MixedThe Washington PostIt’s disappointing but not terribly shocking that [Douthat\'s] great strengths as a short-form opinion writer, his genius for synthesis and his extraordinary judiciousness, become limiting flaws in his new book ... serious, honest ... There are good objections to Douthat’s tapestry of ennui and exhaustion, and Douthat engages them directly and thoughtfully ... White dudes like him have been moaning about decadence for millennia, usually just before they lead us to war or get their heads vigorously lopped off ... Douthat doesn’t vanquish these arguments so much as graciously acknowledge them, give them their due and then ask us to consider his perspective as well. And he repays our consideration with a glittering stream of associations and distinctions, resonances and rhymes that reinflect the world we thought we knew in fascinating ways ... is rich with insight ... If The Decadent Society is a good book rather than a really good or great one, it is perhaps because it’s too tight, too sane, too controlled ... as brilliant as it is in many ways, is too knowable to be beautiful. Too many of its joints connect too perfectly. Too many of its contradictions resolve neatly rather than quiver poetically in tension. In this sense it is as much a manifestation of decadence as an act of defiance against it.
MixedThe Washington PostIt’s a cold argument, and The Point of It All...has some ice in its veins. The acceptance of human suffering that enables Krauthammer to hypothesize Iraq as a retrospective victory for liberal democracy is rather ruthlessly deployed throughout the collection on behalf of a range of subjects. Krauthammer is hard-faced, in particular, in defense of America, \'mankind’s first-ever universal nation\' ... Krauthammer was also quite warm, even reverential, when he wanted to be. In columns in the new collection he is charming on fatherhood...and much else ... But mostly I find Krauthammer frustrating, a smart man and expert craftsman who lacked the intellectual grit to push at, or through, his own defenses and premises ... He was a facile writer of sentences, an excellent summarizer of ideas and a master architect of the op-ed, which is a notoriously difficult form. But he was a complacent thinker. Krauthammer stopped at the point when things threatened to become too complex or messy ... I think he introspected too little and forgave too much. But it’s worth admitting (as he would not, if he were in my position) that I might be wrong.