This was posted at macleans by Paul Wells the other day. Its a Harper speech from a few years ago, pontificating on all sorts of stuff. His 'understanding' of the left is interesting:
The real enemy is no longer socialism. Socialism as a true economic program and motivating faith is dead. Yes, there are still lots of statist economic policies and people dependent on big government. But the modern left-liberal economic philosophy has become corporatism. Corporatism is the use of private ownership and markets for state-directed objectives. Its tools are subsidization, public/private partnerships and state investment funds. It is often bad policy, but it is less clearly different from conventional conservative economics than any genuine socialism.
The real challenge is therefore not economic, but the social agenda of the modern Left. Its system of moral relativism, moral neutrality and moral equivalency is beginning to dominate its intellectual debate and public-policy objectives.
The clearest recent evidence of this phenomenon is seen in international affairs in the emerging post-Cold-War world - most obviously in the response of modern liberals to the war on terrorism. There is no doubt about the technical capacity of our society to fight this war. What is evident is the lack of desire of the modern liberals to fight, and even more, the striking hope on the Left that we actually lose.
You can see this if you pay close attention to the response to the war in Iraq from our own federal Liberals and their cheerleaders in the media and the universities. They argue one day that there are no weapons of mass destruction, yet warn that such weapons might be used. They tell us the war was immoral, then moral but impractical, then practical but unjustified. They argue simultaneously that the war can't be won, that it is too easy for the coalition to win and that victory cannot be sustained anyway. Most striking was their obvious glumness at the fall of Baghdad. But even previous to that were the dark suggestions on the anniversary of September 11 (hinted at even by our own prime minister) that "we deserved it."
This is particularly striking given the nature of the enemy here, the bin Ladens and the Husseins, individuals who embody in the extreme everything the Left purports to oppose - fundamentalism, fascistic nationalism, misogyny, bigotry.
Conservatives need to reassess our understanding of the modern Left. It has moved beyond old socialistic morality or even moral relativism to something much darker. It has become a moral nihilism - the rejection of any tradition or convention of morality, a post-Marxism with deep resentments, even hatreds of the norms of free and democratic western civilization.
This descent into nihilism should not be surprising because moral relativism simply cannot be sustained as a guiding philosophy. It leads to silliness such as moral neutrality on the use of marijuana or harder drugs mixed with its random moral crusades on tobacco. It explains the lack of moral censure on personal foibles of all kinds, extenuating even criminal behaviour with moral outrage at bourgeois society, which is then tangentially blamed for deviant behaviour. On the moral standing of the person, it leads to views ranging from radical responsibility-free individualism, to tribalism in the form of group rights.
Conservatives have focused on the inconsistency in all of this. Yet it is actually disturbingly consistent. It is a rebellion against all forms of social norm and moral tradition in every aspect of life. The logical end of this thinking is the actual banning of conservative views, which some legislators and "rights" commissions openly contemplate.
In this environment, serious conservative parties simply cannot shy away from values questions. On a wide range of public-policy questions, including foreign affairs and defence, criminal justice and corrections, family and child care, and healthcare and social services, social values are increasingly the really big issues.
Take taxation, for example. There are real limits to tax-cutting if conservatives cannot dispute anything about how or why a government actually does what it does. If conservatives accept all legislated social liberalism with balanced budgets and corporate grants - as do some in the business community - then there really are no differences between a conservative and a Paul Martin.
There is, of course, much more to be done in economic policy. We do need deeper and broader tax cuts, further reductions in debt, further deregulation and privatization, and especially the elimination of corporate subsidies and industrial-development schemes. In large measure, however, the public arguments for doing so have already been won. Conservatives have to more than modern liberals in a hurry.
The truth of the matter is that the real agenda and the defining issues have shifted from economic issues to social values, so conservatives must do the same.