Short-term plan­ning of politi­cians

A democ­ra­cy with short leg­is­la­tion peri­ods lends itself to the basic prob­lem that those who are polit­i­cal­ly respon­si­ble tend to think and plan only for peri­ods of a few years, but not for decades or cen­turies. Usu­al­ly, politi­cians act to address the cur­rent press­ing needs and inter­ests of liv­ing cit­i­zens, who are their pri­ma­ry vot­ers, while the inter­ests of future gen­er­a­tions remain uncon­sid­ered.

How­ev­er, the effects of tech­no­log­i­cal progress, for exam­ple nuclear pow­er, will be sus­tained far into the future or even per­ma­nent­ly. They have sub­stan­tial influ­ence on the qual­i­ty of life of future gen­er­a­tions. To the great detri­ment of future gen­er­a­tions, the his­tor­i­cal record of long-term plan­ning by deci­sion mak­ers has not kept up with tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ments. Today’s deci­sions are often made with­out tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for incur­ring their future dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences. After their term of ser­vice, deci­sion mak­ers can leave their posi­tions of pow­er free from the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the effects their deci­sions produced—decisions whose effects may not emerge until some fifty years lat­er.

New future ethics 

It is said that the free­dom of the indi­vid­ual ends where the free­dom of the next one begins, and so the free­dom of every gen­er­a­tion is lim­it­ed by the free­dom of future gen­er­a­tions. Dieter Birn­bach­er, a moral philoso­pher of future ethics, sum­maris­es: “The promise to pro­long the bliss of the present leads to neglect­ing the future”. Mas­sive vio­la­tions of gen­er­a­tional jus­tice occur because our soci­ety has been con­struct­ed to ben­e­fit from short-term prof­its and imme­di­ate advan­tages. The costs of this sys­tem are trans­ferred into the future.

The “futur­i­sa­tion” of eco­log­i­cal prob­lems pos­es an exis­ten­tial threat for the next gen­er­a­tions. The hap­pi­ness of present gen­er­a­tions is bought at the expense of mis­ery for future gen­er­a­tions. In the face of present and future prob­lems, we can no longer afford this short-sight­ed pol­i­cy. We need a new future ethics that will pre­serve the oppor­tu­ni­ties and poten­tial of future gen­er­a­tions.

The­o­ry of Gen­er­a­tional Jus­tice

In the past decades, sys­tem­at­ic con­cepts and the­o­ries on jus­tice between non-over­lap­ping gen­er­a­tions have been devel­oped for the first time ever—2600 years after the first the­o­ries on jus­tice between con­tem­po­raries had been artic­u­lat­ed. This delay can be explained by the dif­fer­ent impact of mankind’s scope of action, then and now. 

In the last few years the num­ber of sci­en­tif­ic mag­a­zines and arti­cles refer­ring to jus­tice between gen­er­a­tions and to the ethics of the future (in the broad­est sense) has soared. The con­cept of ‘inter­gen­er­a­tional jus­tice’ may very well become an intel­lec­tu­al leit­mo­tif of the new cen­tu­ry. Not only does it deal with the future, it is also set to influ­ence the future direc­tion of phi­los­o­phy and pol­i­tics.

FRGF dis­cuss­es def­i­n­i­tions and con­cepts of inter­gen­er­a­tional jus­tice. Scarce­ly any sci­en­tist denies that sci­en­tif­ic terms must be well-defined and pre­cise. The pos­si­bil­i­ty to crit­i­cize the­o­ries in a con­struc­tive way becomes more dif­fi­cult, if the­o­ries con­tain terms which are impre­cise and ambigu­ous. FRFG there­fore aims to achieve a clear under­stand­ing and def­i­n­i­tion of key terms such as ‘jus­tice’, ‘future gen­er­a­tions’, ‘inter­gen­er­a­tional equi­ty’ and ‘inter­gen­er­a­tional jus­tice’. How do we dis­tin­guish ‘inter­gen­er­a­tional jus­tice’ from ‘social jus­tice’ or ‘gen­der jus­tice’? Do we see a gen­er­a­tion of peo­ple as some­thing sta­t­ic? What do we mean when we talk about over­lap­ping gen­er­a­tions? Can we real­ly draw a divid­ing line between dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions? Is ‘sus­tain­abil­i­ty’ syn­ony­mous to ‘gen­er­a­tional jus­tice’? 

For fur­ther read­ing:

FRFG has done a lot to clar­i­fy the term „inter­gen­er­a­tional jus­tice“ and to com­pare it with the con­cept of sus­tain­abil­i­ty. An impor­tant resource is the Hand­book of Inter­gen­er­a­tional Jus­tice, issued by the FRFG. Also sev­er­al issues of our English/German Jour­nal Inter­gen­er­a­tional Jus­tice are devot­ed to the the­o­ret­i­cal foun­da­tions.