Peter Viereck

Peter Viereck (1916-2006). Courtesy Wikipedia.

Peter Robert Edwin Viereck (August 5, 1916 – May 13, 2006), was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet and influential political thinker, as well as a professor of history at Mount Holyoke College for five decades.


Viereck was born in New York City, the son of George Sylvester Viereck. He received his B.A. summa cum laude in history in 1937 from Harvard University. He then specialized in European history, receiving his M.A. in 1939 and his Ph.D. in 1942 in history, also from Harvard.

Viereck initially taught at Smith College from 1946-7. He then joined the Mount Holyoke faculty in 1948, and taught there for nearly fifty years as a professor of history. He "retired" in 1987 but continued to teach his Russian history survey course there until 1997. Upon grading the final exams of his students, he would write on the test, "An A- is good, an A+ means you aren't smelling enough flowers." He and the poet Joseph Brodsky would often joke about teaching a course together, "Rhyme and Punishment".

Viereck died on May 13, 2006 after a prolonged illness.

Poetry and scholarshipEdit

Viereck was prolific in his writing, publishing much since 1938. He was a respected poet, who published numerous poetry collections. In addition, a number of his poems were first published in Poetry Magazine. His collection of poetry, Terror and Decorum, won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.[1]


Viereck was an early leader in the conservative movement, but by 1951 was feeling that this movement strayed from true conservatism (see Viereck's review of William F. Buckley's God and Man at Yale, New York Times, November 4, 1951). In April 1940, Viereck wrote an article in the Atlantic Monthly ("But—I'm a Conservative!"[2] ), partly in reaction against the ideologies of his father, George Sylvester Viereck, a Nazi sympathizer:

Peter Viereck's article ... argued for a "new conservatism" to counter the "storm of authoritarianism" in Europe and Moral relativism in the USA. He claimed communism and nazism were utopian and would sanction the murder of oppositions (as in anti-semitism) and that liberalism shared a naive belief in progress and humanity's essential goodness.[3]
Viereck’s essay was deliberately provocative - "I have watched the convention of revolt harden into dogmatic ritual", he wrote of the Marxists who he said presided over campus life—but it also contained a sincere entreaty. Published as the Nazi armies were invading Denmark and Norway, it called for a “new conservatism” to combat the “storm of totalitarianism” abroad as well as moral relativism and soulless materialism at home.[4]

His beliefs are difficult to categorize as they raise questions about what "conservative" really means:

Mr. Viereck's brand of conservatism shunned extremism of either stripe. He was an admirer of the New Deal, a supporter of Adlai Stevenson and an anti-communist who made it clear that he had little use for Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy ...[5]

As Viereck wrote in Conservatism Revisited (1949), he "had 'opened people's minds to the idea that to be conservative is not to be satanic.' But, he said, 'once their minds were opened, Buckley came in.'"[6] In his review (New York Times, November 4, 1951) of Buckley's 1950 book God and Man at Yale, Viereck wrote:

Yet what is [Buckley's] alternative? Nothing more inspiring than the most sterile Old Guard brand of Republicanism, far to the right of Howard Taft. Is there no "selfish materialism" at all among the National Association of Manufacturers as well as among the "New Deal collectivists" here denounced? Is it not humorless, or else blasphemous, for this eloquent advocate of Christianity, an unworldly and anti-economic religion, to enshrine jointly as equally sacrosanct: "Adam Smith and Ricardo, Jesus and St. Paul?" And why is this veritable Eagle Scout of moral sternness silent on the moral implications of McCarthyism in his own camp?(Citation needed)

In 1962, Viereck elaborated upon the differences he saw between real conservatives and those he called pseudo-conservatives. He wrote

... that whole inconsistent spectrum of Goldwater intellectuals and right-radical magazines. Most of them are so muddled they don't even know when they are being 19th-century liberal individualists (in economics) and when they are being 20th-century semi-fascist thought-controllers (in politics). Logically, these two qualities are contradictory. Psychologically, they unite to make America's typical pseudo-conservative rightist ... [Russell Kirk] and perhaps half of the new conservatives are bankrupt ... How can one attribute bankruptcy to a growing concern? Indeed, this new American right seems a very successful concern. On every TV station, on every mass-circulation editorial page, the word "conservatism" in the 1960s has acquired a fame, or at least notoriety, that it never possessed before ... Which is it, triumph or bankruptcy, when the empty shell of a name gets acclaim while serving as a chrysalis for its opposite? The historic content of conservatism stands, above all, for two things: organic unity and rooted liberty. Today the shell of the "conservative" label has become a chrysalis for the opposite of these two things: at best for atomistic Manchester liberalism, opposite of organic unity; at worst for thought-controlling nationalism, uprooting the traditional liberties (including the 5th Amendment) planted by America's founders.[7]

In January 2006 Viereck offered this analysis:

I think McCarthy was a menace ... because he corrupted the ethics of American conservatives, and that corruption leads to the situation we have now. It gave the conservatives the habit of appeasing the forces of the hysterical right ... and appeasing them knowingly, expediently. I think that was the original sin of the conservative movement, and we are all suffering from it.[8]



Main article: Peter Viereck bibliography


  • Terror and Decorum: Poems 1940-1948. New York: Scribner, 1948.
  • Strike through the Mask: new lyrical poems. New York: Scribner, 1950.
  • The First Morning: new poems. New York: Scribner, 1952.
  • The Persimmon Tree (poems). New York: Scribner, 1956.
  • New and Selected Poems, 1932-1967. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1967.
  • Archer in the Marrow: The Applewood Cycles of 1967-1987 (epic poem). New York: Norton, 1987.
  • Tide and Continuities: Last and First Poems, 1995-1938. Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, 1995.


  • Metapolitics: From the Romantics to Hitler. New York: Scribner, 1941.
    • revised as Metapolitics: The Roots of the Nazi Mind. Toms River, NJ: Capricorn Books, 1961; 2nd revised edition, 1965.
  • updated, new edition Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1982.
  • Conservatism Revisited: The Revolt against Revolt, 1815-1949. New York: Scribner, 1949
    • 2nd edition, Conservatism Revisited and the New Conservatism: What Went Wrong?, 1962; 3rd edition, 1972.
  • Shame and Glory of the Intellectuals: Babbitt, Jr. Versus the Rediscovery of Values. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1953.
  • Dream and Responsibility: The Tension between Poetry and Society. Washington, DC: University Press of Washington, 1953.
  • The Unadjusted Man: A New Hero for Americans: Reflections on the Distinction between Conforming and Conserving. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1956.
  • Conservatism: From John Adams to Churchill. New York: Van Nostrand, 1956.
    • revised edition, 1962.
  • Inner Liberty: The Stubborn Grit in the Machine. Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill, 1957.
  • Conservatism from Burke and John Adams till 1982: A History and an Anthology. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1982.


  • The Tree Witch: A Poem and a Play (First of All a Poem) (produced at Harvard University's Loeb Theater). New York: Scribner, 1961.
  • Opcomp: A Modern Medieval Miracle Play, 1993.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[9]

See alsoEdit



  1. "Modern Timeline of Poetry", University of Toronto
  2. found at [1]
  3. American History Timeline
  4. Tom Reiss, "The First Conservative", The New Yorker, 24 Oct 2005
  5. Chicago Tribune obituary [2]
  6. Tom Reiss, "The First Conservative", The New Yorker, 24 Oct 2005
  7. Viereck, Conservatism Revisited (Collier Books, 2nd edition, pp. 149-51)
  8. Tom Reiss, "The First Conservative", The New Yorker, 24 Oct 2005
  9. Peter Viereck 1916-2006, Poetry Foundation, Web, July 9, 2012.

External linksEdit

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