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The Decadent Society

How We Became a Victim of Our Own Success
Narrated by: Ross Douthat
Length: 8 hrs and 13 mins
4.2 out of 5 stars (10 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

From the New York Times columnist and best-selling author of Bad Religion, a powerful portrait of how our turbulent age is defined by dark forces seemingly beyond our control.

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 stalemates, cultural exhaustion, and demographic decline creates a strange kind of “sustainable decadence”, a civilizational languor that could endure for longer than we think. 

Ranging from our grounded space shuttles to our Silicon Valley villains, from our blandly recycled film and television - a new Star Wars saga, another Star Trek series, the fifth Terminator sequel - to the escapism we’re furiously chasing through drug use and virtual reality, Ross Douthat argues that many of today’s discontents and derangements reflect a sense of futility and disappointment - a feeling that the future was not what was promised, that the frontiers have all been closed, and that the paths forward lead only to the grave. 

In this environment we fear catastrophe, but in a certain way we also pine for it - because the alternative is to accept that we are permanently decadent: Aging, comfortable, and stuck, cut off from the past and no longer confident in the future, spurning both memory and ambition while we wait for some saving innovation or revelations, growing old unhappily together in the glowing light of tiny screens. 

Correcting both optimists who insist that we’re just growing richer and happier with every passing year and pessimists who expect collapse any moment, Douthat provides an enlightening diagnosis of the modern condition - how we got here, how long our age of frustration might last, and how, whether in renaissance or catastrophe, our decadence might ultimately end.

©2020 Ross Douthat (P)2020 Simon & Schuster Audio

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  • Trebla
  • 24-03-2020

Another Liberal Arts Intellectual who does not rea

Ross describes the Decadence of our age and a few corollaries (not sure of the direction of the arrow), with a subsequent production of even further societal ennui and perhaps ultimate failure. But he confuses Science with Technology- the Romans were pretty good engineers & developers of Tech, but added surprisingly little to the advance of science. The Tech advances noted by RD were based on the foundational work of science ( Maxwell, Einstein, Pauli), which are indeed rare & hard to come by. Oddly the enthusiasm for tech has actually diminished the work of Basic Science as "we need a practical application next year" mindset currently predominates Biology is stumbling about right now but is on the rim of huge discoveries of how things work- but it'll be decades before life styles are changed. Also he spends no time with the idea that there may be An End to History. Fukuyama in later works clearly described the meaning of his earlier work - the End of History" was a question. And End did not mean a stoppage but the Goal of history. RD missed that. The Decadence he describes is just as likely a "gentle landing" of society to fit the constraints of our environment and as such is a Darwinian adaptation. This was not as powerfully insightful as the reviewers would like to think.

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  • Antonio L. Quintanilla
  • 15-03-2020

Interesting and intriguing ideas

Very intriguing idea that our civilization may be tapped out, decadent. I have some thoughts that take off from the book. Perhaps our civilization has reached the limit imposed by the carrying capacity of our environment coupled with our fossil fuel economy. We are on the upper tail end of the S-curve, the ecological logistic curve. Perhaps what we experience as decadence — being tapped out — is an intersection with the future, a kind of decision point, where the past has reached its limit, stasis is not an option, and there is a discontinuity with the approaching future. Perhaps there are three choices for this future, again taking off from the book: There is sustainability, learning to attain and live with equilibrium, accepting our limits — not a trivial task. There is transcendence, like the vision of space travel, possibly initiated by a new source of energy that expands our possibilities and propels is into a new growth phase, an expanded carrying capacity, a new logistic S-curve to climb. And the third option is collapse, a self-destruction that possibly leads to a new growth phase in an unimaginable future cut off from us by a historical discontinuity. In a sense, as a Christian, like the author, I feel that the Bible and our tradition speak of this third option, destruction followed by a new creation. Interestingly, ecologists would say that collapse after reaching the carrying capacity of the environment is not unusual in nature — like the guano birds that grow and collapse in concert with El Niño and anchovy cycles. As an individual, human transcendence is a hopeful vision, like Star Trek, a humanist dream, and unlikely because there is no sign of it. Although attaining a new source of limitless energy could give us a new start — crossing my fingers for ITER fusion project. As a realist, our best bet is trying for sustainability — there’s still a small chance we can achieve that, if we actually are wise. The book certainly arouses a lot of ideas, hopes, and dreams.

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  • Maxemilio Jimenez
  • 03-03-2020

Excellent 👍

loved it from start to finish. A prescient examination and just comparison of decline and likely solutions posited. Wonderful to hear in the author's own voice!

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  • Ken
  • 10-03-2020

Somehow dissatisfying

Lots of thought provoking concepts here, a certainly a discouraging look at current reality. I was particularly intrigued by the observation that many if not most of our great hope technologies are more about maintaining our status quo while not destroying the earth we live on. It refrains the question I could not put the book down yet felt it left me feeling fairly pessimistic and somehow dissatisfied. Maybe that is the intent

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  • Preacher John Carson
  • 10-03-2020

Thought Provoking

This book will certainly make you think. It was a very enjoyable read and was relatively clean.

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  • Jared Z. Henderson
  • 07-03-2020

A piercing look at our present moment

Ross Douthat cements his place as one of my favorite cultural commentators. We keep repeating the recent past; technological innovation has slowed, with nothing as life-altering as running water being invented in the tech era; our politicians are feckless; institutions have weakened and turned sclerotic. These are some of the problems of a decadent society, a society that has become too comfortable with its own success. Douthat’s book joins other recent conservative books in trying to diagnose our current political moment with ideas that go beyond the typical left/right binary. For an American conservative he’s quite suspicious of free markets, but he’s also suspicious of statism from the American left. He certainly thinks the decline of American religion is a problem, but unlike other religious conservatives he doesn’t assume that us becoming more secular has been what has caused our problems. But he’s also not within the ‘post-liberal’ camp, calling for a new right that’s protectionist, socially conservative, and supplies a generous social safety net. Most interesting are the final chapters, where Douthat focuses on the cures for decadence. He moderates his pessimism by outlining a few different ways we might become less decadent. Some are catastrophic, where the West collapses. Some are hopeful, where a thriving Africa supplies a new way forward for the rest of the world. In all of them, the role of the West must change.

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  • Josh
  • 20-10-2020

Frequently Wrong, But Worth Reading

I was only partially persuaded. I found myself, more often than not, strongly disagreeing. But Douthat is not a stupid person, and you should, like all nonfiction, be in battle with it. Make a dialogue, an argument. Shout, while you read, what he gets right and terribly wrong. Think about the world, and challenge the text as it challenges you. It might be well worth your time.

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  • Erik A. Ritland
  • 30-08-2020

One of the most interesting thinkers of our time

Ross Douthat is an interesting fellow. A practicing Catholic, a right-leaning establishment friendly essayist and thinker. Like with so many smart people, he’s dumbest when talking about President Trump. Interesting, thought-provoking thesis. Sometimes a bit strained, and he seems to be line straddling a lot. But the conclusion brings it together and makes it more than worth the ride.

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  • Pascal
  • 24-07-2020

Excellent book!!

A profound analysis of the limits of our perceived successes and what has brought B us here.

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  • Sam
  • 06-07-2020

A Thoughtful Meditation on our Culture and Future

In this book, Ross Douthat provides a thoughtful and challenging meditation on our culture and our future.

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  • Kyle Smith
  • 15-06-2020

Not worth the time

Has its moments, but a significant portion of the book is dedicated to discussing a laughable dystopia involving an islamic Napoleon building a caliphate in Europe. Later on he pushes religion as the driving force behind the space race and an antidote to decadence and essentially argues that, for Europe to survive it needs to take in hundreds of millions of Africans, as if this wouldn't tear Europes social fabric apart and render any "gains" moot. Overall, not worth the time listening.