Read this on the train on my way in to work.
Very interesting ideas, and thank you for illuminating a debate for me that I had not been aware of.

If I might comment on the nature of the debate between Jefferson and Madison:

Jefferson is making a case essentially from a first principles argument

… these are axioms so self evident that no explanation can make them plainer.

Whereas Madison is invoking the dreaded “practicalities”.

The counterargument to these alleged practicalities is that the validity of the reasoning is entirely based upon contingent facts. And recall, these practicalities — until one can try the experiment enough times to see how things will work out — are themselves entirely theoretical.
One can easily propose equally “practical” ( in fact, equally vaucous) counter examples that would behave in the opposite manner.

Let’s take a case in point:

… and this should be codified in law and vary only according to the length of the average lifespan. (Jefferson recommended 19 years as a basis in his letter.)

In this case Jefferson did himself no favours, by failing some really basic precepts of planning:

  • Plan for failure
  • Plan for success, also
  • Plan for the unexpected

the choice of 19 years is entirely arbitrary, for example.
If the Great Society succeeds and life expectancy rises, then 19 years will become an real problem. Extending it is also an issue, as some issues will not wait patiently for 25 years: recall — Justice delayed is Justice denied. Strike one.
Generations do not cleanly overlap: do people on the boundary of Generation X and the Millenials get half a vote on each round of legislation? Strike 2 (and 1 third)
Different groups have different stakes: right now, it’s a human right to procreate or not: different families will have different stakes in the future, through virtue of descendants. How to handle this fairly? What if I adopt- do I get a rebate on lost proxy votes by virue of my wards? Strike 3

Ok — those were some exagerated objections to humourously explore how it’s easy to head in the direction of unpicking a poorly thought through principle.

Let’s flip the script and look at how the real underlying principle — continuous constitutional regeneration can be served by some process and throw away the (c’mon — slightly silly) 19 years suggestion, hopefully not conducting a ritual burning of the statute books. There must be way though -

- something like “Kaizen for Government” — just change a little, but very consistently. This skilfuly avoids the artificially created opportunities for catastrophe / tyranny by keeping them to negligibly small risks. Rinse and repeat, No?


There are so many practical ways to overcome practical objections: so let’s dare to dream.

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