“Autoimmune diseases,” per the Wikipedia article on same, “arise from an inappropriate immune response of the body against substances and tissues normally present in the body. In other words, the immune system mistakes some part of the body as a pathogen and attacks its own cells.”
Analogizing from autoimmune disease to political government has its dangers — foremost among them the fact that any such analogy requires us to think of society as a sort of super-organism with its own interests separate from and superseding those of its constituent parts, people — but I don’t think the analogy is a poor one. If there really is such a thing as “the body politic,” the nation-state is to that body as lupus or multiple sclerosis is to an individual human body.
The most advanced stages of the disease are easily identifiable: Mussolini’s “everything in the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state” sums them up rather neatly.
But as with any disease, the final stages are actually the least interesting; the body is withered, doped up on painkillers, attempting to pass as gently as possible into that good night. The real action is in the painful intermediate stages of the disease — after it’s become too advanced not to notice, but while the patient might still be expected to struggle against its progression. It is at this point that we can see the true evil of the disease itself.
It’s depressing. The only up side is that when the body politic dies, the state will die with it — and that the body might be able to resurrect itself minus the disease. But that doesn’t make these terminal times any easier ..