A few years back Ross Douthat published an interesting book titled The Decadent Society: How We Became Victims of Our Own Success. The thesis of Douthat’s book is simple: American society is stagnant. Our blockbusters and our books are remakes from the ’80s; our political coalitions and political programs all date back to the 1970s; even the technological progress we have seen over the last three decades pales in comparison to the revolutions that occurred in the decades before. We may celebrate “change agents” but we no longer have any. America is stuck in what Douthat cleverly labels an “eternal recursion to 1975.”
My essay “On Life in the Shadow of the Boomers” was written in response to The Decadent Society. It was mostly focused on the cultural angle of Douthat’s thesis. Douthat’s claims of technology are downstream the arguments of the Thielites. I assessed their arguments in the essay “Has Technological Progress Stalled?” Between these two pieces you see my general take on Douthat’s thesis: his assessment of American cultural and political stasis is broadly correct, but he overstates how unusual stasis is in American history. Political and cultural transformation occurs via a sort of punctuated equilibrium (see also my essay “Culture Wars are Long Wars”) and we just happen to be living at the tail end of an equilibrium phase.
On the other hand, Douthat understates the true scope of technological stagnation. Nothing the internet has delivered remotely compares with the transformation of human civilization that occurred during the second industrial revolution. In 1975 technological change was the most important facet of American life. It is no longer.
Were Wang Huning to read Douthat’s book, I suspect he might agree with me.
Two years ago I ran a small reading group that met over zoom. Our reading topic: Leninism. Curious about the claims that modern Chinese politics are an outgrowth of Marxist ideas and practice yet feeling insufficiently familiar with the Leninist political tradition to properly judge its influence on contemporary Chinese politics, I organized a group of China-watching politicos to read both classic Marxist texts and historical studies of the Soviet Union and Maoist China.
Last week Mary Harrington published a long interview with Peter Thiel in the online magazine Unherd. Much of her article centers on Thiel’s conviction that meaningful technological progress stopped a good half century ago. This view is not unique to Thiel. In many ways it is the starting point for the entire “Progress Studies” movement. The Thielites and the Progress Studies folk take this shared premise to different end points, but both deem scientific inertia as the defining feature of the 21st century. Both also see technological and material stagnation as the root source of myriad ills tearing at America’s social fabric.
Here is Thiel’s description of the problem, as written up by Harrington:
The Lowy Institute has a published an interactive debate titled “China and the Rules-Based Order.” I participated in the debate and wrote two small essays as a part of it. All participants were asked to describe the nature of Sino-American competition, Chinese intentions for the future of the “world order” and any possibilities for a […]
Two years ago I translated a major speech of Xi Jinping’s for the magazine Palladium. This translation was well received and has since been quoted both in Congressional testimonies and international editorial pages. I am generally pleased with this. So are the editors of Palladium. They approached me a few months ago wondering whether I […]
Ending his decade of silence, the voice of Marc Andreessen rises from the dust, trumpeting forth a rousing cri de coeur: “It is time to build.” Andreessen’s essay has got a lot of play in certain circles, and it generated many responses. The general rule for those galvanized by Andreessen’s call to action is to […]
Image Source Danger is part of the friction of war. Without an accurate conception of danger we cannot understand war. —Clausewitz, On War (c. 1825) Over the last month or so we have had a few raucous discussions about Taiwan and its future here at the Scholar’s Stage. In these comment threads I have expressed […]
When prompted to think about the way hackers will shape the future of great power war, we are wont to imagine grand catastrophes: F-35s grounded by onboard computer failures, Aegis BMD systems failing to launch seconds before Chinese missiles arrive, looks of shock at Space Command as American surveillance satellites start careening towards the Earth–stuff […]
Earlier this year I wrote that the Chinese do not want our liberal, rules-based order. How America should respond to this rejection was a question I left open. This week, however, in a long two-book review essay published over at Strategy Bridge, I have returned to the question. The two books under review are Lyle […]
Image Source. On the recommendation of Tyler Cowen I picked up Taggart Murphy’s book Japan and the Shackles of the Past. This book has impressed me; there are enough interesting ideas in it to make up several different posts. But today I’ll limit myself to one thought provoking excerpt: By the fall of 1989, all this […]