‘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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