Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 September 2020
This chapter surveys how Decadent writers engaged with contemporary politics. It defines the Decadents as anti-modernists drawn to modernity in literary form but deeply resistant to modernity in social and political life. Like other anti-modernists they channelled their frustrations into dreams of idealized pasts or utopian futures and like them they fulminated loudly against the prevailing order. The chapter considers Decadent engagements with politics in terms of three key examples: the use by writers in the movement of tropes from the tradition of republican political theory; their enthusiasm for elite, underground and countercultural communities like the eighteenth-century libertines that provide historical alternatives to contemporary politics; and recurrent images of crowds, political protest and political forms of writing (like the manifesto) in their works, which comment more directly on the age. The chapter argues that Decadent writing arose from and responded to the politics of its historical moment, one rife with real and imagined political disorder and one that demanded the imagination of alternative possibilities for expression and association.