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The Decadent Society

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The Decadent Society

How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success

Avid Reader Press,

15 min read
8 take-aways
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What's inside?

Developed Western societies are decadent and exhausted, but that might spur a new renaissance.

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Modern societies relied on the idea of progress, but didn’t make any. Their economies, politics and culture became “decadent,” weary and static, without direction or optimism, says conservative analyst Ross Douthat – and that was his take even before COVID-19. Yet, he says, this period of stagnation may lead to a renaissance. Writing amid political and cultural turbulence, Douthat poses urgent and prescient questions about the future of affluent Western societies that no one – including the author, as he says – can answer.  


The 21st century hasn’t experienced expected levels of growth.

The 1969 moon landing brought the feeling that human progress had surpassed all barriers. This vaulting confidence didn’t survive the 1986 Challenger disaster, and since then, many people have resigned themselves to the idea that nothing new can inspire that same level of aspiration. In the United States and elsewhere, modernity is associated with the idea of progress. People expect the future to always offer something new.

With the end of the space age, Western societies lost their breathless confidence and optimism. They turned toward self-help philosophies and technologies that simulate experiences rather than create them. They abandoned utopian political aspirations and redemptive religious faith. Thus, Western societies became decadent. Decadence afflicts successful, affluent cultures. Its symptoms include economic stasis, the deterioration of institutions, and a lack of cultural or intellectual vision.

Modern societies face inadequate levels of fertility.

An internet company such as Uber – which fuels investment...

About the Author

Conservative political analyst and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat also wrote Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics; To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism; and The Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery.

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