This paradox needs to be overcome, not just so that America may listen to the world, but also so that the world may learn from the best of America. For one of the great ironies of our time is that just when the American experiment is more relevant to the world than ever before, America is in danger of alienating the world and cutting herself off from the source of her own greatness.

For all the vaunted parallels, the United States is not Rome, and she will not "fall" with twenty-first-century Visigoths rampaging down Pennsylvania Avenue. That is to confuse the "fall" of the Roman republic with the fall of the Roman Empire and to fail to recognize how Americans themselves are already the destroying vandals of their own heritage.

Nor is the United States Europe, and Americans will not follow the European path. But just as the collapse of European civilization was so cruelly exposed in the two World Wars and long prefigured in the warnings of Jacob Burckhardt and others, so America's writing on the wall is evident to those who are watching now. Nearly a hundred years ago, the world's last great empire, from whom Americans won their freedom and whom they have succeeded, was almost undone through a foolish policy of appeasement ("peace, peace, when there was no peace"). America's problem today is different but equally perilous: a general complacency bred of long prosperity and recent supremacy in world affairs ("All is well, all is well, when all is not well"). It is time to wake again.

Os GuinnessOs Guinness (D.Phil., Oxford) is the author or editor of more than twenty-five books, including The American Hour, Time for Truth and The Case for Civility. A frequent speaker and prominent social critic, he was the founder of the Trinity Forum and has been a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and a guest scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Studies. He lives near Washington, D.C.