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Peter Viereck Profiled in New Yorker

Posted: October 25, 2005

Peter R. Viereck, professor emeritus of history, is the subject of a lengthy profile titled “The First Conservative: How Peter Viereck
Inspired--and Lost--a Movement” in this week’s (October 24) New Yorker magazine. The piece is written by noted author and journalist Tom Reiss.

Born in New York City in 1916, Peter Viereck is likely the only American scholar who has received Guggenheim Fellowships in both poetry and history. A member of the Mount Holyoke College faculty since 1948, Viereck retired in 1987 but continued, through 1997, to teach his survey of Russian history. The recipient of many major awards, including a Pulitzer Prize for his first book of poems, Terror and Decorum: Poems 1940-1948, Viereck is the author of numerous articles, essays, and books of history, cultural and political analysis, and poetry. Among his books are Metapolitics: From the Romantics to Hitler; Conservatism Revisited: The Revolt against Revolt, 1815-1949; and Strict Wildness: Discoveries in Poetry and History.

According to Reiss’s article, Viereck was a seminal figure in the birth of American conservatism in the second half of the twentieth century, but he soon moved apart from mainstream conservatism. For example, he was a vocal critic of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his excesses.

Reiss writes:

“Viereck became a historian, specializing in modern Russia, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. But, in a series of books published during the late nineteen-forties and early nineteen-fifties (which have recently been reissued by Transaction), he continued to develop his political philosophy. He gave the conservative movement its name and, as the historian George Nash, the author of The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America, says, he ‘helped make conservatism a respectable word.’ Moreover, Viereck’s belief that the United States could be a moderating influence, confronting the forces that threaten freedom and democracy without succumbing to liberal optimism, became a central tenet of conservative thought and, with the arrival of neoconservatives in positions of power in Washington, beginning in the nineteen-eighties, of American foreign policy.

“Yet Viereck never became a rallying figure. Conservatism remained largely an intellectual movement during its first several decades, from the late nineteen-forties to the late nineteen-seventies—a loose affiliation of scholars and writers who had little more in common than a hatred of liberalism and Communism, which they increasingly saw as indistinguishable. Even in this context, Viereck was an anomaly, insisting on a moral distinction between the moderate and the totalitarian left, and, as conservatives began to attain political influence, denouncing what he perceived as the movement’s demagogic tendencies.”

A number of Professor Viereck’s books have recently been reissued by Transaction Publishers at Rutgers.His new book of poems, Door, has recently been published by Higgannum Hill Books.

 

Related Link:

Transaction Publishers at Rutgers

 

 

Copyright © 2006 Mount Holyoke College. This page created and maintained by Office of Communications. Last modified on June 13, 2006.