Home/Daniel Larison/Viereck’s Conservatism Revisited: The Revolt Against Ideology (Transaction, 2005)

Viereck’s Conservatism Revisited: The Revolt Against Ideology (Transaction, 2005)

This collection of several Peter Viereck articles (originally published in 1950 and reissued by Transaction last year) seemed worth a look, and I just picked up my copy today. It has an excellent introduction to Peter Viereck and his relationship to American conservatism by Claes Ryn, which provides some good quotes relating to some of the recent online tussles that have involved Eunomia:

Seeing in the preference for laissez-faire economics a prejudice unduly favoring commercial and utilitarian values, Viereck thought of his own position as representing a “new” American conservatism, one closer to the great Western cultural traditions and supporting ethical and other restraints on the forces of the market. He was to find little or no concern about such restraints in William F. Buckley, Jr.’s National Review, which was started in 1955. (p.5)

The introduction (which is all I’ve had a chance to read so far) is generally favourable to Viereck, but Prof. Ryn also makes a number of criticisms and offers some correctives to Viereck’s formulations.

Prof. Ryn makes more apt remarks along the same lines a little earlier in the introduction:

“Conservatism” meant primarily minimal government, free market economics, and a bias favoring business. Viereck’s advocacy of ethical, aesthetical, and political principles drawn from the classical and Judaeo-Christian traditions was decidedly inopportune. He sharply criticized the secular religions of progress that offer salvation through politics and inveighed against “a morally illiterate culture of unhappy, and untragic pleasure-seekers” that “has failed to root its masses in the universals of civilization.” (p.5)

As an admirer of Metternich, I was also positively thrilled to find that Peter Viereck had already taken account of the man’s sane, cosmopolitan (in the best sense) and civilised conduct of diplomacy in one of the articles in the volume. There will be more comment on the book as time permits.

Update: Here is an item referring to an October 2005 New Yorker profile of Viereck. John Miller dutifully responded with the official party line, criticising Viereck for such diverse political sins as being insufficiently hostile to the New Deal and supportive of Adlai Stevenson. Strange judgements as these might have been in the 1950s for a conservative, as removed as they were from the views of many of his contemporary conservatives, and as much as I have a hard time understanding them, these are political choices that seem strikingly more conservative compared to the policy preferences of the “movement” today.

Yet we are supposed to look down on Peter Viereck because he was not sufficiently on board with the “movement” in the early days; as someone who puts little store with being on board with the “movement,” I can’t say that it matters much whether the official organs of the “movement” approve of someone or not. It is probably a badge of honour these days to be written off by National Review. Besides, I find the objections by dedicated Bush supporters to the quality of anyone’s conservatism a bit much to take. Intelligent readers should dig a bit deeper and consider the substance of Prof. Ryn’s comments and critiques.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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