.
Governments have a frightening amount of power over folks, and easily divorce themselves, as entities, from the people they are to serve. Keep in mind only the official dealings are subject to "checks and balances". They need more scrutiny than anyone else, and there is only any point to it if their watchers are not wholly under their control, a credible threat, AND not "part of the same club".

The UN members are this to each other in a limited fashion only, with "balance" as their highest priority.
The Avengers serve that purpose passably for ideals that get left behind. Yes, they, too, need to be kept in check, and they are, to the level that "checks and balances" might find optimal... if they had more political power - enough to exert some political pressure rather than be dismissed as "uppity civvies".

The Sokovia Accords (or Superhero Registration Act) turn a balancing power into a mercenary force.

Of course, the UN's demand is also justified - superhumans' combined powers are a frightening thing - but the threat is overstated - the Avengers do no worse a job of self-regulation than the UN members do.
So - no matter what the latter claim, to others and themselves - the main motivation seems to be much less noble.


There's actually a lot of discussion about this right now. See Amanda Marcotte's acerbic piece on Salon. She makes a few valid points amid the name-calling, but I think she missed the Civil War event in the comics.

That version of Cap opposed the comics' equivalent of the Sokovia Accords as well. In that continuity, the Superhero Registration Act not only subjects The Avengers to government oversight, but it compels literally everyone with superpowers to work in a government-sponsored super-police agency. Anyone who doesn't register gets arrested. It's often compared to the real-life contemporary Patriot Act. Luke Cage compares it to slavery.

The real problem is less that Captain America mutated into a libertarian icon than that the plot is lifted out of comics and into the movie without the above context. In the movie, Cap's opposition to the Accords is actually kind of flimsy and fades into the background of the Bucky plot. Most of the action boils down to Tony's guilt vs. Steve's loyalty to Bucky.

Also, nobody mentions that the World Security Council wanted to drop an atomic bomb on New York to stop the Chitauri in the first movie. I wouldn't listen to them either!

  • You can use >! spoiler tags to mark up spoiler portions of your posts. Those will be hidden until the user moves their mouse over them.
    – user
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 14:17
  • Wasn't it the SHIELD council that wanted to bomb NY?
    – Btuman
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 19:09
  • @MichaelKjörling I had trouble with the spoiler formatting at first, but I gave it another go at your suggestion. Thanks!
    – Justin
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 0:24
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    @Btuman We were both almost right. Turns out it was the World Security Council, SHIELD's parent agency. Sort of a UN Security Council combined with a genocidal shadow government. Thanks for the catch!
    – Justin
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 0:25

I think the answer is shown best at the end of the movie. Bucky recognizes the threat that he poses, and voluntarily subjects himself to being put into stasis under the authority of Wakanda until a cure can be devised. This is responsibility. Cap sees the state that the governments of the world are in - ineffectual, combative, politically polarized, corrupt. These are not the kinds of people who should be in control of that kind of power.

Plus there is a difference between wielding someone else's power, and having the power to act on your own. For the UN, there wouldn't be the weight of responsibility, not like there is when you are the one on the front line. It's your life on the line, you're seeing the faces of the people you are trying to protect, you are seeing the bodies of the ones you have failed. That is responsibility. That is something you will never have from someone sitting in a comfy chair in New York or Washington DC or Paris or London or Moscow or wherever.

  • I think there is also a comparison to be made to Bucky's situation, i.e. as a weapon without the ability to exercise judgement. It struck me during the movie that it is an outcome Captain America is worried about. Agenda's change and all.
    – rStyskel
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 16:13

I think your problem is that you're confusing personal freedom for government, and those are two extremely different things.

The reason the government exists is to protect your personal freedom. To make sure other people don't steal your things, harm you, etc. You can do anything you want as long as you don't harm other people or their things, rights, or freedoms.

So you have Captain America walking around helping people defend themselves, when the United Nations comes along. We need to put your power in check to make sure you aren't doing anything we is think bad, and you can only do what we tell you you can do. Now, that is limiting the good Captain's freedom, and dictating to him what he can and cannot do. Captain America pretty much says Hell no, this isn't communist Russia, this is 'Murica! (FYI Communist Russia is a member of that United Nations and can be any evil government you want.)

The Simon,e way to put things is that this is not an issue of checks and balances. This is personal freedom. Captain America believes people have the right to choose for themselves whether or not they do things, and then deal with the appropriate consequences. The UN is essentially trying to tell him what he can and cannot get involved in or do, and take away all choice.


The biggest reason that I side with Iron Man on this, is that Cap says that he wants them to be accountable, rather than the UN, but in past situations, when have they been held accountable? New York, yes they were heroes, but did anyone, up until Civil War, say a word about the vast destruction that twas not entirely alien caused? Or were proceedings ever initiated against Wanda for the mistake with the guy in a bomb vest? His words are hollow because he doesn't ever enforce them. The final nail in the coffin for me, and why he was wrong to run, is exactly as he said. "Agendas change". Whats to say his, or Wanda's, or Tony's, or anyone else's never changes. Yes, Cap is a paragon of virtue, but an interesting storyline to this point appeared in Injustice: Gods Among us. Spoiler Alert for those who haven't played the game, but in it, the Joker drugs superman, causing him to kill many people, including Lois Lane. The Opening scene shows him killing Joker and establishing a nearly unapposable dictatorship, entirely due to the trauma expirienced by the drug. Whats to stop this from happening to Cap, or any other Avenger? Nothing, and this is why they need to be put in check.

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    On the other hand, how is a piece of paper signed by the UN supposed to stop Superman on drugs? Commented May 9, 2016 at 16:18
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    How does this answer the question? All of this info is certainly related, but completely fails to actually provide an answer.
    – Ellesedil
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 18:44
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    @Wildcard Civil War. right at the start. Commented May 9, 2016 at 20:40
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    @DrBrangar "Or were proceedings ever initiated against Wanda for the mistake with the guy in a bomb vest?" What proceedings are necessary? Her actions were morally identical to a bomb disposal tech who was unsuccessful. Moral culpability for the deaths lies with the bomber, not the person who tried to save the lives, and was simply unable to do so. Their initial actions in the country might have been morally/legally questionable, but after that their behavior was reasonable, even if the movie's childish morality wants to pretend they weren't. Commented May 9, 2016 at 20:43
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    @JayKominek And to back up what you're saying, if Wanda hadn't acted, the bomb would've gone off anyway, and probably simply taken out a lower floor on the building. Which might even have still killed the people on the higher floor.
    – DariM
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 23:27

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