Amitai Etzioni {"The New Rugged Communitarians," Outlook, Jan. 20} has created a false and potentially dangerous dichotomy in arguing that a vigilant protection of civil liberties is incompatible with a sense of community.

His attack on the ACLU ignores the lessons of history that led to the Bill of Rights: governments and police forces left unchecked have too often abused and abridged the rights of the people. Nor can majorities be trusted always to respect the rights of religious, political or ethnic minorities. Organizations such as the ACLU or civil rights and feminist groups perform a critical function in strengthening a sense of community by reminding us that civil rights and liberties are indivisible and by arousing our conscience and concern when equal protection of the laws is denied to any segment of the population.

It is disappointing to read that in the name of community, Prof. Etzioni condones "the right of schools to search lockers for drugs without probable cause," for this seems to deny that students too are an important part of our community.

While there have been times when ACLU has gone overboard, it has exhibited far more sensitivity to a sense of community than either the Reagan or Bush administrations. "Read my lips, no new taxes" promotes the idea of each man for himself, with the community -- and future generations -- as the devil who takes the hindmost. Greed, hedonistic individualism, racial polarization and rampant materialism have done far more to undermine community than has the protection of liberties. Callous indifference to homelessness, poverty, inadequate health care, firearm violence, pollution and the AIDS crisis are the legacy of a decade that saw the fragmentation of our society.

There is, indeed, a profound need to restore a sense of responsibility to the community, but the means must be consistent with the end desired. A moral posse of new communitarians impatient with "all the rules and delays of due process" is not the answer.