Lipton’s Journal/February 1, 1955/422
Decadence. I wonder if it isn’t generally misunderstood, especially because decadent periods are periods dangerous to society. A decadent time always follows a prosperous time, that is, the decadence appears first in ideas, art-works, fashions, etc. and is only then followed by economic crisis, or a political reaction, or by revolution. But decadence is the natural, even inevitable growth which follows prosperity, and I believe it comes into being because the abstract social contract is no longer pressing; relatively—to its time—the mood to quit it has come.
So a concern with man as a thing in himself, rather than the concern with man-in-and-of-society is the result. But society always underlines such attempts as perverted, and so they can only appear in degraded forms. The inquiry about man becomes expressed by homosexuality (always seen and understood by Everybody to be the real meaning of the word decadence) artistic experimentation which leads nowhere, or seems to lead nowhere, bisexual fashions in dress, distrust of power, anxiety of statesmen, feelings of general impotence, and increase in hatred and disrespect of the lower classes for the upper classes, a mood of doubt, a refinement of comedy, and perhaps most significant a cutting across categories, so that hybrid arts like opera, or today—bebop—are born.
Until now it has been impossible for what I believe have been the genuine and indeed highest probing of the human spirit—occurring precisely in the period of decadence—to gain acceptance or energy. Society is threatened, the time is not yet to dissolve the social contract, and so all theforces are whipped up again. But the period of decadence we are in now is of the most profound sort. For what characterizes decadence is that it occurs more powerfully and for longer duration each time it appears, and each time the process of destroying it is less complete and more difficult.
The real soul of man, I suspect, has always come closest to expression in decadent periods, but the expression was always degraded. There will come a time perhaps when a decadence less degraded will to everyone’s amazement produce the greatest flowering.