Communists would also attack the capitalist countries for their decadence, and "degenerate" modernist artists and composers were persecuted under Stalin. For some communists the collapse of the decadent West seemed inevitable; instead the decadent prospered while most communism petered out and Nazism was crushed.
Today the cries of decadence come often from Islamists, revolted by the easy sexuality and indulgent alcohol use of the West. One of the key minds behind modern radical Islamism, Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, was exposed personally to the excesses of Western secularism and racism during two years in the US, from 1948 to 1950. Qutb attended a church social in Colorado that appalled him:
The dance hall was illuminated with red, blue and a few white lights. It convulsed to the tunes of the gramophone and was full of bounding feet and seductive legs. Arms circled waists, lips met lips, chests met chests, and the atmosphere was full of passion.
Decades later, the Islamists have little to boast about while the values of the decadent West have spread ever further. Industrialisation, democracy, social liberalism and mixed markets have shifted east and south with the collapse of communism: the decadent, it seems, are tenacious. American philosopher Robert Pirsig wrote in Lila: An Inquiry into Morals about the problems inherent to restrictive conservatism and illiberal radicalism:
...a ruthless, doctrinaire avoidance of degeneracy is a degeneracy of another sort. That's the degeneracy fanatics are made of. Purity, identified, ceases to be purity. Objections to pollution are a form of pollution.
Americans like to talk about all their freedom but they think it's disconnected from something Europeans often see in America: the degeneracy that goes with the Dynamic. It seems as though a society that is intolerant of all forms of degeneracy shuts off its own Dynamic growth and becomes static. But a society that tolerates all forms of degeneracy degenerates. Either direction can be dangerous.
It's an extremely destructive form of degeneracy of the sort seen in the Manson murders, the Jonestown madness, and the increase of crime and drug addiction throughout the country. In the early seventies, as people began to see this, they dropped away from the movement, and the Hippie revolution, like the intellectual revolution of the twenties, became a moral rebellion that failed.
Liberty, open to degeneracy and decadence, may be the only route to wealth. Those countries open to prostitution, alcoholism and shallow consumerism may also be those creating great art and architecture, technology and trade. So when I hear radicals talking about the decadence of their enemy, I feel a little relieved. The decadent, after all, usually win.