RICHARD N. PERLE is leaving government service in Washington partly because he wants to write a book, which can be done only from the outside. Otherwise he would be accused of profiting unfairly from public office. But there is more to it than that. He is the latest, but not the last, of the people who came to Washington with Ronald Reagan who are known among those who have worked with them as ideologues and who have had to leave because of overzealousness in some cause or other.
The word ideologue has taken on a special meaning in the Washington of Ronald Reagan. It is applied currently to people who have some special idea about what government should do or seek. The idea is important above all else in their work. They pursue their special goal zealously. They exhibit in their pursuit of their favorite idea an indifference to existing law and the will of Congress.
Anne Burford was in the above sense an ideologue. She was entrusted with environmental protection. She believed so strongly that business interests should take precedence over environmental protection that she was nearly jailed for contempt of Congress. She had to go.
James Watt believed that the national parks, forests, and grange land existed for private profit. He too ignored the will of Congress, and had to go.
Anne Burford and James Watt were ideological about matters domestic. There has been another category of foreign-policy ideologues in the Washington of Ronald Reagan who have had strong influence on policy.
The central idea in Richard Perle's thinking is the eternal enmity of the Soviet Union. He evolved his anti-Sovietism in years of service with former Democratic Sen. Henry (Scoop) Jackson. He became an important member of a special group of people who called themselves ``neoconservatives.'' They were former liberal Democrats who joined the Reagan bandwagon in 1980 because of attitudes toward the Soviet Union. They built their whole foreign-policy approach on the assumption that the Soviet Union really is an ``evil empire'' with which the United States can find no common ground.
The neoconservatives have favored an economic blockade of the Soviet Union, a massive arms buildup, support for anticommunist movements anywhere, and the shunning of agreements of any kind with the Soviets. They have opposed new arms control agreements and favored breaking out from under existing SALT I and SALT II agreements and the terms of the ABM Treaty.
Richard Allen, the first National Security Council assistant to President Reagan, was a neoconservative. So was Jeane Kirkpatrick, his first-term ambassador to the United Nations. She is remembered in Washington for rationalizing a moral difference between authoritarian dictatorships (on our side) and totalitarian dictatorships (on Moscow's side). She believed in close and friendly ties to white South Africa in spite of apartheid.
Richard Perle has been assistant secretary of defense for international policy since 1981. From the fulcrum of that post he has waged political battle against all proposals for doing business with the Soviets. He is respected for political astuteness and is known at the State Department as ``the prince of darkness.''
On the record Mr. Perle is leaving of his own volition. Yet the fact is that he is out of tune with the new White House of Howard Baker Jr. There is a summit with Mikhail Gorbachev in the minds of the new team at the White House. And there is a possibility of some resolution of the quarrel with Nicaragua by means other than the contras.
The trend in the White House is toward pragmatism in both domestic and foreign policy. The Reagan administration has gradually shed its ideologues of both domestic and foreign variety. The most extreme of all was probably Patrick Buchanan. He went out as Howard Baker came in. There are others of the Perle persuasion left. Elliott Abrams, over at the State Department, is a neoconservative who has supported the contra cause so zealously that he is now in trouble for pursuing a policy in defiance of Congress. When Perle leaves, Mr. Abrams cannot be far behind.