Viereck, Peter 1916-2006

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Viereck, Peter 1916-2006
(Peter Robert Edwin Viereck)

OBITUARY NOTICE— See index for CA sketch: Born August 5, 1916, in New York, NY; died May 13, 2006, in South Hadley, MA. Historian, educator, philosopher, and author. Viereck was a Pulitzer Prizewinning poet, a professor who specialized in Russian history, and a moderate-conservative political philosopher. The son of a German journalist who supported Adolf Hitler, he studied history at Harvard University, where he finished a Ph.D. in 1942. With America involved in the war, Viereck joined the U.S. Army's Psychological Warfare division and found himself analyzing Nazi propaganda. Meanwhile, his father had been involved in writing that same propaganda and found himself imprisoned for four years. The ideological rift between father and son kept them estranged for a long time. Viereck's first book, in fact, was a diatribe against Nazi ideology titled Metapolitics: From the Romantics to Hitler (1941; expanded edition, 2003). After World War II, Viereck taught briefly at Harvard and at Smith College before joining the faculty at Mount Holyoke College in 1948. Here he taught European and Russian history and chaired the history department. He would teach at Mount Holyoke for the next fifty years, until his retirement. As a writer and philosopher, Viereck was notable for his poetry and for his involvement in the early movement in conservatism during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Conservatives often credit him for helping to bring attention to their ideals so that they were not considered extremist. While anticommunist, for example, Viereck criticized Senator Joseph McCarthy's communist witch hunts and supported the candidacy of Democrat Adlai Stevenson for the presidency. He was not in favor of extremism of any sort, but instead held that conservatives are those people who recognized that there is an evil side to human nature that can never be removed and that, therefore, society needed to employ restrictions to maintain an acceptable level of sustainable social patterns. He expressed his beliefs in such books as Conservatism Revisited: The Revolt against Revolt, 1815-1949 (1949; 2nd edition published as Conservatism Revisited and the New Conservatism: What Went Wrong?, 1962;; expanded edition, 2004) and Conservatism: From John Adams to Churchill (1956; revised edition, 1962). As conservative writers such as William F. Buckley, Jr., came into prominence, however, Viereck withdrew from the dialogue and focused on teaching and writing poetry. His first collection of verse, Terror and Decorum: Poems 1940-1948, was an auspicious debut that won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize. As a poet, Viereck was known for his lyricism, his occasional comic elements, and his skill at rhyming. Also the recipient of such poetry prizes as the 1948 Tietjens Prize and the 1980 Sadin prize, he released ten collections in all, including The First Morning: New Poems (1952), The Persimmon Tree (1956), New and Selected Poems, 1932-1967 (1967), and Tide and Continuities: Last and First Poems, 1995-1938 (1995). Among his last publications were Unadjusted Man in an Overadjusted Age (2004), Strict Wilderness (2005), and Doorlast Poems (2005). At the time of his death, he had completed two other books scheduled to be published posthumously: Transplanting, which is a collection of translated German poems, and Strict Wildness: Discoveries in Poetry and History.



Chicago Tribune, May 20, 2006, section 2, p. 11.

Los Angeles Times, May 20, 2006, p. B15.

New York Times, May 19, 2006, p. C13.

Washington Post, May 21, 2006, p. C8.