There is a new book out by New York Times columnist, Ross Douthat, The Decadent Society, that should be mentioned, then dismissed without buying or reading its fine print, because, in a decadent post-truth society, that is how we intellectually treat our opponents, mention and dismissal, with no serious study, because there is nothing more to seriously study anymore:
“Is Trump a symptom or a disease? And if he’s a symptom, what’s the underlying sickness? Decadence is one possible answer. This is very close to the argument New York Times columnist Ross Douthat makes in his new book, The Decadent Society. According to Douthat, the US — and really the entire Western world — is stuck in a kind of cultural doom loop. In many ways, Douthat says, we’ve become victims of our own success and are now locked in a state of malaise, in which our culture and politics feel exhausted. Douthat’s definition of a “decadent society” is that we’re trapped in a stale system that keeps spinning in place, reproducing the same arguments and frustrations over and over again. Trump’s election is simultaneously a sign that a lot of people were desperate for something different and a reflection of the shallow and frivolous culture that spawned him. Douthat is a conservative, and so there’s a temptation to treat this book as a reactionary screed, or an angry protest against the modern condition. But I think it’s much more than that, although at times it does lapse into some familiar tropes. He puts his fingers on something real, something a lot of people feel on the left and the right, namely a belief that the status quo is broken and needs a reboot. I spoke to Douthat by phone about the story he wanted to tell in this book, why our dysfunctional politics is a sign of a much deeper problem, if his book is — deep down — an indictment of liberal capitalism, and if he sees any way out of the decadence he diagnoses. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.