Peter Viereck: Poet and Conservative Theorist, Dies at 89

Historians in the News

Peter Viereck, a noted historian, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and a founder of the mid-20th-century American conservative movement who later denounced what he saw as its late-20th-century excesses, died on Saturday at his home in South Hadley, Mass. He was 89.

A specialist in Russian history, Professor Viereck was an emeritus professor at Mount Holyoke College, where he had taught since 1948. He received the Pulitzer Prize in 1949 for his first collection of poems, "Terror and Decorum" (Scribner, 1948).

Professor Viereck is also widely credited with helping to bring conservatism out of the margins and into the mainstream as an intellectual movement. In books and articles throughout the 1940's and 50's, he condemned what he saw as the hidebound utopianism of Marxist thinking. As he wrote in "The Unadjusted Man" (Beacon Press, 1956):

"The liberal sees outer, removable institutions as the ultimate source of evil; sees man's social task as creating a world in which evil will disappear. His tools for this task are progress and enlightenment. The conservative sees the inner unremovable nature of man as the ultimate source of evil; sees man's social task as coming to terms with a world in which evil is perpetual and in which justice and compassion will both be perpetually necessary. His tools for this task are the maintenance of ethical restraints inside the individual and the maintenance of unbroken, continuous social patterns inside the given culture as a whole."

Professor 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 Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.

Read entire article at NYT

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