Democracy and Future Generations

Convenor: Vuko Andric

This workshop focuses on the problems and questions future generations raise for democratic theory. One important question in this context is whether future people are part of current democratic sovereigns and therefore ought somehow to participate in today’s democratic systems. Either response to this question leads to problems and new questions.

Perhaps an affirmative answer can be based on the fact that future generations are affected by the political decisions we make today. However, some findings in population ethics (in particular, the Non-Identity Problem) might suggest that future generations are not affected by today’s decisions in a way that would justify letting them participate in today’s democratic systems. There is, moreover, a complication related to the form of participation: given that future generations do not live today, they cannot participate by voting. Is there, then, another sense in which future generations can participate in today’s democracies? Maybe they should be represented by democratic institutions. However, democratic representation is usually based on prior authorization through election by the represented. Future generations cannot authorize anyone living today in this way. Finally, even if we assume that future generations are affected in a relevant way and can, in principle, be represented by today’s democratic institutions, is someone’s being affected a good criterion at all when it comes to deciding who is part of the democratic sovereign? Are there superior alternatives to the all-affected principle (as the criterion is sometimes called)?

If we assume that future people are not part of the current demos, then, apparently, conflicts between them and us in terms of democratic sovereignty can arise. Do we impose our rules onto another democratic sovereign by claiming that some of the legal rules issued by us will be binding in the future? How long into the future can legal rules be binding without violating democratic requirements? Finally, future people may not be part of the current demos but, given that human persons die and give birth to new persons successively, future people may not be completely distinct from us either. How, then, should we best conceptualize the relation between currently living and future people? Does a gradual shift from one sovereign to another come along with degrees of democratic sovereignty?

Our relation to future people might also shed light on more general topics, such as the relation between morality and democracy. Maybe, for instance, morality, though not democracy, requires that we somehow represent future people institutionally. The requirements of morality and democracy, then, could come apart in an interesting way. Finally, one might wonder if there is a lesson to be drawn from our relation to future people when it comes to the assessment of competing democratic theories. One might suggest, for example, that democracy should better accommodate a requirement for the representation of future people and that it can do so on some conceptions but not on others.


If you would like to present a paper at this workshop, please send an abstract (max. 500 words) to by 1 June 2015.


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