I have been reading James Bowman's lovely new book, Honor: A History. I highly recommend it. And beyond that book, I think there's a lot of merit in the genre of which it is a distinguished part - the inquiring essay into a moral virtue such as honor - an inquiry that cuts across disciplines of philosophy, literature, art, psychology, history, and so on.
In somewhat similar fashion, I have been wondering about the concept of decadence. Is it possible to give a conceptual account of decadence that does none of the following:
- Treats decadence merely as a synonym for indulgence, i.e., does not give any more interesting intellectual history or conceptual weight.
- Treats decadence merely as nothing more interesting or compelling than what an older generation, grown curmudgeonly, inevitably complains about in the shifting mores of the younger generation.
- Collapses, in giving an account of decadence while rejecting it, into rightwing authoritarianism - disciplined, yes, but not infrequently facist.
What would an account of decadence look like if it avoided all three temptations - indulgences, one might say - listed above? Can there be a general account of decadence in that sense?
(My thanks to Nathan Wagner for his thoughtful comments.)