Peter Viereck: Conservatism Revisited

The Revolt Against Ideology

With a major new study of Peter Viereck and Conservatism by Claes G. Ryn

Transaction, 2005 (1949)

ViereckPeter Viereck, poet and historian, is one of the principle theoreticians of conservatism in modern American political thought. In this classic work, Viereck undertakes a penetrating and unorthodox analysis of that quintessential conservative, Prince Metternich, and offers evidence that cultural and political conservatism may perhaps be best adapted to sustain a free and reasonable society.

According to Viereck’s definition, conservatism is not the enemy of economic reform or social progress, nor is it the oppressive instrument of the privileged few. Although conservatism has been attacked from the left and often discredited by exploitation from the right, it remains the historic name for a point of view vital to contemporary society and culture. Divided into three parts, the book opens with a survey of conservatism in its cultural context of classicism and humanism. Rejecting the blind alley of reaction, Viereck calls for a discriminating set of principles that include preservation through reform, self-expression through self-restraint, a fruitful nostalgia for the permanent beneath the flux, and a preference for historical continuity over violent rupture.

Viereck locates our idea of Western political unity in Metternich’s Concert of Europe whose goal was a cosmopolitan Europe united in peace. This ideal was opposed by both the violent nationalism that resulted in Nazism and the socialist internationalism that became a tool of Soviet Russian expansionism. While not ignoring the extremely negative aspects of Metternich’s legacy, Viereck focuses on his attempts to tame the bellicosity of European nationalism and his little-known efforts to reform and modernize the Hapsburg Empire.


“This work is an excellent contribution to the study of post-WWII conservatism…Summing Up: Recommended. General readers and upper-division undergraduates and above.”  M. Coulter, Choice

“A brilliant essay in historical paradox. Mr. Viereck’s witty vindication of the responsible conservatism of the past opens up new sources of moral strength for the perilous present.”  Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

Conservatism Revisited is a fine demonstration of historical interpretation.”  James Killian, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“Brief, meaty and brilliant…It is a thoroughly helpful and constructive book.”  Hans Kohn, historian and author of Force or Reason

About the Authors:

Peter Viereck (1916-2006) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, critic, and historian. He held the Kenan Chair in History at Mount Holyoke College and was known as one of America’s early leaders of conservatism. He was the recipient of Guggenheim fellowships both in history and poetry. In addition to his contributions to Poetry Magazine and the Atlantic Monthly, his many books include Inner Liberty: The Stubborn Grit in the Machine; Metapolitics: From Wagner and the German Romantics to Hitler; and Conservative Thinkers: From John Adams to Winston Churchill.

Claes G. Ryn is professor of politics at the Catholic University of America where he was chairman of his department. He has taught also at the University of Virginia and Georgetown University. He is chairman of the National Humanities Institute and editor of the journal Humanitas. In 2000 he gave the Distinguished Foreign Scholar Lectures at Beijing University His many books include A Common Human Ground, Will, Imagination, and Reason (2nd., exp. ed. published by Transaction), and Democracy and the Ethical Life.

2 Responses to “Peter Viereck: Conservatism Revisited”

  1. 1 Cello Jr March 6, 2015 at 7:33 pm

    Synkronicitet. Tänkt en del på och googlat om Viereck nyligen. För mig är det solklart. Bönhörelse. Statistiskt osannolikt, Tack Jan Olof.

    • 2 Jan Olof Bengtsson March 6, 2015 at 7:50 pm

      Roligt. Viktig amerikansk konservativ (med tysk bakgrund) som jag försummat här i bloggen. Men någon gång under andra hälften av 80-talet skrev jag en artikel om honom i Svensk Tidskrift. Ska lägga in fler böcker av honom här i referens-kategorin snabbt. Transaction har även gett ut Metapolitics igen med många tillägg. Jag har inte just den här utgåvan av Conservatism Revisited utan en från 1978. Den mycket långa uppsatsen av Claes R. som ingår här är en starkt utvidgad version av en tidig uppsats från 70-talet. Han klagar på att Transaction-utgåvan av oklar anledning har typografiska brister (det är annars ett verkligt kvalitetsförlag). Nya Metapolitics-utgåvan, däremot, som jag har, är OK.

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