DOES EVERY COUNTRY need a nation government that is vigorous, alert and responsive? Italy's voters think not. In this week's elections the government lost a little ground, but the main opposition party, the Communists, lost a lot. The third party, the Socialists, did considerably less well than they had expected. The far right suffered serious losses. It was a vote for note of the above. The winners were the smallest parties, none of them a contender for serious power. The voters seemed to be saying that they don't much care for the present government, but even less do they want any great change or adventuring. It is a mood that is hardly confined to Italy.

Many years ago the Italians turned their politics over to a kind of receivership that, they felt, could at least be trusted not to make large mistakes. That receivership has now been confirmed for another term. The Italian view is that the country does well when it is left to run itself. In most towns the municipal administration is pretty good. As for the great questions of national security and economic growth, they are left to Brussels, where both NATO and the Common Market have their headquarters. Italian political ideas have never been quite in step with those of the rest of Europe. Northern Europeans generally consider the Italians to have lagged behind. But it may turn out, on the contrary, that Italy is a glimpse of the European future.

All of the Common Market's nine nations vote on Thursday and Sunday for the European parliament, the first to be directly elected. Everybody knows that this parliament has very narrow powers. But everybody also knows that, in democracies, directly elected politicians draw power toward them. With this balloting, the structure of Western Europe will begin to change - not immediately, perhaps, but profoundly. In the Northern European countries with their traditions of strong government, most people seem to regard this coming election as decidedly peripheral. In Britain, after last month's national election, it's a mere anticlimax. But for the Italians, with their limited confidence in any national government, it's an occasion filled with hope. Perhaps the prospect of voting at last for a European parliament strengthened their inclination to continue the paralysis in Rome.