The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success

The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success



The Pequod Review:

Ross Douthat calls our society decadent, by which he means:

Decadence, employed usefully, refers to economic stagnation, institutional decay, and cultural and intellectual exhaustion at a high level of material prosperity and technological development. It describes a situation in which repetition is more the norm than innovation; in which sclerosis afflicts public institutions and private enterprises alike; in which intellectual life seems to go in circles; in which new developments in science, new exploratory projects, underdeliver compared with what people recently expected. And, crucially, the stagnation and decay are often a direct consequence of previous development. The decadent society is, by definition, a victim of its own significant success.

Douthat proceeds to explore the various trends that he believes are proof of our decadence — declining birth rates, slow economic growth, increasing political dysfunction, and a lack of artistic and cultural innovation. It's a bit of a hodge-podge of ideas and it feels at every step like he is cherry-picking (I personally find much to admire in the arts today, to take just one example). I love Douthat's weekly New York Times columns — they are truly essential reading — but his arguments here are a bit chaotic and unfocused.