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Peter Robert Edwin Viereck (August 5, 1916 – May 13, 2006), was an American Pulitzer Prize-winning 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, 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, again from Harvard.



Poetry and scholarship

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 [3] 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?

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 1960's 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]


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".


Most likely, the oft-repeated assertion that "Anti-Catholicism is the anti-Semitism of intellectuals" is just the paraphrased Viereck's statement that "Catholic-baiting is the anti-Semitism of the liberals". [9]



Published in Poetry Magazine

  • "Graves Are Made to Waltz On," Volume 56, July 1940, Page 185
  • "Sonnet for Servants of the Word," Volume 68, September 1946, Page 302
  • "Vale," from Carthage, Volume 70, July 1947, Page 182
  • "Five Theological Cradle-Songs," Volume 71, December 1947, Page 115
  • "Better Come Quietly," Volume 71, December 1947, Page 115
  • "Why Can't I Live Forever?," Volume 71, December 1947, Page 115
  • "Blindman's Buff," Volume 71, December 1947, Page 115
  • "Game Called on Account of Darkness," Volume 71, December 1947, Page 115
  • "Hide and Seek," Volume 71, December 1947, Page 115
  • "A Sort of Redemption," Volume 72, August 1948, Page 238
  • "Elegy to All Sainthood Everywhere," Volume 72, August 1948, Page 238
  • "Love Song of Judas Smith," Volume 74, August 1949, Page 256
  • "Again, Again!," Volume 80, April 1952, Page 6
  • "Girl-Child Pastoral," Volume 81, October 1952, Page 80
  • "Nostalgia," Volume 82, April 1953, Page 18
  • "Benediction," Volume 85, February 1955, Page 255
  • "A Walk on Moss," Volume 87, October 1955, Page 1
  • "We Ran All the Way Home," Volume 96, August 1960, Page 265 [4]

Poetry collections

Each year links to a corresponding "[year] in poetry" article:

  • 1948: Terror and Decorum, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1949
  • 1949: The Poet in the Machine Age
  • 1950: Strike Through the Mask! New Lyrical Poems
  • 1952: The First Morning, New Poems
  • 1953: Dream and Responsibility: Four Test Cases of the Tension Between Poetry and Society
  • 1954: The Last Decade in Poetry: New Dilemmas and New Solutions
  • 1956: The Persimmon Tree: new pastoral and lyrical poems
  • 1961: The Tree Witch: A Poem and Play (First of All a Poem)
  • 1967: New and Selected Poems: 1932-1967
  • 1987: Archer in the Marrow: The Applewood Cycles of 1967-1987
  • 1995: Tide and continuities: Last and First Poems, 1995-1938
  • 2005: Door: Poems
  • 2005: Strict Wildness: Discoveries In Poetry And History


Select articles

Select scholarship

  • Conservatism revisited: the revolt against ideology / Peter Viereck ; with a major new study of Peter Viereck and conservatism by Claes G. Ryn, 2005 (expanded and revised from 1949).
  • Conservative Thinkers: From John Adams to Winston Churchill, 2005 (revised edition).
  • Unadjusted Man in the Age of Overadjustment: Where History and Literature Intersect, 2004 (revised).
  • Metapolitics : from Wagner and the German Romantics to Hitler, 2003 (expanded ed.).
  • The Unadjusted Man: A New Hero for Americans: Reflections on the Distinction between Conforming and Conserving, 1973.
  • Shame and glory of the intellectuals: Babbitt Jr. vs. the rediscovery of values, 1965.
  • Inner liberty:the stubborn grit in the machine, 1957.


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


  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. ^ Shame and glory of the intellectuals, at Google Books.

External links


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