“…and our posterity”

Author: Gary Hart

we_the_people_smThis little-noticed phrase in the Preamble to our Constitution has profound significance for laws and governing.  If taken seriously it could force us to think entirely differently about laws and government.

The Preamble justifies our Constitution as the basis for forming a more perfect union, establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty “to ourselves and our posterity.”  Most scholars, though not all, conclude that “our posterity” applies to securing the blessings of liberty.  Some believe we must take into account “our posterity” in achieving all of the Constitution’s purposes.

Either way, the idea that future generations have a stake in carrying out the Constitution’s objectives is profound.  When we go to war or even just buy weapons, when we act or do not act on climate change, when we do or do not reform health care, when we preserve wilderness or extract non-renewable resources, when we bail out banks and industries, when we do these and many, many more things, we do so not only for ourselves but also for our posterity, as far into the future as we can imagine generations.

Though political figures often acknowledge “our children and grandchildren” in their speeches, when you listen to political arguments today they almost always have to do with how will this or that affect me, right now, in my life.  Almost all of our concerns are about the impact of decisions on ourselves and our lives.

Assuming our Founders to have been serious people and most of all those who chose words carefully who knew they were writing for the ages, we can assume they meant what they said.  We are to take into account the impact on our posterity’s achievement of the blessings of liberty, and perhaps much more, when we make important public decisions.

We all leave some kind of legacy.  For the fortunate it is often money and property.  For the humble it is usually just our example.  That is our private legacy.  Why can we not also see that we also leave a public legacy, our nation, its resources, a peaceful or warlike planet, the global environment, and much more. 

By adding “…and our posterity,” the Founders placed upon us a profound moral duty.

10 Responses to ““…and our posterity””

  1. Tom Gee Says:

    So appropriate. As only one example, every time I hear someone join in the health care debate as if they were the only person to be served by reform, forget the 40 million without insurance coverage, I get so frustrated. Thank you, Senator Hart, for continuing your much-needed civics lessons.

  2. Gary Hart Says:

    Tom hits the nail on the head. Whatever we do, or do not do, on health care will affect our children and future generations (like Social Security, Medicare, and much else) much more than it will those of us now raising all fuss.

  3. Michael Says:

    I’m afraid the founders could never envision the kind institutional and systemic corruption that defines our political culture today. Most Americans are living with an unprecedented amount of stress in their daily lives which would be greatly alleviated if those with the power in Washington took the words “promote the general welfare” (which is repeated in Article 1 Section 8 as “provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States”) seriously. If that were the case, basic issues like health care would have been solved a long time ago, just as they have been in every other advanced economy on earth, and posterity would take care of itself.

    But our corrupt system prohibits solving those kinds of problems in a rational way that benefits the general welfare and thus future generations. I have a two-year old daughter who has dual nationality and, as her American father, I’m very sad to say that it is her French citizenship which will probably insure a good quality of life for her when she is my age.

  4. Zachary Kolodin Says:

    Thank you very much for highlighting this. The nonprofit organization that I run, Young People First, is building an accountability system around this very principle: it is called the Future Preparedness Index, and it will measure progress toward long-term goals critical to younger generations. We train students and other young people to analyze legislation to hold our political leaders accountable to these goals. We’re trying to build a permanent constituency to hold legislation accountable to sustainable national prosperity and security. I would love to have the opportunity to discuss our work with you further.

    Warm regards,
    Zach Kolodin

  5. Gary Hart Says:

    I find it difficult to quarrel with Michael’s assessment, especially when the classic republican definition of corruption is applied, that is placing special interests above the national interest (which includes the interests of our progeny). And I applaud Mr. Kolodin’s project. Perhaps if law makers and government officials had to confront an obligation to be accountable to the next generation, they might begin to consider more seriously the implications of their decisions, decisions too often made with an eye on the next election not the next generation.

  6. Lubna Dovel Says:

    This is the first time I have read one of your articles/blog entries, and I must say that I am impressed. For one, I think I have to look you up in order to tell which side of the aisle you sit on, for your comments (I read your other entries before saying anything) are very common sense and non-partisan. Having never been very interested in politics, this past national election and the process behind it has both inspired and frightened me, and I look forward to learning more, and to reading more of your thoughts. I appreciate that you are more about the actual Constitution and what it was intended to be by the founding Fathers, and not its interpretation by the greedy or naive elite who are mostly concerned about what it does for them and not its effects on future generations.

  7. Gary Hart Says:

    For Lubna Dovel: I am an American patriot; a citizen of the global commons; and a democratic republican. Thank you for your kind words about the site.

  8. Tom J. Flaherty Says:

    The Commons would be a great topic

  9. Gary Hart Says:

    Stay tuned, Mr. Flaherty. Also see: The Shield and the Cloak: The Security of the Commons (Oxford Press, 2006)

  10. Cassie Wallace Says:

    Any tips or advice that can help is always appreciated.-Healthcare Help

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