Peter Viereck

American historian and poet (1916-2006)

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



Conservatism Revisited (1949)

  • 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 […] 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.
    • pp. 149–151

Shame and Glory of the Intellectuals (1953)

  • The motive for tyranny is not economics but will to power. Behind power, such motives as vanity, inferiority complex, sadism, fear, frustration, and just plain cussedness must also be considered.
    • p. 192

The Unadjusted Man (1956)

  • Without inner psychological liberty, outer civil liberties are not quite enough. We can talk civil liberties, prosperity, democracy with the tongues of men and angels, but it is merely a case of "free from what?" and not "free for what?" if we use this freedom for no other purpose than to commit television or go lusting after supermarkets.
    • p. 3
  • Unfortunately the European concept "massman" came to America not from its great originators, Burckhardt and Nietzsche, but via its popularizer, the brilliantly learned but oversimplifying Ortega y Gasset. "Massman" is a valid enough term for the American Overadjusted Man but only on the condition that the middleclass nature of the American masses is first recognized and that "massman" is not made synonymous with workingman. Wealthy would-be conservatives, above all the prissy suburban "despisers of the mob," flatter themselves handsomely by assuming that "mass" means only manual worker and that they themselves are not massmen but rugged individualists. Hence the snobbish illusion that individualism is best protected from the mass by an anti-worker, narrowly commercialist politics and economics.
    • p. 23
  • Compare two photographs: Charles Baudelaire and this angular, harsh-faced professor of the Union Theological Seminary, who for years was pastor of a congregation of automobile workers in Detroit. The eyes of both have the same intensity, the same bitter integrity. Like Kierkegaard, Niebuhr is not merely "painfully sincere" but downright cadaverously sincere. The spiritual demands of his outspoken sermons indict not only the dead rottenness behind a godless hedonism but also the self-deception behind a facile, overconfident idealism.
    • pp. 48–49
  • In Nietzsche and [Jakob] Burckhardt the German language had its last great voices of the old Goethean individualism amid the triumphant Bismarck era of statism and mechanized material power. . . . Nietzsche remains unequaled in anticipating out ever-increasing need today for the full, unmechanized personality.
    • p. 56
  • The two leitmotifs of the present writer's Metapolitics: From the Romantics to Hitler, 1941, were the rival outlooks of Nietzsche, Wagner: Nietzsche as the voice warning Germany against nationalism, anti-Semitism, herd-collectivism; Wagner as the voice teaching Hitler his Aryan racism, anti-parliamentary leadership-cult, anti-aristocratic cult of the collective "folk." . . . Nietzsche's was the only voice in the 1880's to say that Richard Wagner's folk-romanticism and anti-Semitism would make his German nationalist disciples "the destroyers of both German and European culture."
    • pp. 57–58
  • Conservatives are often mocked for supposedly urging "higher things" on some poor proletarian who needs bread. "Let 'em eat culture" is considered as sinful a conservative evasion of social conscience as Marie Antoinette's "Let 'em eat cake." But what happens after the admittedly primary need for bread is satisfied? Thereafter the humanistic conservative can no longer be accused of fleecing the toilers if he insists: American material progress should from now on make increasing concessions to cultural inwardness.
    • p. 292
  • The Athens of Pericles, a mere sixty thousand free voters, ill-housed, ill-clad, economically dependent on slavery and imperialist war, created a greater cultural flowering than all the prosperous free democracy of a thousand-times-more numerous America. The social democracy of Sweden does not have the world's highest cultural flowering; it does have the world's highest social progress, highest economic security, and highest suicide rate. Let us imagine a society whose ideal is not social progress but an ever-increasing poverty, with the poorhouse bed as the final, sweetly desired goal. Such a society would lack all social progress; it need not lack—consider the religious and literary achievements of Saint Francis—religious progress and cultural freedom.
    • p. 293
  • What keeps earth air breathable? Not oxygen alone. The earth is a freer place to breathe in, every time you love without calculating a return – every time you make your drudgeries and routines still more inefficient by stopping to experience the shock of beauty wherever it unpredictably flickers.
    • p. 328
  • Something or other is certainly being revived in America today, judging by all these countless examples, but is it religion or religiosity? Religion is demanding, unglib; it combines the hardest spiritual discipline with the most shattering spiritual experience. Therefore, the Overadjusted man prefers religiosity; it is easy, painless, provides a warm, comfortable feeling. Such is ever the fate of values when made bourgeois.
    • pp. 311–312
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