Pollster Yankelovich examines American values; News Rules: Searching for Self-Fulfillment in a World Turned Upside Down, by Daniel Yankelovich. New York: Random House. $15.95.

If Americans are no longer willing to abide by a traditional ethic of self-denial or by a trendy ethic of self-indulgence, where are the rules to point the way to the good life, asks pollster Daniel Yankelovich. This question is the guiding theme of "New Rules," an ambitious, it uneven, exploration of American society at a turning point.

Yankelovich hopes his book will be as much a cultural benchmark for our time as "The Lonely Crowd" or "The Organization Man" were for the '50s, but he is unequal to the task. This is not only because the author is not quite in the same league with David Riesman or Willaim R. Whyte but also because the times still seem so muddled.

The traditional American credo, according to Yankelovich: "I will work hard, defer my gratification, swallow my frustrations, love my spouse and family, and, in return. I will receive a steady and increasing income, a house in the suburbs, a loving family, and the respect of my community. "Each component of this "giving/getting compact" that served Americans so well in the affluent postwar period from roughly 1945 to 1975 now is under attack, Yankelovich asserts.

Basing his comments on data from national polls, including his own, and on-in-depth interviews. Yankelovich documents a surprising change in attitudes across the country. Currents of thought that were avantgarde in the '60s and ' 70s, he believes, have spread among even outwardly conventional people in little noticed but significant ways. Formerly sacrosanct views of marriage and family, women's roles, work, and leisure time, money, and security are under challenge everywhere.

Self-fulfillments is the new buzzword. Yankelovich finds, but not in the selfish "me- first" spirit of the human potential movement. A new understanding of the human need for self-expression is being linked to an older appreciation of commitment to the community and loved ones.Hence, he believes, a cultural revolution blending the best of the old and the new is under way.

The trouble. Yankelovich notes, is that this cultural shift comes just at the moment when the American economy is on the kids. While the self-assertive psychologies are insisting the future is in your hands, it's actually being held hostage to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Fewer jobs, declining foundation money, ever-rising inflation all take away options for finding more interesting work and having extra cash for exploring new life styles.

One of the virtues of "New Rules" is its grounding in the bedrock of economics. Unlike Maxine Schnall's "Limits: A Search for New Values," [also reviewed on this page]. Yankelovich sees the economy's sluggishness as an important cause of the new "ethic of commitment" to people and causes larger than ourselves.

Yankelovich respects the optimism and drive for achievement implicit in the human potential movement. And he notes that the theme of self-improvement has an honorable history in American culture (from Ben Franklin to Dale Carnegie and beyond). But he warns, without some transcendence of the solitary "me," without a measure of altruism the search for self-fulfillment can never rise above self-indulgence. In the mirror he holds up we see nothing very startling at all.

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