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

D. Algernon Sidney and John Locke

John Locke - page 5

Taken together, Locke's first four intergenerational mandates constitute an early, but remarkably clear articulation of what, today, would be termed a "sustainability" ethic. f86

Generational Sovereignty

What political duties are owed by later generations to earlier generations? Put another way, what limits exist on an existing generation's authority to make political decisions binding upon later generations? Locke's treatment of these questions constitutes the fifth major facet of his intergenerational philosophy. Because it is the most overtly political aspect of the philosophy, it was of special interest to the American revolutionaries of the late 18th century.

Much like Sidney, Locke emphasized the right of each generation to be master of its own political destiny. He rejected the notion that parents or ancestors could oblige their descendants to pay allegiance to a particular government:

"[W]hatever Engagements or Promises any one has made for himself, he is under the Obligation of them, but cannot by any Compact whatsoever, bind his children or Posterity." f87

One corollary to this generational sovereignty was each citizen's right to repatriate immediately upon coming to adulthood. According to Locke:

"Whenever the owner [of land], who has given nothing but . . . a tacit consent to the government, will by donation, sale, or otherwise, quit [possession of that land], he is at liberty to go and incorporate himself into any other commonwealth, or to agree with others to begin a new one (in vacuis locis) in any part of the world they can find free and unpossessed." f88

Locke's concept of generational sovereignty would later prove attractive to American colonists seeking to justify departure from their ancestors' allegiance to the English crown. The repatriation corollary was also warmly embraced, as it seemed to justify the creation of a new republic in the 'vacuis locis' (from the European point of view) of North America. f89

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