Federally funded amateur psychiatry never quite works, and the latest flyer, which comes to us through the courtesy of the Pentagon, is no exception.

Richard N. Perle, who serves as the Defense Department's assistant secretary for international security affairs, has had the European peace movement on the couch and has rendered a diagnosis of its affliction. It is--are you ready?--"Protestant angst."

Angst, defined by Webster as "a gloomy, often neurotic feeling of generalized anxiety and depression" is the German cousin of "malaise," the French word that then-president Jimmy Carter told us in 1979 was our problem.

Actually, most Americans thought they were suffering from a gas shortage--they were spending much of their time then in filling-station lines--but the Freud in the White House advised us that we were undergoing "a crisis of confidence."

Charging an adversary with neurosis is considered a perfectly good tactic, but Perle, in explaining Europe's inconvenient resistance to nuclear weaponry, got carried away in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

He compared the whining of northern European Protestants with the positive, pragmatic, upbeat approach of southern Europe's Catholics who, he said, were perfectly calm about accepting nukes in the neighborhood. Just a day later, the Italians wrecked his logic by turning out 200,000 protesters in the lovely squares of Florence.

Of course, history will show that Italy was invaded by the northern Protestant virus at one time. The Waldensians, who began peddling their heresy in 1170, made some Italian converts, and possibly it was their descendants who organized the march. And, oh yes, there are the communists, of whom Italy has a larger number than any country in the western alliance.

"I may have spoken too soon," Perle conceded complacently when Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) asked him about the rent in his thesis.

Four leaders of the European peace movement, visiting here this week, said nuclear angst--which can be roughly translated as fear of frying--is not limited to brooding northern sects. They pointed out that the pope has spoken out against the arms race. Possibly, John Paul II's Polish origin would explain his want of spirit for the U.S. position of "peace through strength."

Perle, who is Jewish, is sticking with his main story, which is that Protestant churches have exploited nuclear worries to recruit new members. Their pews were empty, he says, until they hit upon "moralistic" sermonizing about the threat of being blown to kingdom come.

No one from the administration has found it necessary to refute Perle. Even though President Reagan spoke understandingly in his arms control speech, basically the manly fellows running our government consider it absolutely irrational of the Europeans to feel so strongly about being incinerated.

Perle's explanation could offend a lot of Christians here and abroad. Protestants might not appreciate being told that they are being manipulated by dour Calvinists, and Catholics might object to the suggestion that they are too dumb to care about doomsday.

But putting off religious constituencies is something that does not trouble the present regime. Scant attention was paid to Jewish sensibilities on the AWACS fight. Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. is engaged in a running battle with Catholic bishops, who recently declared their opposition to further military aid to El Salvador. Creeping Catholic angst has been ignored. The bishops have announced that they will examine the morality of nuclear war early next year, and Archbishop John Quinn of San Francisco has come out in favor of a California referendum for a U.S.-Soviet freeze on development and deployment of nuclear weapons.

Perle, a hawk who used to work for Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), had a hand in composing the arms reduction proposal being negotiated in Geneva. Representatives of the European peace movement say Reagan's "zero option" is no option at all because the Soviets must give up actual weapons while we merely forswear our prospective 572 new missiles in Europe and do nothing about forward-based weaponry.

Some serious disarmers regard Reagan's proposal, coming after nine months of bellicose rhetoric, as a ploy to undercut the European peace movement and ensure passage of his mammoth defense budget. As a matter of fact, the day after he unveiled it, the House voted for the MX missile because, it was said, to do otherwise would be to "undercut his negotiating position."

Maybe Perle thinks that laying a little guilt on the European peace movement will slow it down. Or is he practicing against the evil day when we might have one here? Possibly, a person might think twice about going out in the street and facing that heavy "Protestant angst" rap.