John Foster Dulles is alive and well and living in the White House. Once again we hear his passionate charge that the Soviet Union is the anti-christ threatening civilization with a pernicious doctrine. The Soviets, we are told by President Reagan and Secretary Haig, are responsible for all our international troubles -- political turmoil in small Latin American countries, turbulence in the Middle East, tribal wars in Africa, and terrorism all over the world. Detente, they imply, is a deceit, strategic arms limitation talks a trap for the unwary. Our only hope is to scar the desert with the MX and mobilize our allies for Armageddon.

So, now once more, we shiver in the icy winds of the Cold War. Diplomacy is for sissies; a resolute America must build more and bigger weapons, while meanwhile arming any regime -- no matter how corrupt or repressive -- that shouts anti-Communist slogans. I strongly suspect there is a White House directive requiring that every administration speech include a denunciation of the evil Soviet Communists.

Such an attitude is not a policy but an obsession. Grotesquely oversimplified, it is also outdated. Whatever the situation 40 years ago, communism is no longer a powerful evangelical force; the gas has gone out of the ideologocial balloon. In the U.S.S.R. today, ideological passion has given way to the need to survive under an inhumane system by graft and deception. Communism is no longer a shining goal; it merely means party control and repression, while the hierarchical levels of advantage and privilege among the apparatchiks mock Marxist claims of equality. Reflecting the residue of genes, culture and politics left behind by the Mongol invasions of the 13th through 15th centuries, the U.S.S.R. increasingly resembles earlier Muscovite empires -- boorish in its habits and manners, expansionist in its hegemonic ambitions and repressive in its methods. But it is no longer the effective center of a world revolutionary drive.

Yet, if the U.S.S.R. has become secularized and hence less bound by doctrine, the Reagan administration is itself falling into rigid doctrinal habits that negate diplomacy and, if continued, could destroy any hope of a diplomatic equilibrium. Our incessant and quite gratuitous hectoring of Moscow is alienating our Western allies and encouraging the emergence of an ominous neutralism. Western Europeans -- particularly the West Germans -- do not view detente as merely an improvement in manners; for them it is an essential precondition to measures that ameliorate a divided Europe's heartbreak.

If our current blindly reckless course worries our European friends, it should worry us fully as much. The administration seems bent on persuading the Soviet Union that it foresees an unlimited arms race and has lost interest in peaceful working relations. At a time when Moscow faces a changing of the guard, the administration's noisy posturing strengthens the hands of the military and other aggressive Soviet factions, while our decision to arm China confirms their alarmist suspicions. Repeatedly overrun from the East and twice in modern times invaded from the West, the Russians pathologically fear encirclement. If we were deliberately to try to incite them to reckless action, our best hope would be to aggravate the Russians' atavistic claustrophobia by threatening a collaboration of their enemies on two fronts.

In its total effect, the administration's current position denies all hope of a better future -- or perhaps any future at all. George Kennan has somberly pointed out that we cannot go on forever perverting every scientific breakthrough to the macabre objective of mutual murder without facing an inevitable catastrophe. We have been luchky so far, for we have not yet blown the world up, but it is statistically absurd to think that such luck can last forever if we do not promptly shift direction.

We can halt the nuclear buildup only by agreement -- unilateral action would be lunacy -- yet the administration seems reluctant even to negotiate. It discloses the fatuity of its thinking by threatening that, if the Soviets should intervene with force in Poland or elsewhere, we would punish them by refusing to negotiate arms limitations. But how can any rational person treat a mutual effort to gain control over the current arms escalation as a favor we confer on the other side? As though it were something we could afford to deny Moscow by way of a sanction? Must we inevitably go on multiplying our capacity for overkill until some unlucky phasing of the moon leads to the ultimate explosion?

Equally imperative are urgent measures to stop nuclear weapons from continuing to fall into the hands of politically unstable nations, any one of which might well shoot off its lethal bomb in a moment of panic or revolutionary insanity. And then what? No one knows. But we can be sure that once such an action occurred the world would never be the same again.

Checking nuclear proliferation and coming to grips with the arms race are necessarily intertwined. Not only is progress on SALT an express condition of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but we cannot expect others to show restraint if we do not practice it ourselves. With the installing of the Mitterrand government in France, the time is right for a prompt mobilization of the nuclear-producing nations toward tighter non-proliferation arrangements. It could be our last chance.