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

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  1,298 ratings  ·  209 reviews
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 stalema ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published February 25th 2020 by Avid Reader Press / Simon Schuster
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Feb 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Ross Douthat is one of the conservative social critics that I often find worth reading. As the title suggests, this book is his account of what he calls the "decadence" of modern society. Our culture and politics have been sapped of their old dynamism and have reached a point of stagnation, repetition and sclerosis. Our institutions still function, most of the time, but they do so painfully rather than with ease. We used to gain energy from exploration, but we longer have new frontiers to chart. ...more
Diane S ☔
Apr 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: nfr-2020
Had a mixed reaction to this book. First a chapter on what is meant by decadence and then on to discussions of which it is easy to agree, but just as easy to disagree. Society, as far as inventiveness has stalled, after years of inventions. Moon walks and other household items, industrial items, big and small. In the last fifty years or so most of the inventiveness has been in the tech center, computers and things thus related.

Politics that no longer work, no longer propel us further. Some chap
David Wineberg
Nov 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
Ross Douthat seems to have discovered that time runs like a programmable treadmill. Sometimes it goes really fast, and sometimes it slows to a crawl. Between the late sixties and 2010, it ran really fast. There were all kinds of developments: space achievements, drug discoveries, computers for all, the internet, GPS, smartphones, Trader Joe’s, …. But things have slowed down again (or we’ve grown accustomed to high intensity). Innovations seem fewer and more strained. It makes some think we have ...more
Mar 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
I hardly ever agree with Douthat on anything, but I love reading well-reasoned opinions "on the other side" so I was excited to read Douthat's diagnosis of what ills us. As expected, I did not agree with many of his takes (for example, he seems really overly concerned about immigrants and African populations breeding more than Europeans and essentially "taking over" European civilizations and I don't think he realizes how small-minded that seems). However, I was captivated by the analysis here. ...more
Mar 08, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Douthat revives the topic of decadence at seemingly the right moment, but does not deliver. If you are going to take a high level perspective you better be incredibly insightful. Douthat, in this book, is not. The reader is subjected to many restatements of recently published contributions, including block citations from various authors of bestselling books on the topics of economic slowdown and crisis of liberal political order. Wrapping it all up in the topic of decadence just does not add ver ...more
One of the Best Books of 2020. Essential reading for anyone interested in societal/civilization decadence.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars.
Vidur Kapur
Aug 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
Published, almost literally, on the eve of the American COVID-19 epidemic, The Decadent Society represents a timely synthesis of the thinking of the nascent post-liberal and illiberal right, which started to gain real traction in 2016, buoyed by the unexpected (to some) victories of Brexit and Trump. Some of the key characters in this 'movement' are cited explicitly; the work of other, more verboten figures is clearly visible.

A book like this needed to be written at some point; that it was publ
Charles Haywood
Mar 28, 2020 rated it liked it
Almost always one reads a book of future-looking political theory long before or long after its substance has been proven or disproven. It is quite another experience to observe theory offered just yesterday as it morphs today into reality. So it is with "The Decadent Society," released in February, a month ago. It sharply identifies our problems, and speaks abstractly of possible futures for both America and the rest of the world, in which our problems are solved, or not. But all changed future ...more
A book on the “resignation that haunts our civilisation”, The Decadent Society is an account of the sclerosis pervading our country, a prophetic warning of the fate of all developed countries in contradiction of the theory of perpetual progress. A societal structure once taken for granted as accelerating in an infinite upward climb is one instead encumbered by rigidities. Decadence here is “economic stagnation, institutional decay, and cultural and intellectual exhaustion at a high level of mate ...more
Apr 04, 2020 rated it did not like it
This book reads like the slapdash essays I threw together in high school during frantic mornings before class. Could I misdirect away from a weak thesis and unfocused argument with big words, long sentences and shitload of citations? What was the page limit again? Crap. An hour till class and I just spent a few dozen pages on a robust analysis of Star Wars. No time to really do geopolitics right. Screw it, let's chuck out a quick aside that China and The Muslims aren't attracting any western thi ...more
Justin Lonas
Mar 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Not the most reassuring reading in the age of quarantine, but it finally came in the last batch of requests from the library the day before they closed. A compelling analysis of our contemporary cultural moment (at least as it was until last week), with fairly clear-eyed critiques and modest proposals. Let's just say that if Covid-19 does end up being the end of the world as we know it, Ross called it. ...more
Mark Warnock
May 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This thoroughly enjoyable book (I experienced the audio version) extended Jacques Barzun's idea of cultural decadence and showed many examples of it from recent decades of the American experience. The general thesis of decadence rings true - the West is a society that has lost its energy and any clear path forward. It made me think about what it means to be (1) religiously faithful, (2) entrepreneurial, (3) artistically creative and (4) visionary during a season of cultural doldrums.

I felt as a
Apr 10, 2020 rated it liked it
The rich countries are in slow decline and thus decadent.

1. Population is ageing, so people take less risk.
2. All the low hanging fruits have been plucked so it is getting difficult to have new breakthroughs. Instead of flying cars, we get Twitter. Return on new research had been dropping. We are reaching the limits of detection in physics.
3. There has been no new cultural breakthroughs. The latest blockbusters are all based on what was created by Baby boomers. Starwars. Avengers. Star Trek.
Mar 31, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: current-affairs
Douthat gets a few things right, and a lot of things wrong.
I didn't really like this one, unfortunately...
Author Ross Douthat is an American conservative political analyst, blogger, author, and New York Times columnist. He was a senior editor of The Atlantic, according to his Wikipedia page.

Ross Douthat :

The Decadent Society lays out a case for creative productivity decline in Decadent Western countries. Douthat quotes a 2011 essay by Kurt Anderson in Vanity Fair:
"Rewind any other 20-year chunk of 20th-century time. There’s no chance you woul
Peter Colclasure
Jun 18, 2020 rated it liked it
What does it mean to be a decadent society? It means that we used to put men on the moon but now the space race amounts to Elon Musk playing with toys. It means that each decade had a distinct aesthetic in terms of fashion and pop music, but the evolution of culture stalled around 2005 and hasn't progressed since. It means that the most successful movies are reboots and sequels, rather than original works. It means we're having the same political debates we had in the 1960s. It means the populat ...more
Oct 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
A decadent society, if I may be so bold as to simplify his thesis, is like a superhero without a worthy opponent. Imagine a movie about a superhero who has grown so powerful, so comfortable, and is enriched with such technology that he or she has become virtually untouchable. What would the plot be about? Surely, this hero would have complaints and internal struggles. But absent the outside forces that inspired fear and ingenuity, or the vast world of opportunity that inspired daring and courage ...more
Feb 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-write-think
Published in February 2020, poor Douthat was screwed by timing here. Even excepting the fact this was pre-Covid, more generally this book won't age well. He talks much about "recent" events, and much about the Trump presidency. When he casually threw out an off-hand remark like, "What if Trump mismanages a pandemic..." I had to smirk a little.

This book is a journalist musing about the state of society, not an academic presenting a specific argument or policy. If you accept that, it's a good read
May 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is pretty much peak Douthat.
Aug 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
An interesting take on the "late Roman" phase of Western society. Douthat, a conservative columnist for the New York Times, is well-read and interested in everything, and he has smart opinions on matters that range from why there are so few original movie blockbusters to what one exception to that fact (Black Panther) has to say about the direction our society may move in order to break out of our stagnation. He touches on politics, economics, culture, and religion. I don't always agree with Dou ...more
Jan 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: what-happened
Why doesn't the culture produce something more interesting than rebooted Star Wars films? Why don't young people in the developed world have more children? Why can't the government just get something done? Looking for a reason beyond grey Boomers hoarding wealth and voting for radical right-wing candidates, Ross Douthat argues that we live in a decadent moment and have become The Decadent Society.

My favorite thing about The Decadent Society is Douthat's willingness to build his arguments on anyt
Tyler Jors
Mar 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Status as a Ross Douthat fanboy: Confirmed

This review is about to be incredibly biased (although to a lesser extent than those proponents of decadence that despise this book.)

We look around us and see trends. We see that Hollywood isn’t churning out many unique films and instead rehashing poorly made reboots and sequels. We see a stale culture that doesn’t seem to be having great dialogues or new thoughts. Instead we get the empty screaming match between left and right, pointless Facebook posts,
Scriptor Ignotus
Apr 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics
A latter-day frontier thesis, in which Douthat argues that the likeliest future for the post-western world may not involve some catastrophic civilizational collapse nor the flowering of a cultural or intellectual renaissance, but may instead be characterized by a sustained, comfortable, and surprisingly durable operational stasis; a kind of flattening of creative and imaginative horizons, an inability of new forms of vitality to break free from the consolidations of our lethargic and gluttonous ...more
Mar 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
An apt diagnosis of 21st century malaise. Makes a compelling case that stagnation and repetition dominate diverse areas of modern life, including economics, technology, politics, art, and interpersonal relationships. Ends with a feeble gesture at religion as a cure.
Mar 22, 2020 rated it liked it
well-written rehash of millennial conservative talking points for gen x audience
Ingmar Weyland
5 star for initial analysis of decadence and 2 star for promoting "Euarabia" as inevitable future for Europe alongside with possible Catholic renewal by negro Catholics. ...more
Sep 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is an important and perceptive look at our current situation in the West from the broadest of perspectives.

Douthat's diagnosis is exactly on-point: we are in an age of stagnation and mediocrity in all dimensions. Conservatives and religious believers should contemplate Douthat's final section: the potential ends of decadence. While a technological breakthrough is perhaps the most likely, Douthat also mentions the possibility of a religious revival - and this is what we should be working to
Andrew Figueiredo
Mar 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Tldr; If there's a book for our moment, this is it. Read it and you'll emerge with a clearer picture of what's wrong with the way things are going. Well done.

Douthat does not, like some on the left and right posit, that the US is in freefall decline. He argues that our current trajectory is defined primarily by decadence, or "economic stagnation, institutional decay, and cultural and intellectual exhaustion at a high level of material prosperity and technological development" (14). As the title
Kyle Schlichting
Jun 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Douthat is a great writer, and the reason why i think this book excels is that it is honest. Not too pessimistic or optimistic about our future, but provides reasons for both viewpoints. Love a political commentator that can talk Star Wars as well as reference some European philosopher I've never heard before. Fun, engaging. A gut punch of a read and will give you plenty to chew on. ...more
Feb 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The Decadent Society : How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success (2020) by Ross Douthat looks at how the developed world has stagnated over the past few decades and become decadent.

Douthat defines this as a society that is no longer pushing forward with as much impetus as it once did and is, instead, enjoying the lifestyle that is now possible. He defines the great break as the end of Apollo and the cessation of a space program that was desperately trying to push further out into the universe
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Ross Gregory Douthat is a conservative American author, blogger and New York Times columnist. He was a senior editor at The Atlantic and is author of Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class (Hyperion, 2005) and, with Reihan Salam, Grand New Party (Doubleday, 2008), which David Brooks called the "best single roadmap of where the Republican Party should and is likely to head." He is ...more

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105 likes · 22 comments
“lower body count. If you want to feel like Western society is convulsing, there’s an app for that, a convincing simulation waiting. But in the real world, it’s possible that Western society is really leaning back in an easy chair, hooked up to a drip of something soothing, playing and replaying an ideological greatest-hits tape from its wild and crazy youth, all riled up in its own imagination and yet, in reality, comfortably numb.” 1 likes
“I’m just saying that if this were the age in which some major divine intervention happened, whether long prophesied or completely unforeseen, there would be, in hindsight, a case that we should have seen it coming. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone if decadence ends with people looking heavenward: toward God, toward the stars, or both.” 0 likes
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