Decadence revels in an excess of sensual pleasure which may be obtained through alcohol, drugs, sex, risk or violence or foul language. It may result from a tolerant attitude in society, lack of religious or moral conviction, lack of legislation or law enforcement, corruption or general social stress. It may also result in disease, death and social disintegration. Decadence in art and in other aspects of culture has been theorized to be caused by a racial, genetic decay, hence the term 'degeneracy'.
Decadence is said to have been a cause of the fall of the Roman Empire. Decadence in the sense of aestheticism, homosexuality, alcoholism and drug taking was noted in western Europe at the end of the 19th century. In the first half of the 20th century, Nazism decreed the degeneracy of Cubism, Fauvism, Dada, Surrealism and other styles, also Jazz, Serial 12 tone music, and Bauhaus design.
Modern decadence has been attributed particularly to industrialized capitalist countries; but it also occurs in the sense of juvenile delinquency, alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual license and bureaucratic and party functionary indulgences in eastern European countries and the USSR.
Decadence and degeneracy are polemical terms used to denigrate changes and experimentation in behaviour and creative expression. No proof that a society can decay or a race degenerate has ever been offered, and the so-called decline and fall of the Roman Empire is considered by many scholars as merely a semantic invention.