Inspired by Graham McAleer’s review of the new James Bond, No Time to Die, I streamed the film from Amazon Prime Video. Ever since with my young sons decades ago I watched James Bond films, I have always liked them for the action and the guns, although I now find Jason Bourne more congenial and more realistic. On Law and Liberty, our sister website, philosopher McAleer writes under the title “James Bond, Christian Knight”:

During the Enlightenment, David Hume sought to replace the ideal of the Christian knight with that of the gallant. He was sure that a military with baggage trains stocked with champagne would prevail against enemies with less refined tastes. Rustic soldiers, minds stuffed with superstitions, should be supplanted by the scientific soldier, the officer and gentleman. Ambassadors of the refinement of the arts and sciences, a new model army would deliver a revolution in military affairs to the battlefield. For the first sixty years of his film life, Hume’s fellow Scot, James Bond was the definition of the gallant. With suavity to disarm the ladies and the latest refinements in weapons and spy trickery to dispatch enemies, Bond was the lethal edge of the Enlightenment. In No Time to Die, the Christian knight makes a comeback. …

In traditional moral theology, the Bible’s greater love hath no man [than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends—John 15:13] is a call to solidarity, in a strict order of obligation: family, nation, and humankind. Bond is bent on saving his family, but he will lay down his life for his country, and humanity, too.

One might empathize with McAleer’s claim that James Bond has become a “Christian knight,” but perhaps the professor of philosophy has partly seen in the film what he wanted to see. Did the evil villain’s first name, Lyutsifer, provide an irresistible temptation? If the hero died for a former lover and the baby girl they made together (out of wedlock) as well as for mankind, it is not as clear that he sacrificed his life for his “nation.” The modern state, sovereign and omnipotent, and consequently inefficient and corrupt, appears nowhere in the Bible, even if tribes prefigure nations.

Besides Jason Bourne, who fights that sort of runaway state, another film to watch is Three Days of the Condor (1975), directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Robert Redford and the beautiful Faye Dunaway. Don’t trust the government of your “nation” too much! This being said, I admit that the new James Bond is morally more sympathetic than his previous incarnations.

The student of economics will wonder how villains such as Lyutsifer Safin can marshal the enormous resources necessary to staff and equip private armies, build secret bases on isolated islands, and manufacture biological weapons of mass destruction. Only states can do this. Safin-like villains strain credulity if not, perhaps, for the fact that they sell their services and products to nation-states, which have taxpayers to pay the bill. To add further realism to the plot of No Time to Die,  the infected-nanobot technology used by Safin was stolen from a British government laboratory.

As another antidote to state idolatry, I will invoke James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock who explained in The Calculus of Consent (1962; available on Liberty Fund’s Online Library of Liberty) that the Christian ethics has to be tempered by individualism (p. 301):

Christian idealism, to be effective in leading to a more harmonious social order, must be tempered by an acceptance of the moral imperative of individualism, the rule of equal freedom. The acceptance of the right of the individual to do as he desires so long as his action does not infringe on the freedom of other individuals to do likewise must be a characteristic trait in any “good” society. The precept “Love thy neighbor, but also let him alone when he desires to be let alone” may, in one sense, be said to be the overriding ethical principle for Western liberal society.

Nothing shows that gallantry and the liberal Enlightenment on the one hand and morality on the other hand are mutually exclusive.  On the contrary, classical liberalism offers the promise of both. Perhaps the My Lai massacre would not have happened if American soldiers had had champagne in their rations. There might be a bit of faith involved here, but the good life in a market society and the pleasures of life are probably a big reason why liberal societies have been able thus far to keep barbarians at bay.