Our freedom belongs in usufruct to the living

Spain has not been a democratic country for most of its history. Last century, we had a democratic government from 1931 to 1936, a civil war for three years (a very hard and unequal fight against a pro-nazi general), a long dictatorship, first elections in 1977, a Constitution in 1978. General Franco died in 1975. Spanish Constitution was drafted with fear --in fact, some generals tried to abolish democracy in 1981. So, we the people of Catalonia are bound, aren't we?, to that Constitution passed by the dead, as I see now, with a little help from Thomas Jefferson (a letter to James Madison) --in Jefferson, Thomas. Appleby, Joyce and Terence Ball, ed. Political Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, third printing 2005, first published 1999, pages 593-598).

Paris, September 6, 1789

Dear Sir, -- I sit down to write you without knowing by what occasion I shall send my letter. I do it because a subject comes into my head which I would wish to develop a little more than is practicable in the hurry of the moment of making up general dispatches.

The question Whether one generation of men has a right to bind another, seems never to have been started either on this or our side of the water. Yet it is a question of such consequences as not only to merit decision, but place also, among the fundamental principles of every government. The course of reflection in which we are immersed here on the elementary principles of society has presented this question on my mind; and that no such obligation can be transmitted I think very capable of proof. I set out on this ground which I suppose to be self evident, "that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living"; that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it. [...] What is true of every member of the society individually, is true of them all collectively, since the rights of the whole can be no more than the sum of the rights of individuals. [page 593]


It can be proved that no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation. They may manage it then, and what proceeds from it, as they please, during their usufruct. They are masters too of their own persons, and consequently may govern them as they please. But persons and property make the sum of the objects of government. The constitution and the laws of their predecessors extinguished them, in their natural course, with those whose will gave them being. This could preserve that being till it ceased to be itself, and no longer. Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires [...]. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force and not of right. [page 596]

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