Peter Robert Edwin Viereck was born in New York City on August 5, 1916. He achieved remarkable scholastic success in his college years and graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude in 1937. After attending the University of Oxford on a fellowship, he returned to Harvard, where he received his M.A. and Ph.D. in European history.
Parallel with Viereck’s rise in the academic world, a more dramatic story was taking place. Viereck’s father, George Sylvester Viereck, was a noted journalist and author whose circle of friends included Sigmund Freud, H. L. Mencken, and Kaiser Wilhelm II. He had temporarily lost popularity during World War I, since his sympathy for Germany put him at odds with the policy of the United States. The 1920’s, however, was characterized by disillusionment with American participation in the war, and Viereck was to a large extent restored to favor. Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in January, 1933, changed the picture once more. It soon became evident that Viereck was not prepared to abandon his sympathy for Germany. He became an apologist for Hitler (indeed a paid agent of the Reich), and almost all of his friends deserted him. During World War II, he was arrested and tried for sedition.
Peter Viereck broke with his father and rarely mentioned him in his writing. Perhaps as a reaction against the senior Viereck, much of his activity as a historian concentrated on analyzing the rise of the Nazis to power.
During World War II, Viereck wrote intelligence reports in Africa and Italy. In 1945, Viereck married Anya De Markov, a Russian resistance fighter. The couple had two children before divorcing in 1970. In 1972, Viereck married Betty Falkenberg. He taught at several universities and soon settled permanently at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. To Viereck, academic life was not a detached pursuit of knowledge but rather a way of coming to grips with current problems. He developed an unusual variety of conservatism and wrote several books explaining and defending it. Although his books were widely reviewed, few American conservatives count themselves as his followers.
Viereck’s reputation rests principally on his work as a poet; collections of his poetry won for him considerable attention and admiration. Although respected by most critics as a presence in American poetry, he did not have much influence on other poets. In 1987, Viereck retired as professor emeritus of Russian and Eurasian history from Mount Holyoke College, where he had been a scholar and teacher throughout most of his writing and teaching career. He continued to teach until 1997.
In 2005, journalist Tom Reiss profiled Viereck in the New Yorker, noting that he had started the conservative movement but later attacked the conservatives in a 1962 essay in The New Republic, “The New Conservatism: One of Its Founders Asks What Went Wrong,” and was abandoned by the conservatives. The Reiss article revived interest in Viereck, and some of his early works were republished. In 2005, Vireck published his last volume of poems, Door. He died the following year in South Hadley, Massachusetts.
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