Conservatism Revisited

Peter Viereck. Conservatism Revisited (New York: The Free Press, 1962 [1949]).

Excerpt from 1962 edition:

…it is imprecise to call conservative those counter-revolutionary ideologues of the right who defy the conservative principles of continuity with the past by trying to wrench American life out of its liberal and New Deal past. Such a violent wrench, such a combination of utopianism and coercion, based on abstract a-priori blueprints rather than a concrete historical experience, is what caused the French Revolution to degenerate from wholesale reform into murderous despotism. That is why Shame and Glory of the Intellectuals, defined Old Guard Republicans and their intellectual apologists as “Jacobin endimanches,”…What I meant and mean is: the abstract doctrinaire leaders of Republicanism and of a capitalist Adam Smith a-priorism in the north—and analogously the more doctrinaire aristocratic southerners—are applying the same violent wrench, the same discontinuity with the past, the same combination of utopian blueprints with coercive conformity which characterized the French Revolution and which, in Burke’s analysis, doomed it to inevitable disaster.

From the publisher:

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.

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