IT IS no exaggeration to say that, when I read last week of the fall of the 40th Ilalian government since 1945, the blood raced through my veins. The familiar can offer its own stimulation. After a childhood lived to the sound of the franc falling on the Bourse, as an adult I have been used to that of the fall of Italian governments. Que sera, sera . Fatalism is seductive.

Of course I then gave myself up to the grimmer thoughts of a responsible citizen of the world. Italian terrorism has sometimes seemed to be almost indigenous. The meaning of the Communist control, not only of some of its great cities, but of some of its great enterprises, is hard to decipher accurately. There is still the rankling disparity between the north and the south.

The ruling Christian Democrats, incapable of governing, seem nonetheless irreplaceable. The corruption is appalling. The Communists behave like incorruptible businessmen; the Establishment, like white-tied guttersnipes. How recently the country was united, how fragile the sense of nationhood is. Yet its agriculture and industries are important; that long peninsula is vitally placed; and Europe with no Italians is unimaginable.

Cast one's eyes on one country of Europe, it strays over the borders to another. I have spent a lifetime as an Englishman trying and hoping to imagine Europe with no Frenchmen. C'est impossible . All one can do, in the end, is forgive them. After all, presumably, God does. The French are not meant, of course, to have an amiable man as president. But there it is, they will try any trick.

The responsible citizen in me, again, finds Mitterrand's victory interesting. It is not unimportant that the institutions of the Fifth Republic should show themselves capable of accommodating the change which they were designed to prevent. But how far or deep will the change reach? The political unit of France is really run by three seminars -- the Ecole Nationale Superieure, the Polytechnique and the Ecole Nationale d'Administration -- and what in the end can be achieved in the face of them?

One's eyes stray south to Spain. It has seemed to sleep for centuries: "it's roots in the air," as Ortega once said of his beloved Avila, "its blossoms underground." But twice now its new regime, swiftly and boldly has crushed a rebellion from the right. Can it really be that, among the Spaniards of all people, with the spirit of anarchism in their blood, monarchy has been revived?

But even more important, a lifelong prediction of mine, that Spain would reawaken to its greatness, may now be being enacted. But at this point, my eyes cease to stray across Europe, and return over the Atlantic. I urgently hope that the new administration here is listening to the rublings of discontent in Spain over its policies in Central and South America. They are a warning and a reminder.

With the exception of the French Canadians and the Portuguese Brazilians, the Western hemisphere, almost from pole to pole, is divided between the empires of two languages. As those of Spanish tongue pour even into the United States, it will be well to take seriously the reentry of Spain into history. The inheritance from Spain lies across the Western hemisphere as emphatically as the pink of the British Empire once seemed to spread across the maps of the world. It will not be denied.

I am not suggesting that King Juan Carlos will arrive here like stout Cortez, to stand with his eagles eyes, "Silent, upon a peak in Darien." Neither am I suggesting that, like Napoleon III, he will venture to grab Mexico. Nor that he will reclaim the Louisiana Purchase. I am proposing merely that the ages-long thrusts of Europe are not yet exhausted and need more attention from Americans.

There is something distressingly slender about the impression given in the communiques of any summit meeting between American and European leaders. A lot of talk about arms, some talk about the economy, a flourish of good-will statements, and both sides part; and go on behaving just as before. One always has the feeling that, even if two leaders met, two countries and two continents did not.

I do not wish to sound mystical in this. But the simple fact is that America as well as Europe is a historical creation. Their histories were once broken apart -- by the collapse of the Spanish Empire and the success of the American Revolution -- but they are entangled forever. America is and is not the Europe of the past; Europe is and is not the America of today; and their futures will and will not be the same. This is what summit meetings should be about.

I am not suggesting that the leaders should discuss only "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," although I would feel a little safer if they talked about it at state dinners. Neither am I suggesting that it is necessary that they should exchange views on every paper in "The Federalist." But there is a disabling ignorance, now, in each of the others' histories.

"E pluribus unum ": Such is the United States. Yet one has the feeling that European leaders try to treat with the unum while knowing nothing of the still vital pluribus . But Americans no less have only the sketchiest idea of the ferocity of spirit of the Spanish provinces. There can be no sense of Europe without a sense of Spain; and there can be no sense of Spain without a sense of Catalonia.

And the sense of Catalonia should be burned into the temper of any statesman who thinks now to lead the West as a political force. The Spanish civil war is not over. In each of the three European countries whcih I have mentioned, where significant events have happened in the past couple of weeks, the sectarianism of the parties is crucial and is rooted in history. If nations are to deal with nations, histories must deal with histories.

I could have let my eye roam north: to Belgium, a turbulently divided country in a condition of uneasy peace; to the Netherlands, on the brink of a crisis of identity; to Scandinavia, where everything tells of murky forces gathering; to Britain, unable to join its past to its present; or back to Germany, a country which I have never understood, and so of which I rarely talk.

Yet I believe that a broken Germany breaks the spirit of Europe. I do not see how anyone can go to Berlin and not, in a matter of hours, say that here is the capital of Germany, and part of the guts of Europe. But then one turns back to consider the prospects of the coming election in West Germany, and one wants almost immediately to get out old maps of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation.

How long can we go on denying Prussia? I know that we were instructed in two world wars to have a contemptuous picture of Prussia. (With some reason, at the time, one may say.) I simply wish now that the Ostpolitik of West Germany was understood here not merely in strategic or economic terms lbut as an historically dirven movement which is not to be parleyed away in a few bits and pieces of negotiations.

In the events in Italy and France and Spain in the past few weeks, one felt the historical but undirected energy of Europe. The idiosyncrasy of each nation, the unity of their experience. "Innumerable bees," as Ortega said of Europe, "but a single swarm." In a sweeping but permissible generalizaiton, one may say that Europe was once the Roman Empire, then it was Christendom, then it was a continent, now it is part of the West.

The leader of that West is the United States. For too long America has given slight intellectual, cultural, spiritual, and therefore political, leadership to the concept of the West. We listen to alien voices from the East, like Solzhenitsyn's, chanting over the grave of the West. We do so because America has ceased to be much interested in the complexity of its simultaneous separation from and bond to Europe.

Politics does not just happen. (Certainly, arms don't, effectively, nor economies.) Politics grows out of a dynamic culture. We are approaching the 500th anniversary of one of the most extraordinary years in history. 1492. Spain expelled the Moors from Europe. Columbus sailed for America. So one could add fact to fact . . .

Isabella and Ferdinand were in two years to be given by the pope the title of the Catholic Kings. The Tudors were just establishing themselves in England, to prepare the ground for the first modern state, and so for the Reformation . . . I modestly suggest that every scholar, artist, intellectual in America begin to address himself to this moment. Then they might educate the politicians again.

Europe must join America. America must rejoin Europe.The leadership can come only from this side of the Atlantic. It is not going to come from a man on horseback in California.

Unless he is taught.