The concept of ‘intergenerational justice’ may very well become an intellectual leitmotif of the new century. It does not only deal with the future, it might have a future career in philosophy and politics itself. In 1980, Ernest Partridge wrote: ‘The lack of manifest philosophical interest in the topic is further indicated by the fact that of the almost 700 000 doctoral dissertations on file at University Microfilms in Ann Arbor, Michigan, only one has in its title either the words “posterity”, “future generations” or “unborn generations” .
A lot has changed since then. In the last few years, the number of scientific magazines and articles referring to justice between generations and to future ethics (in a broader sense) has soared: in the 1980s in the USA,2 and in recent years maybe even more in Europe.
Justice between generations is still not as salient on the agenda as justice between rich and poor (social justice) or between men and women (gender justice). But the gap is narrowing. In Germany, for instance, four quality newspapers cited the term ‘intergenerational justice’ only 19 times in 2001, but 129 times in 2003 with further buoyancy. Since the earliest days of the environmental movement, the rights and interests of future generations have been invoked in argumentative discourse.
These days, however, barely a budget debate passes in a parliament anywhere in the world without the Minister of Finance justifying his planned cuts on the grounds of their generational justice or ‘financial sustainability’. In many European countries, youth movements for intergenerational justice have formed and members of the younger generation use moral issues on talk-shows to put their opponents from the older generation under intense pressure:
- is it just if the younger generation stands to inherit the greenhouse effect, the ozone hole and atomic waste from previous generations?
- Is it just if the unemployment rate is higher amongst young people than amongst the population as a whole?
- Is it just if the younger generation are likely to receive a lower yield on their contributions to the retirement system than the older generation?
- And all this when young people below the age of 18 are not allowed to elect their own members of parliament?
- When the younger generation stands to inherit a heavily-indebted state?
- When more than twice as many young people than old-age pensioners are receiving income support?
- Is it just if barely any under-40-year-olds are to be seen in parliament, in corporate boardrooms and on the editorial committees of the press?
Justice between the old and young respectively between present and future generations is, in itself, one of the most important reasons why environment and nature should be protected.
However, this concept represents much more than this. It contains a complete political programme –from environmental and financial to educational policy.
Το παραπάνω απότελεί απόσπασμα από την εισαγωγή του συλλογικού τόμου A Handbook for Intergenerational Justice (2006), τον οποίο επιμελήθηκε επιστημονικά ο Γερμανός, ιδρυτής του Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations, Jörg Tremmel.