Carter, author of Justice as a Fair Start in Life, began his career as an Honors Program appointee to the U.S. Department of Justice. He later served as a legal adviser to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in the national security law division. He wrote his thesis reformulating the right to have children under Jeremy Waldron, his extensive academic work on family planning has been published by Yale, Duke, and Northwestern Universities, as well as in peer-reviewed pieces, and he has served on the Steering Committee of the Population Ethics and Policy Research Project and was a Visiting Scholar at the Uehiro Center, both at the University of Oxford. He has taught at several law schools in the U.S. and served as a peer reviewer for the journal Bioethics. Carter also served as General Counsel with Animal Outlook, a director of litigation with the Humane Society of the United States, Director of Litigation and Senior Policy Advisor with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and currently serves as pro bono counsel to Direct Action Everywhere, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Denver College of Law, and Co-lead organizer, Fair Start Movement and Humane Families Initiative.
The thesis of Justice as a Fair Start in Life:
By population we mean people, which really means 1) our creation, and primarily our early childhood/development, because of the disproportionate impact of this phase on our lives and who we are becoming. Also 2) while we think of people as individuals or groups of individuals, our creation also entails the creation of fundamental power relations between individuals (humans in this case, given the nature of social contracts), and between people and their ecology. Those relations can be created in relatively just, or unjust, ways. 3) And while most accounts of justice ignore the creation of these relations (in part because our brains are wired against seeing slow moving processes), creating them justly (e.g. using ecocentric environmental standards that free us from the influence of others) is the first condition of political obligation and legitimate political systems, and in free and self-determining societies where power derives from bottom up from the people, examining these relations - and the failure to create them justly - is the first and arguably exclusive way to account for things like crime, inequity, lawmaking, ecological crises, etc.
The upshot of this perspective is that rather than seeing democracies as constituted by documents created in the past, we should see them as first constituting - or forming actual and just power relations - depending on whether families are actually empowering children through collective planning or not. We don't account for actual power relations, and hence cannot truly account for freedom or justice, without accounting for the creation of these relations.
And each person is responsible for their decision to come, or not come, from such a just comprehensive position and thus be part of just or unjust communities. Consensual governance, and group legitimacy, derives from individuals and their consent.
This argument changes much of what we understand about first principles and the most basic norm, but has now been subject to five successful peer-reviews.
For example, over the past several decades as the climate crisis manifested and opportunities to avert it presented themselves, many charities claimed to be taking actions to protect animals and the environment. In reality they were ignoring or exacerbating the injustice of fundamental power relations by choosing anthropocentric and unsustainable family models that favored their wealthy donors, relations that are now causing immeasurable harm to future generations. While vegans pride themselves on not consuming animals they mostly choose to orient from a fundamental position that constitutes unjust communities busily eradicating the nonhuman world.
Another example: Liberal political theories have struggled to define the minimum level of other-regardingness, like empathy, people must exhibit to be obligated to others in society, while still maintaining their freedom. Under this analysis the answer is clear: They have to support child-centric and fair family policies, because wanting to ensure children are developed to promote democracy is what first frees us.
When we think of people in a fuller or temporalized way, and power as any form of human influence, we can begin to move past the artifice of national borders, like lines on a globe, and see the true edges of human power as 1) nature or the nonhuman world, and 2) our creation and development in that context which better account for things like climate change, crime, massive inequity and other limitations on our freedom than national borders. In this sense we can understand existence, and existentialism, as always social - because of the way we are created, and positioned relative to others and our ecologies.
It would be impossible to account for justice or freedom without first accounting for this crucial border and phase of development and relations, and treating the values inherent here as part of some first obligation, because 1) creation/existence always precedes other modes of justice or freedom (e.g. how we deal with pandemics), and 2) because what makes us obligated in a system (to follow the law for example) is our capacity - contingent on the crucial phase - to consent to the influence of others / our become relatively self-determining rather than being constantly determined by others.
To ensure the capacity for truly relative self-determination we would have to start at the border of human influence, or nature, and maintain a neutral position so that as any particular group grows the capacity for self-determination gives way (or is directly inverse to) the capacity for determination by others. To maintain the position, at a certain range, the group in question has to also divide. In other words, our creation would limit and decentralize the power others have over us. Free people will condition their political obligations on their capacity, as equals, to change those obligations. Fair Start enables this, creating an obligation to be fair because person are created - and come to be - in a fair way.
In this conception, fairness becomes the capacity to consent to the influence of others, and this tends to unify values like freedom and equity that might otherwise seem to conflict (which is a better account of the unity of value than that given by others, like Ronald Dworkin). And readiness to parent become an intent to empower one's future child through the very system we are discussing. Freedom, from this view, is experienced as the quality of life and social interactions, that derive from being in a society capable of forming a functional constitutional convention if necessary. Arguably, many of the political struggles we see today can be understood as people struggling to regroup - based on race, corporate employment, religion, etc. - into polities/legalities where they maintain some relative level of self-determination.
To build that system we would need to change family planning policies, making them more equitable, to minimize the impact heat rises have on infants and their self-determination. We would have to ensure smaller families creating less emissions, in which each child is made resilient in part through health care sufficient to mitigate the harm - perhaps by targeting those responsible for the crisis to pay the costs they externalized, and in the form of for family planning incentives/entitlements and care. And those children would have to be raised capable of constituting autonomous political units, the sort where people are empowered to prevent crises like the climate crisis from occurring in the future. We might imagine the next cohort of future children, all placed along a spectrum of wealth and power, and them merging the margins to ensure all are equitably empowered.
There are no obligations that precede the obligation to maintain this neutral position, or the obligation to ensure all children ecosocial fair starts in life. Prior analyses of the right to have children have failed because they ignore this moral fact. A system is fair and obligatory when it goes all the way back - or fully accounts for its power. We are skipping a crucial step if we don't do this. And adhering to obligations, like honoring government issued property rights before using that wealth to create people in a fair way, would be being dishonest - claiming a right/freedom that made no sense. The owners of that wealth would have never paid the price of freedom, never come from a just place, or fully accounted for the power of the system in which they live. The concentration of influence they enjoy flows from our failure to actually limit and decentralize power, or constitute ourselves, as free and equal people. It comes from our being preconstitutional.
Many argue that the first norm, or basic norm, is a moral principle or statement - that all people have equal moral standing - for example. Or some will argue that a written constitution suffices for such a norm. As a descriptive matter such things cannot first account for the physical creation of power relations / obligations between people. What descriptively accounts for those relations is the array of reasons people use for having kids, reasons that today rarely have anything to do with constitutional principles or ideas of equal moral standing. As a normative matter, or what should be, those explanations fail as well. Even with such norms, we would still need to account for who the antecedent group of people should have been before they created the constitution, or realized the existence of such a moral principle of equal standing, and who they should be (in terms of qualities, quantities, and power relations inevitably defined by birth) when they then go on to implement the principle or constitution, say in the context of developing a tax policy that operates with the background assumption that wealth and poverty determine how equal moral standing is actually lived, day to day.
The creation norm always comes first.
Some are beginning to recognize that our systems skipped the crucial step, and to fix it. We can recoup the costs others have imposed on our existential freedom. Their demand creates the possibility of a real social contract, a fourth dimensional one, and means the violence protecting the wealth that might incentivize/entitle Fair Start physical democracy-building is the last hurdle between humans and freedom.