Intergenerational Justice in the United States Constitution,
The Stewardship Doctrine:
I. Historic Overview

A. Ancient Greek, Roman, and Old Testament Traditions.
The Old Testament

The Hebrew authors of the Old Testament, like Plato, stressed the intergenerational nature of society. At the heart of their intergenerational philosophy was the Covenant, the compact between God and Abraham (renewed with Isaac and Moses) intended to bind not only Abraham's generation, but their descendants as well. f13 The covenant was (is) a socio-religious contract which defines and unites the interests and obligations of Hebrew society over time. In the words of one commentator, "[t]he Covenant establishes the Hebrew Community as an intergenerational community." f14

The Old Testament's intergenerational ethic included strong and explicit environmental elements. Humanity was expected to steward the earth which God created, f15 and the benefits and blessings flowing from the use of the earth were held to be the rightful heritage of all generations. f16 Numerous laws prohibited environmentally unsound practices. For instance, the people were forbidden from taking both a bird and its chicks from the same nest, f17 and from committing deforestation as a tactic of war. f18

An especially strong intergenerational program was set forth in Leviticus. Chapter 25 of that book sets out an intergenerational land ethic and policy that continue to warrant careful study today. The people were admonished that no individual held perpetual, alienable rights in land: "The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants." f19 Tenants then, as now, were generally required to maintain the rental premises in as good a condition as received, for the benefit of later tenants and the owner. Accordingly, all landholders, as tenants of God, were directed to let their farmland lie fallow every seventh year, so that its long term fertility might be maintained. f20 Severe consequences were set forth for noncompliance with this mandate. f21

Chapter 25 also provided that no conveyance of land was to be given permanent effect; the land invariably returned to its original owners, or their heirs, upon the occasion of Jubile, which occurred every fifty years. f22 Since the lands of Israel had been distributed amongst all the tribes and families of the society, this arrangement insured that every individual in every generation was assured a patrimony in Creation, regardless of any ill fortune which his or her ancestors may have suffered. f23

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