Conserving Liberalism: A Manifesto for the Class of 2020

By Jason Scott Jones Published on May 31, 2020

Dear Class of 2020,

You probably feel it in your bones. This year ought to be the beginning of your great adventure. Adults should be encouraging you to set out into the world and change it for the better.

Instead, what you’re hearing from school announcements, corporate commercials, and government press conferences is “#StayHome.”

But wait, it gets creepier.

Now Everybody’s a Snitch

Suddenly you’re also supposed to treat hugs, high-fives, and handshakes like attacks instead of signs of affection, and to parrot weird, unnatural phrases like “contact-tracing,” “together apart,” and “social distancing.”

The old liberalism is the overarching philosophy that makes a country free, prosperous, healthy, and secure. It’s the reason parents in America tell their kids they can be anything when they grow up. Because, up until now, they could.

And you’re seeing the effects everywhere. Cops show up and ticket kids for skateboarding in the open air at the park. Lovers glance nervously around before they kiss in public. Some of them get so tired of the “social distancing” surveillance state that they despair and just break up.

And it’s not just Big Brother.

“Karen” from across the street might call the police if you forget to wear a mask next time you take the trash out. That one girl a year ahead of you who’s home from UC Berkeley? She downloaded a government contact-tracing app and put you on a list. Maybe even your favorite teacher. He used to encourage you to pursue your dream of becoming a deep-sea diver, a filmmaker, or a civil rights lawyer. But now he tells you to forget it, and just get used to the “new normal.”

A War of Two World-Views

What you’re witnessing is a battle between real, freedom-loving classical liberalism and illiberalism.

The old liberalism is the overarching philosophy that makes a country free, prosperous, healthy, and secure. It’s the reason parents in America tell their kids they can be anything when they grow up. Because, up until now, they could.

Growing up in a free (liberal) America, no disaster could hold me back. Kids like me had the freedom to take traumatic events as inciting incidents and calls to adventure, not paralyzing “new normals” that would hang over us for the rest of our lives.

Like you I too didn’t get to walk for my High School graduation. I dropped out of high school shortly after my 17th birthday and joined the army.

And you know what? Since then I’ve gotten two degrees, served on two presidential campaigns, and produced several award-winning films. Nobody I met along the way cared that I was a high school dropout, and it never held me back.

Only in a Free Nation

Illiberalism can take any number of forms. Because illiberal people will use any event as an excuse to paralyze the world. (For instance, a tragic, criminal, police abuse of force.) They’re doing it now, using a flu pandemic to suppress our nation’s freedom, control its wealth, threaten our health, and rob us of the security of a stable world not in the control of the unpredictable whims of petty tyrants.

Now they’re telling you there’s no guarantee you’ll have the freedom to pursue your dreams in a career you’re passionate about. They’re shooing you away from mentally and spiritually healthy activities like time spent with friends playing frisbee in the park. They’re even denying you the right to a private life, secure from the scrutiny of a new surveillance-obsessed regime that hems you in for your own good.

For them, the “new normal” means it would be abnormal for you to question why the world is closing in around you. It means that whatever teachers, health officials, and bureaucrats in distant capital buildings decide to do with you is just how it has to be. It means you have no role to play in shaping the future.

In other words, the normal they’re trying to foist on you is illiberalism.

So for you the question isn’t hypothetical: Will you accept the illiberal future they’re bringing about, or will you fight for liberalism?

To help you decide, let’s take a look at representatives of each option

What Happened to Bill Gates?

Bill Gates was once a free spirit, just like we all should be when we first set out into the world. He dropped out of Harvard to pursue a career in computer technology. He co-founded the tech giant Microsoft, and went on to become one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world.

And with all that wealth and power, how did he react to the crisis we’re all living through today? He contacted the highest levels of world governments, arranged interviews with media mega-corporations, and spread an urgent, fearful message: Stay inside.

In fact, Gates has gone so far as to say we should never feel secure again. Freedom, prosperity, health, and security … all of those things have to wait. Governments must develop a vaccine, and everyone must be vaccinated. Until then, life must come to a halt. Do nothing until someone in authority tells you to.

Look Instead to Elon Musk

Elon Musk was a dropout too. He dropped out of a Stanford University PhD program to pursue a tech career. He’s now one of the most successful people in the world. On top of that, he’s made it his goal to get the first human beings to Mars, almost 100 million miles away.

When government officials locked everything down (including Musk’s factory in Alameda County, CA) he didn’t just shrug and accept it. His employees were hurting, and wanted to get back to work. His own instincts told him his mission was more important to the world than the petty tyrants of Alameda County. But most importantly, he looked to the future, and the role he feels called to play in it.

He looked to Mars.

After a few months of waiting, watching, and careful research, he made a decision. He opened his factory, attended the opening himself, and publicly called on local officials to arrest him (but not his workers) if they had a problem with it.

Alameda County backed down.

Heroes and Villains Across the Spectrum

Bill Gates started out as a bright young kid with a vision. Today, with his faded pink cardigan and thick glasses, his wearied hunch and his nervous laugh, he’s become the personification of the illiberal new normal.

You can find illiberals like Gates on both sides of the political aisle. They’re fearful, repressive, and controlling. Their first instinct in a crisis is always to call down the wrath of higher authorities to punish and control their neighbors—whether that means calling the cops, drumming up a twitter mob, or imposing a new lockdown order.

But when Musk got famous for the big role he was playing in human history, people noticed another thing about him.

He’s kind of weird.

More importantly, he didn’t stop being weird when he got famous. He still tells interviewers his bizarre theories about AI. He still laughs at inappropriate memes. He fell in love with a strange musician who goes by the single name “Grimes.” They had a baby and named it “X Æ A-12.”

Musk represents another possible new normal. It’s the new normal of liberalism.

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And liberals, thank God, can also be found on both sides of American politics. On the left you have people like Elon Musk, Joe Rogan, and Dave Rubin. On the right, people like Tucker Carlson, Peter Tjeil and Ron Paul.

Fight for the Future

I’m proud to have these people alongside me as I fight for a truly liberal future. And I promise I’ll fight hard for you, to make sure you can live in freedom, prosperity, health, and security after your graduation.

But finally, Class of 2020, you have to ask yourself if you’ll fight too.

And you’ll be off to a good start already if you just consider the stakes:

Will your future be huddling indoors waiting for orders? Or will it be on a rocket headed to Mars?


Jason Jones is a senior contributor to The Stream. He is a film producer, author, activist and human rights worker. You can follow him @TGCWithJason.

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