The massive antinuclear protests that frightened its allies seem to have faded into the past. The country's most severe case of labor strife was resolved peacefully months ago. The economy is making a robust recovery from a long recession, with soaring exports building record trade surpluses.

But despite signs that would evoke relief or self-congratulation in other countries, West Germany still seems lodged in murky self-doubt. Kulturpessimismus, or cultural pessimism, is a phrase that dominates the voices of intellectuals here.

This malaise appears most striking across the political landscape. The stature and influence of major parties, both in and out of power, have never been lower, according to opinion surveys.

A recent poll of 2,100 voters in 377 localities by the Wickert Institute showed that 69 percent of those interviewed held a negative opinion of the major parties. Only 21 percent had a positive view and 10 percent said they were undecided.

The poll results were clearly affected by recent charges of illegal donations, bribery and influence-peddling that have come to light during an investigation of the Flick industrial firm, which reportedly doled out nearly $10 million to political parties during the last decade.

Flick's earlier role in bankrolling Nazi activities and the sordid images of big business corrupting the Weimar Republic reinforced public disgust with the scandal.

But a more profound source of disenchantment may lie with the quality of leadership perceived today across the West German political spectrum, according to academics, commentators and politicians.

From Konrad Adenauer to Helmut Schmidt, postwar Germans have generally felt more secure and comfortable with strong, even arrogant leaders who could invoke a schoolmaster's discipline to carry out unpopular policies.

After two years in power, Chancellor Helmut Kohl should be at the peak of his authority. He survived the storm of antimissile demonstrations and should now be winning credit for a reviving economy.

Yet Kohl's campaign appeal for a "moral and spiritual renewal" after 13 years of Social Democratic-led governments has come to be viewed as a mockery in the wake of personnel fiascos, bungled management and bickering within his center-right ruling coalition.

"Moral turn? Spiritual leadership? One would laugh if it were not so sad," wrote Theo Sommer, editor in chief of the political weekly Die Zeit in a recent commentary.

Kohl, he said, "babbles and obscures, he sits things out and then rides away. Where is the victory he has gained with persuasive power and not just his thick skin?"

The grumbling also extends to Kohl's own party. Bernard Vogel, the Christian Democratic governor of Rhineland Palatinate state, echoed a growing sentiment within the party when he expressed impatience with the "annoying inadequacy" of the government and its record so far.

West Germany's Christian Democratic Party is notorious for being ruthless with its leaders. Chancellor Ludwig Erhard, the father of the country's economic miracle, was dumped from office by the party and there is speculation that Kohl might suffer a similar Kohl's campaign appeal for a "moral and spiritual renewal" has come to be viewed as a mockery in the wake of personnel fiascos, bungled management and bickering within his center-right ruling coalition. fate if mistakes multiply. Party rebels have begun to ruminate about finding a fresh face, such as Finance Minister Gerhard Stoltenberg, to present as an alternative candidate to try to carry the Christian Democrats to an absolute majority in the 1987 national elections.

Some Christian Democrats and members of their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, say their coalition partners, the Free Democrats, face political extinction in the next elections. Polls indicate they would not now receive the 5 percent necessary to be represented in the Bundestag, the major legislative house of parliament.

Franz Josef Strauss, the CSU leader who rarely passes up an opportunity to express his disdain for Kohl's record, is one of the most persistent voices in the conservative coalition warning about the need to find strong leadership.

This would be to protect the German right from the threat of a coalition linking the Social Democrats and the antinuclear, ecology-minded Greens party in 1987.

Those dire assessments, however, may fail to take account of Kohl's remarkable political stamina and the strong loyalties he has cultivated at the grass-roots level of his disparate party since becoming its leader in 1973.

Michael Stuermer, a history professor at the University of Erlangen and a former adviser to Kohl, says his provincial style may seem unsophisticated but it "embodies the best qualities that appeal to lower middle-class Germans."

Unlike the technocrat Erhard, Kohl thrives on political challenges, a trait that has led former chancellor Willy Brandt to admonish his fellow Social Democrats "not to underestimate Helmut Kohl."

One of Kohl's primary strengths derives from the sclerotic leadership of the Social Democrats now that Helmut Schmidt, still the country's most popular politician, has stepped back from politics to assume an elder statesman's role.

Hans-Jochen Vogel, the party's parliamentary leader and losing candidate for chancellor in the 1983 elections, has failed as head of the opposition to give the party a strong, consistent identity that could stand in contrast to the vacillations of the center-right government.

Vogel's reputation for political meekness is also deemed responsible for the party's failure to strike a reconciliation between the moderates and the left wing.

But the gravest long-term threat facing the Social Democrats may be desertion of German youth, who continue to flock to the Greens.

The Young Socialists, who once assured the party of overwhelming popularity in university and intellectual circles, have suffered a dramatic decline in recent years.

From more than 100,000 members in the 1970s, they have fallen to under 25,000 today.

The rush toward the Greens among young people has not been deterred by their organizational chaos and jealous feuding over who will hold positions of power and prominence.

In recent municipal elections in Tuebingen and Stuttgart, the Greens actually displaced the Social Democrats as the second biggest party by capitalizing on public discontent with pollution, high defense spending and the party funding scandal.