The American Interest
Policy, Politics & Culture
On Decadence

Decadence may be an inevitable outgrowth of modernity, but it doesn’t necessarily presage decline and fall. Liberty, properly understood as based on self-discipline, is the best bulwark against social and moral decay.

Published on August 11, 2013

“D

ecline” we Americans and Westerners mope about daily; “fall” most of us still hope to postpone. Decadence, it would seem, is the mean between the two.

The much-overused decline and fall trope, fixed permanently into our abstract vocabulary ever since Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire took a then-experimentally post-Christian Western Europe by storm, was meant to demonstrate the mortality of all human constructions. Oddly enough, however, Gibbon did it in spite of the Enlightenment’s discovery of progress by retreating to the oldest trope of all—the cyclical, organic metaphor of birth,...