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Even as it raged, few people were aware of the battle between Buckleyism and the new conservatism. It was inside baseball, something only the players themselves understood. Buckley, however, fully appreciated the significance of his victory. In 1963, he observed that the followers of Clinton Rossiter and Peter Viereck had been successfully sidelined. They were, he wrote with obvious satisfaction, “bound to enter the ranks of eccentricity.” Today the new conservatism is forgotten. Even most of the intellectuals in the conservative movement itself are unaware that this struggle ever took place. Why did Buckleyism prevail? How did Buckley pull it off? Why was the struggle so short and decisive? The answer has little to do with the competing ideas themselves. The answer has to do with leadership. It is ironic that the new conservatives—notwithstanding their philosophical emphasis on community over individualism—were loners. Despite the commonalities of their views, Kirk, Viereck, Rossiter, and Nisbet never united to collectively promote the Burkean vision. It is doubly ironic that William F. Buckley Jr. was exactly the opposite; he was philosophically an individualist but built a community at and through National Review. -Carl T. Bogus, Buckley: William F. Buckley Jr. and the Rise of American Conservatism


Tough to credit nowadays, but coming up conservative in the 80s you really did not have many media choices, so Bill Buckley, with his magazine and even a tv show, played an outsize roll in determining what conservatism was and wasn't. And one thing the conservatives arrayed around him sought to assure us all was that Peter Viereck and Clinton Rossiter, who had been the most recognized explicators of conservatism to an earlier generation, were not "true" conservatives and had been foisted upon us by the liberal media. It is useful then to return to the source here and see what it was Mr. Viereck actually had to say and where he diverged so profoundly from National Review that it was felt necessary to read him out of our history.

This very slight book--108 pages followed by an idiosyncratic selection of primary source excerpts--is almost a Spark Notes version of Russell Kirk's Conservative Mind. The author uses bullet-pointed snippets to examine the thought of a chain of thinkers representing the Burkean position, the Anglospheric defense of liberty, and the reactionary line of Joseph de Maistre--Continental, counter-revolutionary and authoritarian. While he clearly plumps for the former, he plays out the necessary and productive tension between the two and separates the latter from totalitarianism, which is not conservative in any sense. As a general matter, he locates the core insight of conservatism in faith:
Whether intentionally or unconsciously, whether literally or as a metaphor for behavior, conservatives apply to politics the Christian doctrine of man's innate Original Sin. Herein lies a key distinction between conservatives and liberals. Men are not born naturally free or good (assure conservatives) but naturally prone to anarchy, evil, mutual destruction.
This allows for a gentle Burkean defense when times are good and Maistrean offense when things are spinning out of control, but should guard against totalitarianism thanks to the recognition that no man, nor party, can ever be trusted with total control.

As upsetting as it might be for some that he incorporates the authoritarian right into conservatism, he is also brutally forthright about its aristocratic roots:
Magna Cartas, constitutions, Wittens, Dumas and parliaments were originally founded and bled for by medieval noblemen, fighting selfishly and magnificently for their historic rights against both kinds of tyranny, the tyranny of kings and the tyranny of the conformist masses. Modern democracy merely inherited from feudalism that sacredness of individual liberty and mass-produced it.
One begins to see why he might have clashed with other conservatives. More sensitive souls might wish to disavow the brutality of counter-revolution-- a la Franco's Spain--because we have not had to resort to it (at least, not since our own Civil War). And the more libertarian right likes to imagine it can strip liberty of its sacred roots and transplant it into the soil of pure reason. Meanwhile, our own authoritarians today--the First Things crowd--scare themselves with the false bogeyman of a John Locke who they imagine did invent the necessity of liberty out of whole cloth. Mr. Viereck's history rebukes both sides.

However, it was not just on theoretical grounds that he separated himself from the emerging conservative movement; there were substantive grounds as well. In the first instance, he correctly criticized Buckley and his coterie for their embrace of Joe McCarthy and his hysterical populist attacks on individuals, irrespective of facts. It was not necessarily that he opposed anti-communism, but that he correctly saw the damage conservatives would do to themselves by adopting the tactics of Tailgunner Joe.

The other issue where he split off was more problematic though: economics. If he was not actually anti-capitalist he was at least ambivalent about capitalism, for much the same reason those First Thingers are today: he saw it as too individualistic and atomizing, destructive of traditional institutions and social arrangements. Indeed, he embraced the New Deal and thought that it was just another of the things that conservatives were now called upon to preserve. Likewise, trade unions which he perceived as essentially conservative themselves as they acted as a brake upon laissez-faire economics. What is oddest here is that he was eschewing the evolutionary nature of Burke's conservatism--which he had consistently championed--in favor of both a set of top-down economic rules and an attempt to maintain stasis. We need not even imagine a world in which government bureaucrats and union bosses dictated to business, Europe tried it out for us and then abandoned it when it proved disastrous. Even our lighter version had so disfigured the economy by the late '70s--with the onset of stagflation--that we ditched it and never looked back, followed shortly by the rest of the world and the End of History. If it was not obvious to Mr. Viereck in the '50s, it is to everyone today, that just as conservatism must defend liberty in government and protestantism in religion, so too does a productive economics require some considerable degree of freedom. If it can fairly be said that capitalism is so dynamic that in universally liberating people from poverty it places tremendous pressure on social arrangements, the solution must be to shore up those arrangements, not to keep people impoverished. The point of an economy is to create wealth not a culture.

At any rate, we can see how natural was the falling out between Mr. Viereck and the rest of the movement, the prophet without honor in his own country. But there is no reason for conservatives to ignore him or deny him. And perhaps we might let him have the last word, with a sentiment that strikes right to the core of the cause: "Civilization is an infinitely fragile bundle of accumulated habits and restraints. The necessary conservative function of any generation is not just to enjoy itself but to pass on this bundle in good condition to the next generation.”


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B+)


Websites:

Peter Viereck Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Peter Viereck
    -Peter Viereck papers, 1815-2006 (Columbia University)
    -ENTRY: Peter Robert Edwin Viereck: American poet, historian, and theorist,/a> (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
   
-BIO: Peter Viereck 1916–2006 (Poetry Foundation)
    -POEM: Tug of War (Peter Viereck, Autumn 1955 , VQR)
    -ENTRY: Peter Viereck (World Heritage Encyclopedia)
    -
   
-OBIT: Peter Viereck: Conservative US historian of Nazi thought and writer of complex poetry (Godfrey Hodgson, 29 May 2006, The Guardian)
    -OBIT: Peter Viereck, Poet and Conservative Theorist, Dies at 89 (Margalit Fox, May 19, 2006, NY Times)
    -OBIT: Peter Viereck: Poet and conservative pundit (Independent, 10 June 2006)
    -OBIT: Peter Viereck (Elaine Woo, 5/20/06, LA Times)
    -OBIT: Peter Viereck: Poet and historian who championed a new liberal conservatism (The Times uk, 8/14/06)
    -OBIT: Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Peter Viereck dies (Boston Globe, May 18, 2006)
    -OBIT: peter Viereck (Washington Post, 5/21/06)
    -ESSAY: But—I'm a Conservative! (Peter Viereck, April 1940, The Atlantic)
The conservative's principle of principles is the necessity and supremacy of Law and of absolute standards of conduct. I capitalize 'Law,' and I mean it. Suppose it were proved that the eternal absolutes do not really exist. Instinctively we should say: So much the worse for them. But now we must learn to say: So much the worse for existence! We have learned that from sad experience of centuries. Paradoxically, we have learned that man can only maintain his material existence by guiding it by the materially nonexistent: by the absolute moral laws of the spirit.

Freedom of thought we must never restrict in America. Conduct and action we can and must restrict. Instead of 'progressive education' our democratic school system must instill, from kindergarten on, the necessity of limiting all human conduct and instinct by objective Law. Only so can we learn, the decent rules of the game as an unbreakable habit. By 'Law' I do not mean all existing laws. All are not necessarily good. By 'Law' I mean the legal way as a way to whatever goals we may seek; I mean it as a way of living. This way is necessarily freedom's prerequisite. In this sense, Law must tread pitilessly upon individuals, nations, classes. It must trample with callous and sublime indifference upon their economic interests yes, even their economic interests- and their 'healthy instincts of the race.'

The 'instinctive, unwritten sense of justice' we hear so much about is basically, and always will be, mere glorified lynch law. In instinct, every new 1940 baby is still born a caveman. Law and tradition are the slow accumulation of civilized habits, the few thousand years' habits which alone prevent the 1940 baby from remaining a caveman. Since this accumulation is haphazard, it includes—as radicals correctly accuse—much evil as well as good. But the good and the bad in tradition are often interwoven inextricably by the past. And the past cannot be changed—not even by radicals with a Harvard accent.

Society, as 1 would conserve it, would rest on five great self-disciplines: rule of reason in the individual, Christian ethics between individuals, Law in the state, free parliamentary negotiation among political parties, peace by negotiation among nations.

    -EXCERPT: Babbitt Jr. vs. the Rediscovery of Values (The Shame and Glory of the Intellectuals by Peter Viereck)
    -ESSAY: On Conservatism: Two Notes (Peter Viereck , Autumn, 1949, American Quarterly)
    -ESSAY: A Third View of the New Deal (Peter Viereck, 1956, New Mexico Quarterly)
    -ESSAY: CONSERVATISM: ATTITUDES, TYPES, & PRESENT STATUS (Peter Robert Edwin Viereck)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Conservatism Revisited
    -POETRY ARCHIVE: Peter Viereck (Poetry Foundation)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: Liberalism vs Conservatism (Peter Viereck, 3/15/1964, UCLA)
    -ESSAY: The New American Radicals (Peter Viereck, December 1954, The Reporter)
    -ETEXT: The Unadjusted Man: A New Hero for the Americans: Reflections on the Distinction between Conforming and Conserving by Peter Viereck (The Literature & Culture of the American 1950s)
    -REVIEW: of GOD AND MAN AT YALE By William F. Buckley Jr. (Peter Viereck, 11/04/51, NY Times)
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 Saint Paul?" And why is this veritable Eagle Scout of moral sternness silent on the moral implications of McCarthyism in his own camp?

In this urgent crisis, when our survival against Soviet aggression depends on cooperating with both conservative and anti-Red heroes like the socialist Reuter in Europe, the author irresponsibly treats not only mild social democracy but even most social reform as almost crypto-communism. He damns communism, our main enemy, not half so violently as lesser enemies like the income tax and inheritance tax. Words will really fail you when you reach the book's final "message": trustees and alumni should violate the legally established academic freedom to "banish from the classroom" not merely Communists but all professors deviating from Adam Smith!

    -REVIEW: of The Conservative Mind, by Russell Kirk (Peter Viereck, October 3, 1953, The Saturday Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Story of a Life, by Konstantin Paustovsky Peter Viereck, May 16, 1964, The Saturday Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Life of Lenin, by Louis Fischer (Peter Viereck, July 18, 1964, The Saturday Review)
    -ESSAY: A roll?call of rightist touts, from Plato to Goldwater (Peter Viereck, Oct. 31, 1971, NY Times)
    -PROFILE: Peter Viereck: Reconciliation and Beyond (Michael A. Weinstein, 1997 HUMANITAS)
"I believe in the rooted, not the newfangled, in archetypes, not stereotypes, in the ages, not the age, in the id-restraining traffic lights not only of law but of unwritten custom, in the organic social fabric, not the mechanical social contract, in Burke and John Adams, not Rousseau and Jefferson. And (as obsessive artist of sound, song, word) in the magical creative imagination that is released when the opposites of strict form and wild spontaneity coalesce in beauty."

    -PROFILE: A Center That Can Hold (Jason Willick, Summer 2018, National Affairs)
    -ESSAY: Understanding Traditionalist Conservatism (Mark C. Henrie, Hoover Institute)[PDF]
    -PROFILE: A Conservative Manifesto (Holly A. Case, Jan 15, 2018, 3 Quarks Daily)
    -TRIBUTE: The Legacy of Peter Viereck (Mt. Holyoke, November 8, 2006)
    -TRIBUTE: Viereck Revisited (Daniel McCarthy, June 18, 2007, American Conservative)
    -ESSAY: How Peter Viereck Could Clean Up Conservative Ideology: Peter Viereck's conservatism offers sanity and realism. (Scott Galupo,?Dec. 1, 2011, US News)
    -ESSAY: Afterword: Conservatism and the Liberal Tradition: Reflections on Peter Viereck (Susann Köhler and Andrew S. Gross, American Studies Journal)
Viereck had personal reasons for aligning himself with conservative politics and poetics. His father, George Sylvester Viereck, dubbed ‘Swastika’ by his detractors, was a writer and journalist who early on identified with progressive causes (he backed Robert La Follette) but came to support Hitler in the years leading up to the war. Soon after the publication of his son’s conservative manifesto, George Viereck was arrested as an undeclared foreign agent and spent five years in a federal prison for promoting the Nazi cause in America. His other son, Peter Viereck’s brother, was killed fighting the Nazis in Italy. Peter joined the army after receiving his PhD from Harvard for a dissertation published under the title Meta-politics, which traces Nazi ideology back to German romanticism (the book has gone through several editions and is still in print). In 1949 he won a Pulitzer Prize for Terror and Decorum, which includes several war poems and elegies for his brother. The title is programmatic for the way Viereck’s poetry, like his politics, holds up decorum as safeguard against terror (Gross 127–63).

Decorum, for Viereck, meant tradition and restraint. He was a value conservative who was skeptical of modernity and who viewed education as a moderating force. Thus, while he opposed radicalism in politics and avant-gardism in poetics, he thought that universities could provide forums where these issues could be productively debated. This put him at odds with key figures of the postwar conservative movement like William F. Buckley, who argued in God and Man at Yale that the curriculum at a private university should reflect the values of its donors. Viereck, in his negative review of the book, quipped that if Buckley pretended to support laissez-faire economics, he should grant academic opinions the same freedom in the marketplace of ideas (Viereck, Shame and Glory 294–95, 299–300). This inaugurated a long feud between the two that was exacerbated by Buckley’s support of McCarthy and then Goldwater. Eventually, Viereck was excommunicated from the conservative movement as it coalesced around Buckley’s National Review (Gross 152).

    -PROFILE:THE FIRST CONSERVATIVE: How Peter Viereck inspired—and lost—amovement. (TOM REISS, 2005-10-24, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY: Veering Off Course: The New Yorker tries to revive Peter Viereck. (John J. Miller, October 26, 2005, National Review)
    -ESSAY: Peter Viereck: Traditionalist Libertarian? (Claes Ryn, 7/23/12, Law & Liberty)
Viereck had been under suspicion among Buckleyite conservatives because of his leanings in American practical politics. The publication, in 1956, of Viereck’s Conservatism: From Adams to Churchill (later renamed Conservative Thinkers: From John Adams to Winston Churchill) brought dissatisfaction with him to a head. The book was a brief survey and anthology of European and American ideas. It was not intended to set forth a definition of conservatism but broadly to inform and provide material for reflection on the subject. The book’s broad, ecumenical, and non-dogmatic approach contrasted sharply with Frank S. Meyer’s attempts to lay down the conservative line. The book gave concise intellectual sketches of a wide assortment of thinkers, including ones favorable to authoritarianism and assistance to the poor. Viereck conveyed that conservatism was quite different from unrestricted individualism and capitalism. Viereck had clearly failed Frank S. Meyer’s acid test, which was unqualified support for the minimal state, and Meyer was in no mood to be generous. He dismissed Viereck’s conservatism as “counterfeit.”

    -ESSAY: How Conservatives Failed “The Culture ” (Claes Ryn, October 10th, 2011, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: The Legacy of Peter Viereck: His Prose Writings (Claes G. Ryn, NHI)
    -ESSAY: Taming the Beast of Economics and Trade (Ralph Ancil, April 10th, 2015, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: GOP Demographic Crisis: Traditional Conservatism ? Conformism (Daniel McCarthy, February 24th, 2014, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: THE CLASSICAL CONSERVATISM OF PETER VIERECK (Politics & Policy, November 2008)
    -ESSAY: The Example Of Viereck (Andrew Sullivan, 11/30/11, The Dish)
    -ESSAY: Peter Viereck and the Demise of New Conservatism Cover for Peter Viereck and the Demise of New Conservatism (George R. Sparling, Georgetown U.)
    -ESSAY: A Conservative's Case for Moderation (Peter Berkowitz, May 15, 2014, Real Clear Politics)
    -ESSAY: Will Conservatives Abandon the Free Market?: Conservatives would either “combat” or “convert” business or base their politics “squarely on it.” But, he warned, conservatism “founded on money,” is “fickle, selfish, and irresponsible.” (Joshua Tait, 4/18/19, National Interest)
    -ESSAY: Who Remembers Clinton Rossiter? (John Holbo, September 29, 2012, Crooked Timber)
    -ESSAY: Taking the Right Seriously: Conservatism is a tradition, not a pathology (Mark Lilla September 11, 2009, The Chronicle Review)
    -ESSAY: The Legend of Edmund Burke (Bertram D. Sarason, Summer 1955 , Dissent)
    -ESSAY: Moving Portrait: Conservatives have long debated the conflict between liberty and tradition. (Richard Brookhiser, May 11, 1979, National Review)
    -VIDEO PANEL DISCUSSION: Conservative Thinkers of the 20th Century (AHTV - Progressive/Conservative Summit, April 16, 2016)
    -ESSAY: "Reverence for the Archetype": The Pragmatic Conservatism of Peter Viereck (Robert Lacey, Anamnesis)
    -ESSAY: Peter Viereck’s View of Metternich’s Conservative Internationalism (Gergely Egedy, West Bohemian Historical Review)
    -REVIEW: of Conservatives Against Capitalism, by Peter Kolozi (Lyle Jeremy Rubin, Jacobin)
    -ARCHIVES: Peter Viereck (Unz Review)
    -ARCHIVES: Viereck (National Review)
    -ARCHIVES: viereck (American Conservative)
    -ARCHIVES: viereck (Imaginative Conservative)
    -ARCHIVES: viereck (Kirk Center)
    -REVIEW: of Conservatism Revisited by Peter Viereck (Gertrude Himmelfarb, January 1950, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: of Conservatism Revisited: The Revolt Against Ideology by Peter Viereck: With a major new study of Peter Viereck and Conservatism by Claes G. Ryn (Michael Federici, University Bookman)
    -REVIEW: of Conservatism Revisited (Daniel Larison, American Conservatism)
    -REVIEW: of Conservatism Revisited (Dwight MacDonald, November 13, 1949, New Republic)
    -REVIEW: of Conservatism Revisited (Hans Rothfels, Journal of Modern History)
    -REVIEW: of Conservatism Revisited (American Political Science Review)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Reading Peter Viereck Anew : a review of Shame and Glory of the Intellectuals by Peter Viereck and Unadjusted Man in an Age of Overadjustment by Peter Viereck (Charles C. Brown, University Bookman)
    -REVIEW: of The Unadjusted Man (Edwin Fogelman, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: of The Unadjusted Man (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Metapolitics by Peter Viereck (Think Classical)
    -REVIEW: of Shame and Glory of the Intellectuals, by Peter Viereck (Robert Gorham Davis, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: of Shame and Glory (Michael J. Halberstam, March 26, 1953, Harvard Crimson)
    -REVIEW: of Archer in the Marrow, The Applewood Cycles, 1967-1987, by Peter Viereck (Thomas D'Evelyn, CS Monitor)

Book-related and General Links:

    -ESSAY: The First Conservative (DONALD W. LIVINGSTON, 8/10/11, The American Conservative)
    -ESSAY: What is Conservatism?: Searching for the highest conservative value (Joshua Tait, Nov 27, 2019, Arc Digital)
    -ESSAY: After Republican Virtue (James M. Patterson, 4/22/20, Law & Liberty)
    -REVIEW: of History, Historians, and Conservatism in Britain and America: From the Great War to Thatcher and Reagan by Reba N. Soffer (John M. Vella, University Bookman)
    -ESSAY: Defenders of a shared culture: Oliver Letwin compares and contrasts two conservative philosophers, the late Roger Scruton and Michael Oakeshott (Oliver Letwin, May 2020, The Critic)
    -ESSAY: Lincoln, Charity And “We, The People” (Grant N. Havers, 12/16/10, Voegelin View)
    -ESSAY: The Corruption of American Conservatism (Iskander Rehman, December 2017, Pell Center)[pdf]
    -ESSAY: The Problem of American Conservatism (Alan Brinkley, The American Historical Review)
    -ESSAY: The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Then and Now (George H. Nash, April 26, 2016, National Review)
    -ESSAY: George Sylvester Viereck: Poet and Propagandist (NIEL M. JOHNSON)
    -REVIEW: of ODYSSEY OF A BARBARIAN: The Biography of George Sylvester Viereck by Elmer Gertz (Kirkus)
    -ESSAY: Capitalism at Dusk: Hegel and the irrationality of modern economy (Robert Pippin, 4/15/20, The Point)
Hegel’s most important book on these issues, Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1821), is certainly a defense of the rationality of an interconnected web of modern institutions, including private property and wage labor. These institutions had either already appeared by the beginning decades of the nineteenth century—some in Germany, and many in England—or were, as he saw it, inexorably emerging. Two things, at least, are distinctive about his approach to thinking about them. First, by rationality, Hegel does not mean what any suitably informed ideal contractor would choose to commit to, either for strategic or ethical reasons. He has instead a substantive and not a formal theory of rationality. Human beings are essentially historically developing, socially dependent, self-aware, deliberative, free beings, and if they come to live in a way that, as he would put it, does not agree with this concept, then that way is irrational. This means for him, given the enormous significance of his claim about our social dependence, that a human being can only be what it is, a free being, by participating in social institutions, including an economic system. As he put it, a person can only be “fully” free as a citizen in the modern republican state. He did not merely mean that a state indifferent or hostile to the freedom of its citizens is unjust, or that one cannot act as the free agent one is in such an irrational state (although he certainly did want to make both claims), but rather that one is not yet a fully free agent in such an irrational situation. However much the capacity of freedom (as Hegel understands it) is a potentiality characteristic of every member of the human species, the state of being free is an achievement of a distinct sort. That achievement relies on the right sort of social bonds in the family, as fellow workers, and as citizens of a representative state. Absent that achievement, freedom is unrealized.

    -ESSAY: The Rebirth of the Left-Conservative Tradition: A blend of left-wing policies—like support for Social Security and infrastructure spending—with favored conservative ideas, like nationalism and immigration reform, is finding its voice (ERIC KAUFMANN, JUNE 15, 2020, Tablet)
    REVIEW ESSAY: The Far Right’s People Problem (CAMERON HILDITCH, June 25, 2020, National Review)