Magazine March 23, 2020, Issue

Our Comfortable Decadence

From the cover of The Decadent Society (Avid Reader)
The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success, by Ross Douthat (Avid Reader, 272 pp., $27)

‘Decline is a choice,” Charles Krauthammer famously quipped. But decadence is not.

Or at least that’s one possible reading of The Decadent Society, Ross Douthat’s sweeping, incisive tome on the stagnant state of Western liberalism. Decadence, Douthat writes, “refers to economic stagnation, institutional decay, and cultural and intellectual exhaustion at a high level of material prosperity and technological development.” It does not mean excess so much as enervation, and—crucially—it needn’t imply crisis or collapse, at least not in the immediate, return-of-history sort of way often associated with the Trump era. Lest the reader begin to feel reassured, Douthat says the best

This article appears as “Sustainable Stagnation?” in the March 23, 2020, print edition of National Review.

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