Trickle-Down Decadence

I think Anthony Esolen has captured what Dinesh D'Souza meant to say in his latest book, but got side-tracked into quasi-defending a hateful ideology. With respect to D'Souza's thesis justifying extremist hatred for the West, I agree with VDH, who writes:
All these who fault us for some such sin—imperialism, Zionism, decadence, Christianity, or atheism—seem to be saying that unless ‘my vision of America is realized, I have no commonality with the America that doesn’t listen to me.’
Wahabists have always been beheading people, even before the US existed, and certainly before we were corrupt; any or no excuse will serve. Nevertheless, this is also true.
The most bountiful alms that the rich can give the poor, apart from the personal donation of their time and means, are lives of virtue to emulate. It is their duty. But when they use their means to buy off the effects of vice, or, worse, to celebrate it, that is an offense against those whom Jesus called “little ones,” and no amount of almsgiving can lighten the millstone.
Esolen makes an important distinction, I think. The Left tends to assume that the wealthy deliberately exploit the poor as an act of malice; usually not, as in this example:
I’m not sure whether the Romans arranged it so that the end of the sewer line would be located in the poor quarter. More likely, it became the poor quarter because people don’t want to live near a sewer, and will spend money to avoid it.
But it is nevertheless incumbent on the rich not to unduly burden the poor --particularly as regards moral matters. His argument:
The rich can afford their vices, for a time anyway; the poor have no such margin for comfort. They are, in fact, endangered by the vices of the rich. I don’t simply mean that the rich man can extort his will from the poor, or wield the law as a club to keep the poor man in his place.
That's what the Hollywood always focuses on (think Erin Brockovich); it never looks at the beam in its own eye:

He can do worse: He can infect the poor man with his vice, and that may be the quicker way to destroy him. That’s because the rich set the example for the poor. Their vices attain celebrity; a Casanova or a Don Juan sets the petty rakes of a nation to school.

Now the rich can buy their way out of entanglements. They can raise a bastard child, or bribe an offended lady. Their powdered periwigs and snuffboxes and civet can cast the sweet air of civilization over their ruffian ways; their very debaucheries can sparkle.

But when the poor emulate them in vice, as they emulate them in most things, the result is disaster: not a man at the club, mooching a claret from his friends, but a man in the ditch, or behind bars.

Surely that bears further reflection? Esolen says the poor teach us what our vices mean, stripped of their disguises:
Some ;-)s vie to appear in the pages of People or Cosmopolitan or Entertainment Weekly; the more honest ;-)s walk the street. Those we lock up, yet we shell out good money to buy our daughters all the gear and tackle and trim of that old profession.

consider the fashionable cruelty defended in the coffee shop: I mean the New York Times, or NPR, or a faculty lounge. Let the offspring die. Grandma wouldn’t have wanted to last like this. We have to take into account the welfare of everybody. It’s a clump of cells. It’s a vegetable. It’s an it.
Isn’t that the same cruelty staring at us from the violent lyrics of the street?

If you see a young man from one of our own Esquiline districts, with pants sagging two feet beneath his torso and face studded with pins and trinkets, looking for all the world as if only his lack of ambition prevents him from slipping a knife into someone’s back, you should consider him an excellent student. He has learned the slack self--gratification that the rich and the middle class have taught.

Ultimately Esolen is reminding us not to be materialists --materialism, as I'm fond of repeating, being not a matter of possessing material, but of thinking it's all that exists or matters. Sin & virtue turn out to matter to the Republic after all.