Peter Thiel reviews Ross Douthat’s new book “The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success”
Are we making progress? Not so much, Douthat answers. Baby boomers will wince at his title, since “decadence” sounds to them like the complaint of an old curmudgeon. They cannot stand to think of themselves as old, nor can they bear to think of the society they dominate as dysfunctional. But 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 Douthat can see our sclerotic institutions clearly because his vision is not distorted by out-of-date memories from a more functional era.
Douthat outlines four aspects of decadence: stagnation (technological and economic mediocrity), sterility (declining birth rates), sclerosis (institutional failure), and repetition (cultural exhaustion).
Stagnation is the most evident. Look up from your phone, and compare our time to 1969. “Over the last two generations,” Douthat writes, “the only truly radical change has taken place in the devices we use for communication and entertainment, so that a single one of the nineteenth century’s great inventions [running water] still looms larger in our everyday existence than most of what we think of as technological breakthroughs nowadays.”
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