The end of government?--I asked. A cherished commentator responds: "Two words: Italy, Japan."
Ah, I suppose the point is that these are nations that run pretty well even though government is irrelevant--or worse a drag on-- ordinary life? He's got a point--I might add China, where the state (=party) run economic establishment almost certainly sucks wealth out of the nation. Purists will argue that all governments such wealth out of the nation; I'm, not willing to go nearly that far but the assertion does suggest an interesting research agenda: measuring how much government adds (positive or negative) by way of value.
Japan and Italy certainly are not DNA twins, but they do have some similarities. In each case you've got a governing class that lies like an incubus on a society, and a society that does well in its own way anyway. But there are differences. In Japan the bureaucracy does play an inescapable role in organizing economic activity. And whatever its shortcomings (many), I'd be willing to speculate that it still contributes something worthwhile to the national life. Italy is in some ways more remarkable. Italians from the Risorgimento to the Lateran Accord were taught (so it is said) that it wasn't a sin to evade their taxes. Presumably those days ended, but apparently some Italians haven't yet got the memo. The amazing thing has always been how well Italy works while carrying the government as a pesky but expensive irrelevance. "And yet it moves," said Gallileo, under his breath: Eppur si muove. I once read a book on Italian government bearing that title.
China is rather more of a special case because the "state" if you can call it that appears to function more and more as as business conglomerate of, by and for the princelings. Just how this sort of thing could add wealth to the larger society is far from clear Yet the larger society does seem to make amazing strides despite the drag.
So yes: societies may function, sometimes extraordinarily well, even in the teeth of governments that seem bent on doing everything they can to make good living impossible.
Anecdote: I had a student a few years back whose father was Italian. "Does he ever go back?" I asked. "Nah," I was told, "he hates the place. He was there during World War II. He was drafted into three different armies."
"Needless to say," he added, "he ran away from all three.