For Ronald Reagan, nothing apparently is too much by way of a salute to Gen. George C. Marshall on the 40th anniversary of the European economic-recovery plan. On behalf of Persian Gulf security, and whatever else on the agenda seems appropriate, Reagan says he will invoke the memory of the Marshall Plan at this week's Venice summit meeting of the West's seven leading industrial nations.

That's not just a bad analogy exploited for a murky purpose. It borders on blasphemy, when you think back on Marshall and all there is to be learned about the constructive conduct of American foreign policy from those golden postwar years. It is also a bleak commentary on the capacity of the Reagan administration, even in its supposedly reformed condition, to learn from the past -- or even from recent experience.

Leave aside the question of whether these annual seven-nation gatherings are a useful format for substantive accomplishment. They rarely stick to their professed preoccupation with economic problems, and even more rarely accomplish anything when they stray into politics or national security. And this year's extravaganza brings together a larger than usual number of lame or limping ducks.

Japanese Prime Minister Nakasone is not likely to last beyond October; the Italian prime minister is a caretaker pending new elections; the French team of arch-rivals, socialist President Mitterrand and conservative Prime Minister Chirac, may well be running against each other in next year's presidential elections. The senior participant, Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, will be on hand for only a one-day photo opportunity before returning to face the British electorate on Thursday.

With Canada's Mulroney and West Germany's Kohl both weakened by political difficulties at home, there wouldn't be much for a lame-duck U.S. president to work with even if Ronald Reagan had a purpose that would put you in mind of the Marshall Plan.

At the risk of wallowing in nostalgia for good old policy-making that may be beyond recapturing, the story of that great venture is still worth recalling. There may still be lessons in how a fiercely partisan Harry Truman and an exceptional group of talented public servants managed to put together, in collaboration with a hostile, Republican-controlled Congress, an inherently controversial program for the reconstruction of a devastated, demoralized Europe.

The Marshall Plan was to lead to an Atlantic alliance and a collective defense system against the Soviet threat. It was to include World War II enemies as well as allies. But there was no such sense of unity or common purpose, and no sure solution for the disintegrated European economies when Marshall and the Dean Achesons and Will Claytons and Charles Bohlens and the others around took up the business of rebuilding postwar Europe.

Almost everything in the way they went about their work is in striking contrast to, say, Ronald Reagan's launch-without-warning of his ''Strategic Defense Initiative'' (Star Wars); the wild, freewheeling arms-control negotiations at the Reykjavik summit with no show of concern for the anxieties of allies; the administrative shambles and apparent scandals unfolding in the congressional revelations of Reagan administration policymaking in the Iran/contra mess.

George Marshall stood for order, high standards of performance, utter integrity. While freely entertaining sharply differing views, by his very presence he commanded loyalty to decisions once they were made. There were no self-serving ''leaks'' in advance of his famous Harvard commencement speech, which was itself studiously low-key. As Acheson recalled, ''He {Marshall} knew that the attention paid to what he would say that day would not be affected by the techniques of publicity.''

In every aspect, consensus was carefully built as the plan, in all its staggering dimensions, took shape. There was no dramatic offer to the desperate Europeans -- only an invitation, and an incentive, for them to get together and come up with a proposition that the U.S. public and Congress could not refuse.

There was no blustering, anticommunist breast-beating: Marshall personally struck out a reference to ''the communist threat'' from the final draft of the speech that gave the plan his name.

Perhaps there is nothing about the Marshall Plan that is strictly applicable to American foreign policy today. But the substance of the matter is not the point. The model is to be found in the way it was brought about -- the quality and the character of those who did it, their spirit and their style.