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

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

by Ross Douthat


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From the New York Times columnist and bestselling author of Bad Religion, a powerful portrait of how our wealthy, successful society has passed into an age of gridlock, stalemate, public failure and private despair.

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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781476785240
Publisher: Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 02/25/2020
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 205,013
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Ross Douthat is a columnist for the New York Times op-ed page. He is the author of To Change the Church, Bad Religion, and Privilege, and coauthor of Grand New Party. Before joining the New York Times, he was a senior editor for the Atlantic. He is the film critic for National Review, and he cohosts the New York Times’s weekly op-ed podcast, The Argument. He lives in New Haven with his wife and four children.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Closing of the Frontier 1

Part 1 The Four Horsemen

1 Stagnation 17

2 Sterility 47

3 Sclerosis 67

4 Repetition 89

Part 2 Sustainable Decadence

5 Comfortably Numb 119

6 A Kindly Despotism 137

7 Waiting for the Barbarians 155

8 Giving Decadence Its Due 177

Part 3 The Deaths of Decadence

9 Catastrophe 189

10 Renaissance 205

11 Providence 233

Acknowledgments 241

Index 243

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