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“Decadence” is one of those familiar terms that is trivialized or rendered comic by overuse—perhaps you’d say from decadence itself. And while most people think decadent is mostly a synonym for “sumptuous,” it has a wider and deeper meaning, which is the subject of Ross Douthat’s new book, The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success.
Douthat, a columnist for the New York Times and author of several fine books analyzing the current American scene, looks at several markers of a decadent civilization and culture, from falling birthrates, slowing economic growth, declining innovation, sclerotic institutions, and cultural stagnation. Is there a way out of this dead-end road, or is America fated to become the modern-day Rome? Steve Hayward covers these and other aspects of the question in this entirely non-decadent conversation.
(Exit music today is Chris Squire’s cover of the classic Pink Floyd tune “Comfortably Numb,” which also happens to be the title of chapter 5 of Ross’s book.)
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