1.) Assume the decadence of the West makes sense, not in the minimal sense of being the logical outcome of some crazy or hedonistic idea, but in the more robust sense of being an attempt to deal with some fact about the world. This does not rule out other explanations but only looks for that aspect of decadence that makes sense as a response to the world. It also does not attempt to justify or condemn the decadence, but simply to take the first step towards understanding why it made sense to choose it. I claim it makes sense as a defensive infantilism, and I’ll deal with it first as infantilism, then as defensive.
2.) Consider decadence as infantilism:
a.) Consumerism. The only sort of person that can be relied on to want to buy everything they see is a child. Even a shop-till-you-drop parent will be shocked by how much a kid will ask/insist “can we get that? puh-leeeze?”
b.) The sexual revolution. At it’s heart, it’s the limitation of eros to the fact that all the sex you want is fun! Why are the oldsters so uptight about it? The highest reality about eros that can be allowed is that it (often? sometimes?) involves commitment, but even my second grade son (who “got married” at recess in a series of weddings performed by his friend) understands that much. Again, the pornographic depiction of sex – which seems like the ideal world of the sexual revolution – is a fantasy which cannot get beyond infantile fascination with gigantism.
c.) Cult of celebrity. The objects of the cult all have a Peter Pan quality about them: living in a world of perpetual youth, partying like a bunch of kids sneaking out of the boarding school, and primarily skilled at play-acting and make believe.
d.) Primitivism in art. The infantilism of Pollack or Cy Twombley is the easiest to grasp, but all our art tends toward the primitive (pentatonic scales, tonic chords, pictures over text like a child’s book, fascination with potty-language, etc.) It goes without saying that this does not rule out beautiful art, but it does rule out any popular art demanding subtlety of taste, a long attention span, an adult-sized vocabulary, a palate of emotions that goes beyond exuberance, rage, sadness and defiance, etc..
e.) Infantilism of justice. For us, justice is primarily found in (a) identifying a theatrical and almost operatic protestation of injustice (oppression! The total loss of freedom!) then (b) seeking some universal authority to vindicate us (Washington! Bussels! The Constitution!) All of this suggests nothing so much as kids fighting on playgrounds and then tattling their grievance.
3.) Infantilism makes sense as a response to the horror at “the parent”, i.e. at authority and power. The obvious candidate for such a horror is the First and Second World Wars, though these were inseparable from the larger horrors that arose from attempts on the Right to crush moral decadence (Italy, Germany) and attempts on the Left to create collectivist, Utopian, and modern-Mechanical economies (Russia, Cambodia, Vietnam).
Human authority and power is human wisdom, but this wisdom seems to have shown itself to be simultaneously incompetent and too clever for itself. All attempts to make ideal societies, fight just wars, or establish predicable economies have fallen laughably short; but we have been so wildly over successful at creating weapons that any fight between industrialized powers ends up killing soldiers and even whole populations like insects.
Our infantilism is thus our defense against ourselves. It is a Utopian ideal of creating a world too innocent for war. Our systems of education, manners, and political life will promote docility, obedience, close surveillance, confused authority and suppression of masculine energy. All differences between persons that might prove worth fighting over will be villainized with taboos (discrimination!). This collective approach isn’t planned, of course, since it is a response precisely to planned societies. While unplanned, however, it is certainly enforced.