Getting Decadent with Ross Douthat The American Interest

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Relevant Reading:The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success
Ross DouthatRelevant Listening:TAI Podcast, Episode 195: Ross Douthat on Pope Francis
Richard Aldous & Ross Douthat
In his new book The Decadent Society, Ross Douthat argues that the crisis facing the West today is really one of decadence—when a wealthy and mature civilization runs into economic stagnation, institutional decay, and cultural and intellectual exhaustion. Tracing the phenomenon across multiple dimensions, Douthat argues that decadence can endure for longer than its critics might imagine, but also outlines several scenarios—some bleak, some hopeful—for how we might enter a genuinely new era.Ross Douthat is an opinion columnist for The New York Times, and he joins Richard Aldous on the podcast this week to discuss his new book. Be sure to follow @DouthatNYT and @aminterest on Twitter, and subscribe to the podcast on the app of your choice.The conversation is also available as an lightly edited transcript below.Richard Aldous for TAI: Hello, and welcome. You’re listening to The American Interest podcast, with me, Richard Aldous. My guest this week is Ross Douthat, columnist at The New York Times and author of the new book, The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success. Ross, welcome back to the show.RD: Thank you so much for having me back.RA: Congratulations on the new book. So, how are we victims of our own success?RD: In the sense that we are a technologically advanced, extremely wealthy civilization that is running into problems that you run into when you hit the frontiers of wealth and technological proficiency, and start to stagnate a bit and start repeating yourself a bit. So the book starts, I hope appropriately, with the moon landing in 1969, and basically makes the argument that whether it was a coincidence or not, that particular peak of human accomplishment happened at about the same time that all across the developed world, growth rates were about to start slowing down; people were about to start having fewer children, making societies steadily older and less entrepreneurial and creative; and government in the Western world, and particularly in the United States, was about to enter a long period that obviously continues to the present day of increasing sclerosis, in which it becomes harder and harder to pass legislation, implement sweeping reforms, and so forth.And finally, that was the moment when the Baby Boomers essentially were seizing cultural power, and the least statistically precise argument that I make in the book—the most, by definition, in the eye of the beholder—is that in culture and especially pop culture, we have become, effectively, the prisoners of the Baby Boom generation, and haven’t figured out a way to get beyond endless remakes and reboots and recyclings of entertainment properties that became popular when they were young.RA: Yeah, this is one of the really interesting things about the book. As you say, you start with Sputnik and the Apollo moon landing, and this period that you’re talking about really seems to end with the Challenger explosion in 1986. Very often, we’d think of decadence as being something like, “Oh, that chocolate cake was very decadent,” which is one of the examples that you give in the book as the wrong use of the word. But it seems to me that you mean risk aversion as much as anything else.RD: Yes, and I want to say that anyone who wants to use the term decadent to refer to chocolate cakes or weekends in Vegas has my permission. I’m obviously offering a somewhat idiosyncratic definition of the term. But I’m not alone in it; I’m basically stealing it and adapting it from the great cultural critic Jacques Barzun, who wrote a book called From Dawn to Decadence that came out about 20 years ago.His idea, which is now, I suppose,

Relevant Reading:The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success
Ross DouthatRelevant Listening:TAI Podcast, Episode 195: Ross Douthat on Pope Francis
Richard Aldous & Ross Douthat
In his new book The Decadent Society, Ross Douthat argues that the crisis facing the West today is really one of decadence—when a wealthy and mature civilization runs into economic stagnation, institutional decay, and cultural and intellectual exhaustion. Tracing the phenomenon across multiple dimensions, Douthat argues that decadence can endure for longer than its critics might imagine, but also outlines several scenarios—some bleak, some hopeful—for how we might enter a genuinely new era.Ross Douthat is an opinion columnist for The New York Times, and he joins Richard Aldous on the podcast this week to discuss his new book. Be sure to follow @DouthatNYT and @aminterest on Twitter, and subscribe to the podcast on the app of your choice.The conversation is also available as an lightly edited transcript below.Richard Aldous for TAI: Hello, and welcome. You’re listening to The American Interest podcast, with me, Richard Aldous. My guest this week is Ross Douthat, columnist at The New York Times and author of the new book, The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success. Ross, welcome back to the show.RD: Thank you so much for having me back.RA: Congratulations on the new book. So, how are we victims of our own success?RD: In the sense that we are a technologically advanced, extremely wealthy civilization that is running into problems that you run into when you hit the frontiers of wealth and technological proficiency, and start to stagnate a bit and start repeating yourself a bit. So the book starts, I hope appropriately, with the moon landing in 1969, and basically makes the argument that whether it was a coincidence or not, that particular peak of human accomplishment happened at about the same time that all across the developed world, growth rates were about to start slowing down; people were about to start having fewer children, making societies steadily older and less entrepreneurial and creative; and government in the Western world, and particularly in the United States, was about to enter a long period that obviously continues to the present day of increasing sclerosis, in which it becomes harder and harder to pass legislation, implement sweeping reforms, and so forth.And finally, that was the moment when the Baby Boomers essentially were seizing cultural power, and the least statistically precise argument that I make in the book—the most, by definition, in the eye of the beholder—is that in culture and especially pop culture, we have become, effectively, the prisoners of the Baby Boom generation, and haven’t figured out a way to get beyond endless remakes and reboots and recyclings of entertainment properties that became popular when they were young.RA: Yeah, this is one of the really interesting things about the book. As you say, you start with Sputnik and the Apollo moon landing, and this period that you’re talking about really seems to end with the Challenger explosion in 1986. Very often, we’d think of decadence as being something like, “Oh, that chocolate cake was very decadent,” which is one of the examples that you give in the book as the wrong use of the word. But it seems to me that you mean risk aversion as much as anything else.RD: Yes, and I want to say that anyone who wants to use the term decadent to refer to chocolate cakes or weekends in Vegas has my permission. I’m obviously offering a somewhat idiosyncratic definition of the term. But I’m not alone in it; I’m basically stealing it and adapting it from the great cultural critic Jacques Barzun, who wrote a book called From Dawn to Decadence that came out about 20 years ago.His idea, which is now, I suppose,

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