Decadence is often taken to mean a propensity for overindulgence in some pleasure such as food, fashion or sex. But as the French-American academic Jacques Barzun wrote in his history of Western culture From Dawn to Decadence, what it really means is that “the forms of art as of life seem exhausted; the stages of development have been run through. Institutions function painfully. Repetition and frustration are the intolerable result.”

This, according to New York Times opinion columnist Ross Douthat, is where we find ourselves in the developed world today. His ambitious and entertaining book The Decadent Society is rightfully centred around the US and its likeness to a modern-day Rome: a falling, though not yet fallen, superpower.

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