Here’s an experiment you can try at home. Gather a set of children’s building blocks and form them into a square, flat on the floor.
The square can be of any dimension. In the middle of the square, and not touching any side, place another block on top. If your original square was more than three blocks on a side, then you can fit more than one block in the square’s center. These additional blocks form a second level.
Now take a step back and jump up and down once or twice. If the floor is hard and sturdy, nothing will happen. The blocks won’t topple unless your bouncing is of sufficient force to crack the foundation.
You can add a third level to your blocks, but only if that third level follows the same rules as the second: none of the blocks can touch the edges of the level below. After it’s built, recommence jumping: the structure should hold. It will still take devastating force to topple it.
If you want to add a fourth level, you’ll have to increase the size of the base. If you didn’t, the levels above would touch the edges, violating our rule.
You can continue quite a while along these lines: those blocks high up will be admirably supported by those below, but they will also add a substantial weight to the blocks under them. The base can be crushed by too many blocks on top.
Your experiment will show the most stable set up of blocks will have a wide base with only a few on top. You’ll need some on top, else the blocks below will move too easily; they will break apart slowly with persistent small vibrations. There will be a balance where you have a stable system that holds together naturally.
That pyramid of blocks is like a society as it stands at some point early on in its history; but not too far along, either.
Because eventually comes a new generation, and from them, a new government. Fresh politicians and unelected leaders look about and see that much of what needed to be done has already been done.
If the base has grown, there is a place for them. If not, they are not needed.
Ideally, they would do nothing. But people, especially people inclined to politics, are not inclined to sit still. They must do something. So they convince themselves that not all is well. They must add to and rearrange the structure! To not do so would be to admit their uselessness.
Being naturally fussy, the bureaucrats will meddle with the structure, adding to it there, subtracting to it there. Eventually, these folk will retire or die, only to be replaced by another batch.
They’ll be dissatisfied by the work that came before them; they’ll meddle, too. They’ll add more blocks on top, right near to their own. The occasional dishonest politician will add more than his fair share.
Occasionally, there will appear a few who want to shift the blocks into a stabler position. These “originalists” will be resisted most strongly by the people in the most unstable blocks, where the system is most unstable and complex because they benefit—in the here and now—by those complexities.
Eventually, inevitably, the structure will become sensitive to the slightest application of external force. Any small shock will send shivers everywhere. Some shocks can be anticipated: the smallest hint of troubles to come will require massive efforts to patch the structure so that it remains in balance. Yet the weight of the blocks and their odd configuration will require a delicate balance, a surgeon’s touch.
You know what is bound to happen: what has happened to every government that has ever existed. In time, it falls.
All experience shows that because people are people and must do something—politicians especially feel a burning desire to interlope—all governments grow until such a point that they can no longer sustain themselves. They end.
They either fall over on themselves, or they break apart into pieces; either mechanism brings destruction.
The only thing that has restrained—slowed, but not eliminated—the unlimited growth is a firm, fixed set of rules that all must adhere to. Allow the members of the government leeway to ignore the rules or rewrite them as they go along, and the growth and instability only increases its pace.
Well, all metaphors are limited. The thesis behind this one, even if expressed badly, is sound: that all governments where the population exceeds more than a handful grow inexorably, become overly sensitive to external forces, and then collapse. Just because people are ever dissatisfied.
This dissatisfaction leads to progress (and occasional collapses) in other areas, but nobody needs to progress a government beyond a solid foundation.