My web colleague John Reilly has a bit on his site about societal decadence that is particularly good. John says:
Regarding the apparent collapse of the attempt by the Obama Administration to reform the American medical industry, Jacques Barzun's historical survey From Dawn to Decadence best sums upwhat the failure says about the current state of American politics. To quote from my own review:
Barzun laconically informs us that late medieval Europe was a "decadent" society. I myself had thought that Richard Gilman had permanently retired that word with his study "Decadence: The Strange Life of an Epithet," but Barzun may persuade readers that "decadence" is neither a moral category nor a bit of implicit vitalism. Rather, Barzun says, the term "decadent" may properly be used of any social situation that is blocked, where people entertain goals for which they will not tolerate the means. Decadent societies tend to become labyrinthine in both their cultures and their styles of government, as people create small accommodations within a larger, admittedly unsatisfactory context. Decadent periods can be sweet, as Talleyrand remarked of pre-Revolutionary France, but partly because they are obviously ephemeral.
The era of sweetness has passed, alas, but the Mexican standoff continues.
The decadence here is of various sorts and agents, not all of them connected with the health issue. Any party that would nominate Martha Coakley to run for a symbolically important Senate seat must be suspected of nipping at the absinthe.