Peter Viereck
Born5 August 1916
Died13 May 2006 (aged 89)
Occupation(s)Poet and professor
ParentGeorge Sylvester Viereck
Academic background
EducationHarvard University (BA, MA, PhD)
Academic work
Main interestsPoetry, politics

Peter Robert Edwin Viereck (August 5, 1916 – May 13, 2006) was an American writer, poet and professor of history at Mount Holyoke College. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1949 for the collection Terror and Decorum.[1][2] In 1955 he was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Florence.


Viereck was born in New York City, the son of George Sylvester Viereck. He received his B.A. summa cum laude in history from Harvard University in 1937. He then specialized in European history, receiving his M.A. in 1939 and his Ph.D. in 1942, again from Harvard. Viereck was prolific in his writing from 1938. He published collections of poems, some first published in Poetry Magazine. He won the annual Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1949 for the collection Terror and Decorum.[1][2] In 1955 he was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Florence.

Viereck first taught during 1946–1947 at Smith College. In 1948 he joined the faculty at nearby Mount Holyoke College, also a women's college in Massachusetts. He taught history for nearly fifty years. He retired in 1987 but continued to teach his Russian history survey course there until 1997.

Viereck died on May 13, 2006, in South Hadley, Massachusetts after a prolonged illness.


Viereck in the 1940s was an early leader in the conservative movement but by 1951 felt that it had strayed from true conservatism. This is reflected in his review of William F. Buckley's God and Man at Yale, The New York Times, November 4, 1951). In April 1940, Viereck wrote an article in the Atlantic Monthly ("But—I'm a Conservative!"[3]), 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.[4]

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. —Tom Reiss[5]

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 Sen. Joseph McCarthy ... —Chicago Tribune[6]

According to Tom Reiss, Viereck was right, as he wrote in Conservatism Revisited (1949), that 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'."[5] In a review 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?[7]

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

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.[8]

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.[5]



In Poetry Magazine

Poetry collections

Intellectual history

Select articles


  1. ^ a b c "Poetry" Archived 2016-01-04 at the Wayback Machine. The Pulitzer Prizes Retrieved 2013-11-12.
  2. ^ a b "Modern Timeline of Poetry" Archived 2006-01-05 at the Wayback Machine, University of Toronto
  3. ^ "found at". The Atlantic. April 1940. Archived from the original on 2006-03-15. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  4. ^ American History Timeline. Middlesex University London (evidently collegiate study materials). Archived May 17, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ a b c Reiss, Tom (October 24, 2005). "The First Conservative" Archived 2006-06-15 at the Wayback Machine. The New Yorker.
  6. ^ "Chicago Tribune obituary". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 2023-01-20. Retrieved 2006-05-21.
  7. ^ Viereck, The New York Times, November 4, 1951
  8. ^ Viereck, Conservatism Revisited (Collier Books, 2nd edition), pp. 149-51.
  9. ^ Brinton, Crane. "Metapolitics: From the Romantics to Hitler," The Saturday Review, October 4, 1941.
  10. ^ Jacques Barzun, review in Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 3, no. 1 (Jan. 1942), pp. 107-110, with a reply by Peter Viereck
  11. ^ Includes an essay by Thomas Mann on the romanticism and Richard Wagner chapters.
  12. ^ Bundy, McGeorge. "Return to Metternich," The Reporter, October 11, 1949.
  13. ^ Bruun, Geoffrey. "A Defense of Metternich," The Saturday Review, October 15, 1949.
  14. ^ MacDonald, Dwight. "Conservatism Revisited," Archived 2015-09-20 at the Wayback Machine New Republic, November 13, 1949.
  15. ^ Federici, Michael. "Revisiting Viereck," Archived 2012-07-09 at the Wayback Machine The University Bookman, Volume 44, Number 3, Summer 2006.

Further reading