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  • The Decadent Society

  • How We Became a Victim of Our Own Success
  • By: Ross Douthat
  • Narrated by: Ross Douthat
  • Length: 8 hrs and 13 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (38 ratings)

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The Decadent Society

By: Ross Douthat
Narrated by: Ross Douthat
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Summary

From the New York Times columnist and best-selling 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.

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

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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.

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  • Trebla
  • 24-03-20

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.

9 people found this helpful

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  • Antonio L. Quintanilla
  • 15-03-20

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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  • Ken
  • 10-03-20

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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  • Maxemilio Jimenez
  • 03-03-20

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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  • Robert
  • 26-10-20

This guy is living in a fantasy world.

Makes outlandish claims about trends with absolutely no data to back up said claims. I weeded through half the book before I got tired of waiting for the support to come. His narration is similar to listening to nails on a chalkboard. Hire a real narrator for your next book of fiction.

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  • Yuliya Danilova
  • 24-05-20

Yuliya

I found this book by chance and am glad to have read it. I like the way author expresses his thoughts of the society, the analogies he draws and the literary means he uses (something like “all dreams evaporate into the warming air”- about global climate change). The narrative provides a positive outlook despite the grim title.

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  • SNM
  • 10-03-20

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
  • 07-03-20

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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  • Anonymous User
  • 30-07-22

Pointless Book

I didn't take away much from this book. Ross's concept of decadence incoherently vacillates from an economic theory, to a cultural theory, to a social theory, and everything in between, leaving the reading asking; what is this book about? In addition to the lack of a coherent argument, Ross constantly peppers his prose with needless big words and Latin and French phrases that he does not translate. He uses "pastiche" and "dynamism" about ten times each, so hopefully you are impressed by that. Some of the information about lowering birth rates and sexlessness is somewhat interesting, while seriously disturbing. And there is no doubt that America's days as a global hegemon are quickly running out. Also, he is right that most movies nowadays are God awful. However, Ross inexplicably tries to connect these disparate and distinguishable issues to things like space travel, religion, silicon valley hucksters, and music. If I had to attempt to explain Ross's concept of "decadence", based on this book, I think I'd say, "everything that is bad, but impossible to address politically". So the question then becomes: what is the point of this book? Also, Ross treats atheism as something that is self evidently wrong, and blabs about "Christendom" endlessly (who cares?). On the whole, this book is pompous, incoherent, boring, tedious and pointless. The few interesting bits do not justify the hours of confounding "What is your point, Ross?!?!" that readers are subjected to. The fact that the NYT jumps at writers like this, while ignoring people who actually publish interesting work, like say Matt Taibbi, explains why mainstream media readership is in free-fall.

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  • Cherith Cutestory
  • 29-04-22

Captivating book, and very well written

One thing I came out with after listening to this book is how good a writer Ross Douthat is. His style is unique and captivating, though at times that may veer off into the too-abstract and make understanding slightly challenging. Still, I'm impressed with his skill with words.

The book is immensely pleasurable, and full of fascinating observations on the state of the Western world today, where it may be headed, what it's going through, and what options appear on the horizon. What does it mean when the Pentagon releases what it claims to be possible UFOs? Will it turn to Islam as the final savior from the abyss of malaise, dread and confusion? Why are there so many manifestations of fatigue and decadence in our civilization that we still don't see clearly, and just blithely dismiss? How is the rise of China and Africa going to affect the political, cultural and religious characters of Western society? And other fascinating topics.

Douthat's observations are original and enjoyable to think about. His thoughts are meaningful and make a lot of sense, you will find it impossible to stop listening/reading, and will continue till the end thanks to his originality and entertaining writing style (oh and great narration too). What a pleasure this book is.