From the New York Times columnist and bestselling author of Bad Religion, a powerful portrait of how our wealthy, successful society has passed into an age of gridlock, stalemate, public failure and private despair.
The era of the coronavirus has tested America, and our leaders and institutions have conspicuously failed. That failure shouldn’t be surprising: Beneath social-media frenzy and reality-television politics, our era’s deep truths are elite incompetence, cultural exhaustion, and the flight from reality into fantasy. Casting a cold eye on these trends, The Decadent Society explains what happens when a powerful society ceases advancing—how the combination of wealth and technological proficiency with economic stagnation, political stalemate, and demographic decline creates a unique civilizational crisis.
Ranging from the futility of our ideological debates to the repetitions of our pop culture, from the decline of sex and childbearing to the escapism of drug use, Ross Douthat argues that our age is defined by disappointment—by the feeling that all the frontiers are closed, that the paths forward lead only to the grave. Correcting both optimism and despair, Douthat provides an enlightening explanation of how we got here, how long our frustrations might last, and how, in renaissance or catastrophe, our decadence might ultimately end.
Ross Douthat is a columnist for the New York Times op-ed page. He is the author of To Change the Church, Bad Religion, and Privilege, and coauthor of Grand New Party. Before joining the New York Times, he was a senior editor for the Atlantic. He is the film critic for National Review, and he cohosts the New York Times’s weekly op-ed podcast, The Argument. He lives in New Haven with his wife and four children.
“Clever and stimulating . . . Informative and well balanced . . . [An] intriguing theological-political idea.” —Mark Lilla, The New York Times Book Review
“Well-timed . . . This is a young man’s book. Douthat can see our sclerotic institutions clearly because his vision is not distorted by out-of-date memories from a more functional era. . . . Charming and persuasive." —Peter Thiel for First Things
“A scintillating diagnosis of social dysfunctions . . . His analysis is full of shrewd insights couched in elegant, biting prose. . . . The result is a trenchant and stimulating take on latter-day discontents.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Ross Douthat is the rare pundit who has managed to keep his head through the ideological turbulence of recent times — and his new book grows out of his characteristic equanimity and good sense.” —Damon Linker, The Week
“Douthat’s best book yet, a work of deep cultural analysis, elegantly written and offering provocative thoughts on almost every page. It’s hard to think of a current book that is as insightful about the way we live now as is this one.” —Rod Dreher, The American Conservative
“It is a testament to [Douthat's] singular skill and wisdom, then, that he has written so thoughtful and compelling a book that bemoans the end of progress. The Decadent Society is Douthat at his best—clever, considered, counterintuitive, and shot through with insight about modern America.” —The Washington Free Beacon
"A convincing argument." —The National Review
"A substantial book by one of the more serious people in American public life today, The Decadent Society deserves a wide readership." —The New Atlantis