Talk on guardians for future generations, given by me


Thursday 14th July 2011, 1300-1400

45B AZ 04

University of Surrey

Dr Rupert Read

UEA (Philosophy)

A policy proposal to take future generations seriously:

Strong guardians



Plato said that, if we are to have a just society, we should be ruled by guardians. Habermas and

other deliberative-democratic philosophers of course abhor such autocracy. But: what if the

guardians were selected democratically, by sortition? And what if their deliberations became in turn

a high-profile model of what deliberation in a democratic society could be?

Still, there seems little case for substituting guardians for normal elected representatives, for

decisions which can be made about us, by us ourselves or by people who represent us. But: what

about cases where the people who ought to be heard in or even to be making the decisions have

no voice — even over matters which are life or death matters for them?

Future people are the most obvious case of such people. I present therefore a broadly

Habermasian case for powerful guardians for future people, not only to act so as to give future

people standing in the political system, but, and more importantly, to take the formal place

occupied in our current political system by the royal assent, and make something meaningful and

major out of it: to give future people a real veto (as our kings and queens used to have) over

legislation. This would be likely to produce outcomes a lot closer to perfect, or at least a lot further

from impending apocalypse, than those provided by our current institutions. For it would give future

people not just a proxy voice, but the closest approximation we can give them to a vote, indeed a

casting vote, that where necessary comprehensively outvotes us, the people alive today. And after

all, this is surely appropriate; for, so long as we bequeath to future people a decent and survivable

inheritance, there will over time be a lot more of them than there are of usÂ…



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