Cover image for The decadent society : how we became the victims of our own success
Title:
The decadent society : how we became the victims of our own success
ISBN:
9781476785240
Edition:
1st Avid Reader Press hardcover ed.
Physical Description:
x, 258 pages ; 24 cm.
General Note:
Includes index.
Contents:
Introduction: The closing of the frontier -- The Four Horsemen. Stagnation ; Sterility ; Sclerosis ; Repetition -- Sustainable decadence. Comfortably numb ; A kindly despotism ; Waiting for the barbarians ; Giving decadence its due -- The deaths of decadence. Catastrophe ; Renaissance ; Providence.
Summary:
When a rich and powerful society ceases advancing-- a combination of wealth and technological proficiency with economic stagnation, political stalemates, cultural exhaustion, and demographic decline-- it creates a strange kind of "sustainable decadence." It reflects a sense of futility and disappointment-- a feeling that the future was not what was promised, that the frontiers have all been closed, and that the paths forward lead only to the grave. Douthat shows how we got here, how long our age of frustration might last, and how, whether in renaissance or catastrophe, our decadence might ultimately end. --
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Summary

Summary

From the New York Times columnist and bestselling author of Bad Religion , a powerful portrait of how our turbulent age is defined by dark forces seemingly beyond our control

Today the Western world seems to be in crisis. But beneath our social media frenzy and reality television politics, the deeper reality is one of drift, repetition, and dead ends. The Decadent Society explains what happens when a rich and powerful society ceases advancing--how the combination of wealth and technological proficiency with economic stagnation, political stalemates, cultural exhaustion, and demographic decline creates a strange kind of "sustainable decadence," a civilizational languor that could endure for longer than we think.

Ranging from our grounded space shuttles to our Silicon Valley villains, from our blandly recycled film and television--a new Star Wars saga, another Star Trek series, the fifth Terminator sequel--to the escapism we're furiously chasing through drug use and virtual reality, Ross Douthat argues that many of today's discontents and derangements reflect a sense of futility and disappointment--a feeling that the future was not what was promised, that the frontiers have all been closed, and that the paths forward lead only to the grave.

In this environment we fear catastrophe, but in a certain way we also pine for it--because the alternative is to accept that we are permanently decadent: aging, comfortable and stuck, cut off from the past and no longer confident in the future, spurning both memory and ambition while we wait for some saving innovation or revelations, growing old unhappily together in the glowing light of tiny screens.

Correcting both optimists who insist that we're just growing richer and happier with every passing year and pessimists who expect collapse any moment, Douthat provides an enlightening diagnosis of the modern condition--how we got here, how long our age of frustration might last, and how, whether in renaissance or catastrophe, our decadence might ultimately end.


Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

A comfortable but unoriginal, tired, and frustrated age has arrived, argues this scintillating diagnosis of social dysfunctions. New York Times columnist Douthat (To Change the Church) surveys a contemporary world where technological advance has subsided into the engineering of trivial digital apps; sclerotic, gridlocked governments dither; birth rates have fallen below replacement rate; young men lose themselves in video games and porn rather than start families or change history; the arts endlessly rehash boomer cultural touchstones and superhero franchises; and a managerial meritocracy entrenches itself in a soft authoritarianism of health and safety, while radicals playact at resurrecting communism and fascism in defanged social media tantrums and feckless street theater. Douthat's elegy on the death of progress is unsparing and often pessimistic, but never alarmist; decadent modernity may muddle along without apocalyptic collapse, he contends, or perk up again with a religious revival or renewed space exploration. His analysis is full of shrewd insights couched in elegant, biting prose. (American political partisanship, he writes, is "an empty traditionalism championed by a heathen reality-television opportunist, set against a thin cosmopolitanism that's really just the extremely Western ideology of liberal Protestantism plus ethnic food.") The result is a trenchant and stimulating take on latter-day discontents. Agent: Rafe Sagalyn, ICM/Sagalyn. (Feb.)


Kirkus Review

A journalist sees materialism and complacency pervading contemporary life.New York Times op-ed columnist and National Review film critic Douthat (To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism, 2018, etc.) delivers an impassioned but not entirely convincing critique of American and European society, which he condemns as depressed, enervated, and bored, and he points to economic stagnation, cultural and intellectual exhaustion, and a dearth of technological and scientific marvels. According to Douthat, America's space project was the last time technological prowess ignited the public's imagination; now, instead of a shared vision of a "giant leap for mankind," we are left with a sense of resignation. The domination of near monopolies quashes economic risk-taking and growth; "below-replacement fertility" portends a "sterile, aging world"; a polarized, sclerotic government is mired in gridlock; and a narrowing range of cultural offerings reflects widespread cultural malaise. Movies reprise "unoriginal stories based on intellectual properties that have strong brand recognition"; publishers depend on "recursive franchises and young-adult blockbusters"; and pop music reveals "a sharp decline in the diversity of chords in hit songs" and repetitive lyrics. Douthat acknowledges that readers, many of whom have heard similar arguments in countless recent books, may not be as distraught as he is. Despite social, political, and ecological problems, they may ask, "instead of bemoaning the inevitable flaws of our present situation, shouldn't we work harder to celebrate its virtues"? The author thinks not. Although within a decadent society individuals can still "work toward renewal and renaissance"; although sustainable decadence "offers the ample benefits of prosperity with fewer of the risks that more disruptive eras offer," still, he insists that "the unresisted drift of decadence leads, however slowly and comfortably, into a territory of darkness." Describing himself as a believing Christian, Douthat underscores religion's entanglement with decadence. No civilization, he writes, "has thrived without a confidence that there was more to the human story than just the material world as we understand it." Underlying his call for change is an invocation to look "heavenward: toward God, toward the stars, or both."An earnest analysis buoyed by debatable evidence. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Table of Contents

Introduction: The Closing of the Frontierp. 1
Part 1 The Four Horsemen
1 Stagnationp. 17
2 Sterilityp. 47
3 Sclerosisp. 67
4 Repetitionp. 89
Part 2 Sustainable Decadence
5 Comfortably Numbp. 119
6 A Kindly Despotismp. 137
7 Waiting for the Barbariansp. 155
8 Giving Decadence Its Duep. 177
Part 3 The Deaths of Decadence
9 Catastrophep. 189
10 Renaissancep. 205
11 Providencep. 233
Acknowledgmentsp. 241
Indexp. 243