It’s strange that a book published in 2021 could already seem outdated, but that’s the case with Andrew Potter’s On Decline: Stagnation, Nostalgia, and Why Every Year Is the Worst One Ever. At fewer than 120 pages, it forgoes argumentation in favor of assertion, which leaves the author’s priors standing on their own. If you don’t happen to agree with those priors, it makes the experience irritating.
We’re told that “the bill for our exploitative approach to the natural world is finally coming due” in the form of climate change, which is happening even faster than we expected (allegedly).”Today the antipathy to reason is found predominantly (though still not exclusively) on the right,” he says (there is no mention in the book of the cultish belief in gender fluidity which has permeated all our major institutions). Cancel culture is acknowledged, but only as a reaction against the trollish provocations of the right. Reactionary populism comes in for a kicking — its characteristics include “the rejection of science and other forms of expertise, hostility toward immigrants [and] hatred of the mainstream media.”
This is what I mean about the book’s outdated feel — who, having witnessed the public health establishment commit reputational suicide in the summer of 2020, would not feel suspicious of experts claiming to speak for science? Who, having read the Twitter files, would not feel a healthy hatred toward the mainstream media? And where have the latest nativist protests against illegal immigration come from? Massachusetts and NYC, those…notorious strongholds of of Trumpist populism? As the old song says, there’s something happening here, and what it is ain’t exactly clear, but it seems evident that the world in which Potter’s version of liberalism made sense is changing fast. Even faster than the climate (allegedly).