Democracies are notoriously short-sighted. With one simple device, we could give unborn citizens a say in our present

Thomas Wells in Aeon:

ScreenHunter_615 May. 11 21.14We already have a device with which to represent the wishes of past generations. Constitutions, the voices of our history, do not chain us to the past, for they can always be outvoted, but they do have a powerful influence on what our societies do now. We lack any such mechanism for considering the interests of future generations. And this is a trickier problem than might at first be obvious. Indeed, the very structure of reality seems to conspire against us.

While we might feel a sense of solidarity with past and future generations alike, time’s arrow means that we must relate to each other as members of a relay race team. This means that citizens downstream from us in time are doubly disadvantaged compared with the upstream generations. Our predecessors have imposed – unilaterally – the consequences of their political negotiations upon us: their economic regime, immigration policies, the national borders that they drew up. But they were also able to explain themselves to us, giving us not only the bare outcome of the US Constitution, for example, but also the records of the debates about the principles behind it, such as the Federalist Papers (1787-88). Such commentaries are a substantial source of our respect for our ancestors' achievements, beyond their status as a fait accompli.

By contrast, future generations must accept whatever we choose to bequeath them, and they have no way of informing us of their values.

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