So far, perhaps so familiar, although huge advances in biomedicine and green energy recently have made Cowen, for one, revise his arguments. Douthat, a soft-hearted Catholic traditionalist, is more interested in giving materialist arguments a spiritual dimension. He quotes the historian Jacques Barzun to the effect that decadence also refers to “institutional decay and cultural and intellectual exhaustion at a high level of material prosperity and technological development”. Our culture has become a cracked record.
Douthat, a card-carrying Catholic, is one of a small crop of conservative intellectuals in America (including Bret Stephens and David Brooks) that I admire not because I agree with everything they say, but because they are trying to stake out new ground. This sits somewhere between the scorched earth of the right’s failed trickle-down economics and the self-defeating identity politics of the left. As Douthat concludes, even the end of history will end, though he’s wisely not betting on a new Chinese-led world order or some larger clash of cultures between Islam and the west. The cultural visions that he posits might spring up in response to decadence — from a new Eurafrica to a renewal of our aspirations for space exploration — may seem implausible. But at least they are fresh.