FORTUNE'S CHILD: A Portrait of the United States as Spendthrist Heir by Lewis H. Lapham (Franklin Square: $12.95; 253 pp.). Although written two decades ago, these essays by the editor of Harper's lamenting the absence of responsible citizenship in the U.S. have a disturbingly contemporary tone. Lapham argues that because Americans remain stubbornly ignorant of history, they expect to have their way in all things. He draws a withering portrait of Nelson Rockefeller as the ultimate arriviste and a tongue-in-cheek account of his visit to the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, but fails to see the threat posed by challenges to First Amendment. Lapham dismisses California as the embodiment of selfish dissatisfaction, comparing the state to "summer or the Christmas holidays. The unhappy children think they're supposed to be having a good time, and they imagine that everybody else is having a better time."