Decadence in the Time of Corona

Decadence in the Time of Corona
(Joel Bissell/Kalamazoo Gazette via AP)

Ross Douthat is one of the most interesting members of America’s commentariat. As an (increasingly rare) dissenting conservative voice at the New York Times, he writes on US politics and public life in a consistently provocative, thoughtful and heterodox fashion. At National Review, he brings that same sharpness to film criticism. Ross has a new book out — The Decadent Society: How We Became Victims of Our Own Success — in which he makes the counterintuitive but compelling argument that, for all the turbulence and chaos we are said to be living through, recent American history is in fact defined by stasis and sclerosis.

On economics, politics, culture and demographics, Douthat claims that things in contemporary America, and the West more generally, just aren’t as dizzyingly disruptive as you might think. Instead, they are decadent. And, according to Douthat, this decadence explain everything from the election of Donald Trump to the surfeit of superhero films made by Hollywood.

I spoke to Ross about the ideas in his new book, and whether or not he has updated them in light of the pandemic that hit since its publication. Here is an edited version of our conversation.

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