I'm delighted to report that the current issue of Law and Ethics of Human Rights, has a symposium on inter generational justice. The papers look terrific. Here is the table of contents:
Gregory S. Alexander, Intergenerational Communities (also available at ssrn here)
This is a topic that interests me greatly. (And here.) The trusts and estates professor in me is deeply interested in the idea that there may be a duty (more likely moral than legal) to future generations. And the legal historian in me is interested in that idea over time. Previous generations have done a heck of a lot for us, no doubt. And they did so in part, perhaps large part, because they were building something better for the future. I've mentioned before that Emerson has an apt quote in "The American Scholar," that insects store up for future generations. He found the common elements of the human mind to store up knowledge "like the fact observed in insects, who lay up food before death for the young grub they shall never see." There's a great tradition in America--and in human society more generally, I suppose, though I don't have the expertise to testify to it--of making sacrifices for future generations, of doing something so that people whose names we will never know can have a better life. One thinks, of course, of the American Revolution here -- and of course the Puritans' Errand into the Wilderness. And this is apparent particularly in the nineteenth century when so many made so great sacrifices to move our coutry forward, from the anti-slavery movement to the settlement of the continent. In that a lot of people were dispossessed and there are critical questions about how fairly past generations have treated current ones. Lord is there a lot to talk about in the ways the past burdens the present. But there's also something to talk about in terms of what previous generations thought about their debts to the future, to people whose names they would never know -- and people to whom they were not closely related. For the antebellum era there is a lot of writing on this -- and one very explicit engagement with those questions. William B. Sprague's The Claims of Past and Future Generations on Civil Rulers presents a very thoughtful defense of considering the future on the present. One very rich source for pre-Civil War talk of the duties to the future appears in (you may think oddly) cemetery dedication addresses. They're obsessed with the questions about the future and how to inspire people to create a Christian, commercial republic.