Archie would sneer at the allusion as phony highbrow stuff, but reports of his demise recall Macbeth's doleful response on learning of his queen's death. "She should have died hereafter," Shakespeare's tormented old murderer muses aloud on stage after getting the bad news. "There would have been a time for such a word."

CBS shouldn't let Archie Bunker leave us now, either. There would have been a better time.

There are many reasons to mourn Archie's passing, but the timing of his departure seems especially inappropriate. He exits just as the recovery begins, and I, for one, would like to know what Archie thinks about it. I say that because I have long believed that Archie held the key to the present American political puzzle involving such things as the patience factor, the fairness factor, the blue-collar factor, the patriotism factor, the Reagan factor and a few other miscellaneous factors directly affecting our political and economic lives.

With Archie gone, we'll never have the most authoritative word on those subjects. For who else can speak so strongly and directly for the average American?

The one thing you can say about Archie is that he never tried to hide his feelings. He was always, as they say, "up front." You may not have admired his views. In fact, you may well have deplored them. He was, unashamedly, a bigot and a sexist, among other things, and he certainly had no tolerance for welfare chiselers and loafers. Or people on the dole for any reason, for that matter. He also could be, of course, boorish and insensitive. He made no attempt to hide those traits, either.

These were not the attributes that made Archie a quintessential American character although, to be honest, they were part of his Everyman ingredients. Archie was archetypal because of something else. He really believed in the American dream.

Strip away the current dialogue, the dress and manner and way of living, and underneath it all Archie Bunker was a late 20th Century embodiment of Horatio Alger.

Archie, no less than Alger, had a simple but deeply held faith: work hard enough and you will get ahead. Pluck and perseverance will triumph over adversity. Tomorrow will be better than today.

He believed, too, in the inherent virtue of the working man, the average American as noble stiff.

Archie clung to those beliefs through all of the traumatic national events of the long years in which he was a familiar character to tens of millions of Americans, who watched the long-running "All in the Family" and then "Archie Bunker's Place," canceled last week by CBS.

He stood solidly for the war in Vietnam. He scorned the demonstrators, whether for peace or civil rights, and certainly gay rights. He railed against the giveaway government programs. He excoriated the moral decay and sexual permissiveness he saw all around him. He spoke alarmingly about the increasing use of drugs and declining church attendance.

In the process, he found his political loyalties shifting. From his once-unquestioned base among Democrats--"the party of the working man"--Archie drifted into Republican ranks. Like millions of his fellow white male workers, Archie voted for Richard Nixon. When Ronald Reagan came onto the scene, Archie bought his views, too.

Supply-side economics was made to order for Archie. It was, in modern incarnation, merely a restatement of the old Horatio Alger virtues. Just keep working hard, be more productive, save and see your profits grow. Hooray for Reagan.

But something happened to Archie this past year. For the first time in his experience, the script didn't hold true. The old dream wasn't being sustained. Suddenly, Archie found himself facing the unthinkable. Archie Bunker was on the line.

It couldn't be, because Archie had done everything right. Yet there he was, standing alongside the other welfare recipients. All the old values and beliefs about work and thrift and getting ahead seemed to have crumbled. A more bewildered fellow you never met.

News of the end of Archie comes amid increasingly optimistic forecasts about the state of the economy from the soothsayers of Wall Street and corporate America.

Profits are up. Substantially higher second-quarter numbers, to employ the jargon of the Street, are expected. The inflation rate continues to stay low. Interest rates decline. And the big bull market booms along, putting a lot of new wealth into the pockets of a lot of people.

All to the good for Wall Street and investors, at least, but it hasn't trickled down to the Archies of America on Main Street yet. For many of them, it still means being on the line. They are at least as unsure about their futures as they were a year ago, and with good reason. Their place in America remains uncertain.

They were drifting back to the Democrats last fall and rejecting the Reagan prescription of staying on the same course that had thrown them onto the streets. They were beginning to express the old thoughts about the Republicans being the party of the rich and talking about being led by a "rich man's president."

Now how do they feel? How have they been changed by the experience? Have their attitudes been affected? Have their thoughts about Reagan been altered? Has their patience worn thin? Without Archie around to give us clues to these conundrums, how can we possibly get a glimpse of the shape of our political future? And the presidential elections looming before us?

An America without Archie Bunker? Unthinkable.

Come on, CBS. Don't leave us hanging like this. With all the rest of the pap that fills our television screens, let us keep one real-life American drama. At the very least, let Archie play it out through 1984. It's a matter of the gravest national interest.