HERMAN KAHN clearly feels betrayed. It is all very well for Americans to be on this "quality of life" kick, to start agonizing about the sufficiency of global resources, to get neurotic about pollution, to talk airily about zero-growth. Americans of the intellectual leisure class have been contemplating their navels and talking to their shrinks for a long time now without its doing all that much harm to General Motors or the military machine. But when Kahn's favorites, the Japanese, get stricken with the same disease, lose the sense of meaning and purpose which economic growth once gave them, start talking "aesthetics, happiness, hedonism and so on," unmindful of the old values of "character, loyalty, discipline, religious issues, service to the community" - when that malaise begins to infect "every senior Japanese scholar, businessman, or government official" and wrap the whole nation in a dominant mood of pessimism - that is more serious. Who can then be relied on to fulfill the Kahn prophecies, to show that it is possible, given only an unbounded faith in technology and technocracy, to put two cars in every garage (or nearly every garage at least) and make universal and manifest that "marriage of machine and garden," that combination of technology, affluence aesthetics which ought ot be every society's goal?

"Snap out of it!" is the message of this English version of what was orginally a tract published in Japanese with the rousing title, Japan Can Still Grow! Forward out of Pessimistic Gloom! Recovery from the recession is bound to be slow under any kind of business-as-usual style of economic management because of the large volume of excess capacity in the Japanese economy. What is needed is a Big Push - a 10 to 12 percent growth rate for two or three years to mop up that excess capacity and set the scene for a gentler gearing down of the growth rate later on. The core of the strategy should be a $25 billion-a-year program of public spending on roads and railways, housing, schools and hospitals, financed by bond issues and external borrowing to support a vastly expanded import program. This could create a bandwagon of optimism in the private sector, the sort of sense of nationally "going some place" that got miracles performed for the 1964 Olympics or the 1970 Expo.

It all reads a bit like an OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) plea for the Japanese to do their duty as one of the locomotives that ought to pull us all out of the recession, though no OECD economist would dare to proved his precription with quite the ineffable confidence, not to say arrogance ("rough guidelines: we have not worked out the details") that we have come to expect of the man everyone loves to hate. Which is not, however, to deny that the economic analysis, to this layman, seems to make a good deal of sense.

Kahn obviously believes that our Japanese proteges ought naturally to listen to American advice, follow American models. Where is the marriage of machine and garden best exemplified at present, if not in, say, Beverly Hills?

Ezra Vogel, by contrast, is the prophet of a new age. America is in deep trouble: Japan has been able to tackle a lot of the problems that beset all modern societies rather more successfully than the United States. Perhaps, he suggests, gently but firmly, in full and courageous knowledge that this will, as Edwin Reischauer puts it on the dust-jacket, "blow the minds of many Americans" - and of many of his friends among Japanese intellectuals too - perhaps we should take a look at Japanese society with a view to learning lessons rather than giving advice.

The other major difference between the two books is that Vogel writes from a deep and subtle grasp - both cognitive and empathetic, mind-grasp and heart-grasp - of Japanese society and culture. The Japanese successes he chalks up are first the ingredients and manifestations of the economic miracle: the comprehensiveness and enthusiasm of the information-gathering process; the staffing of the bureaucracy with extraordinarily competent and dedicated professionals; a political system which allows for the orderly and effective channeling of group demands (a "fair share" rather than a "fair play" system); an employment system in large companies which works because it provides a sense of belonging and pride to workers, not because of any mystical group loyalty in the Japanese character; a set of mechanisms by which bureaucracy and business, politicians and the press, settle issues of conflict in mutual respect for each others' positions.

Nor is it only the economic virtues of Japanese society that he holds up as a model for possible emulation. The book also contains skillful accounts of the basic education system and its high quality; of a welfare system that provides care without breeding dependency; of a pattern of medical care which places due emphasis on preventive medicine, a pattern of crime control which has made Japan the one advanced industrial society with declining crime rates. In the final section he summarizes the lessons which America might learn and tries to answer some of the leopards-and-spots arguments for doubting that Japanese institutions are easily transferable.

It is hard to restrain one's skepticism. How would Americans, with their sharpened sense of self, fit into the self-effacing patterns of cooperation which Japanese insitutions require (especially those requiring extra supplies of self-effacement from those at the lower end of hierarchies)? Is it enough to talk of reviving older American communitarian patterns? Maybe. After all, IBM has been a Japanese-style company for longer than any actual company in Japan. Anyway, more power to Vogel for starting old debates on new lines, and may the Lord protect him equally from the enemies it will make him here and from the friends it will make him in Japan.