I have found that if you want to shock students, or really anyone, you propose the radical idea that politicians should be pillars of virtue and the end of government should be a just society.
A just society, borrowing from Plato, is one that reflects the properly ordered soul. The properly ordered soul is one in which the higher desires: moderation, wisdom, courage, guide the base desires: greed, stupidity, vanity. Society is merely the individual soul writ large. If the souls of the people are upside down then society will be too. Therefore, if we want a properly ordered society those in charge of the ordering should have properly ordered souls. Political leaders must themselves be just if society is to be just.
I can hear you laughing.
Students are shocked to read something that suggests there is a higher form of the good. They are shocked to hear one propose that we ought to strive for virtue in the political arena, that the government is something more than a provider of services and a means by which to wage war. I expose myself to good natured ridicule when I make the same suggestion to my friends and colleagues.
I don’t expect anyone to accept what I say out of hand. But it is useful to shock people for the same reason Machiavelli thought it useful. Shocking people is the only way to get them to question what they think they know about politics;about what it should be and can be. Thinking differently about important matters is the only way to move the political debate in a positive direction; which we need because the current debates are going nowhere good.
On one side of the political spectrum are those saying that we need more regulation to control the bad behavior of those who can’t regulate themselves. If history has shown us anything, it is that lawbreakers will always stay ahead of lawmakers. Also, it makes no sense to think that those who make laws will make good laws if the lawmakers are not first found to be good people. If we do not go back, before every instance of lawmaking, and ask what it is to be just, then nothing is guiding our laws but randomness. We cannot say our laws are good unless we first know what is required to be good. We do not typically ask these questions with any depth, which is why we cannot expect lawmakers or laws to be just.
On the other side of the political spectrum, we hear that we need fewer regulations; if we allow individuals the freedom to choose their own course, everything will work out for the best. The reason why government exists is because people won’t do the right thing if left alone. If you don’t believe me, ask Adam and Eve. Imagine if a society were created new, with almost no regulation, what people would make of it. The first and most lucrative operations would be those that catered to vices, and all we have to do is look at what businesses rose quickest on the Internet and still remain the most lucrative. Porn and gambling is what you get when you leave people to their own devices.