Libertarianism without Inequality

By Michael Otsuka | Go to book overview

Chapter 7 The Problem of Intergenerational Sovereignty

The past is a foreign country . . .

(L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between)

Imagine that in the not-too-distant future the members of a highly representative and democratically reformed British Parliament draft an ideal Bill of Rights. 1 Unlike any before it, this one protects all and only those rights that ought to be protected. It is far superior to the American Bill of Rights which was drafted over two centuries ago. Suppose that the British declare by Act of Parliament that this bill applies not just to Great Britain, but also to the United States of America. They declare that it constitutes an amendment to the Constitution of the United States which supersedes the old American Bill of Rights plus any other provisions of the US Constitution that are not in accord with the new bill. In a generous spirit they add that Americans shall have the power to repeal this amendment by the very same procedure for amending their Constitution that is set forth in Article V of that document: a two-thirds majority of each of the two houses of Congress plus a simple majority of three-quarters of the state legislatures.

To the objection that this amendment, no matter how perfect in substance, is illegitimate because it lacks the democratic consent of the governed, the British offer the following reply: 'Your own Bill of Rights is no more democratic in its origins than our new one. No living American ever cast a vote in favour of the old Bill of Rights or in favour of those officials who drafted and ratified it. To make matters

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