Freiburg Bound

then America after the war was the more dangerous embodiment of the technological will to power itself. Either way, America’s rise ensured that the wasteland would grow.


Thus, when American students began trickling into Freiburg, Heidegger was already quite convinced that the nation whence they came represented everything that was wrong with the modern world, which may explain why brash American students, such as the fast-talking, Lower-East-Side-born Paul Weiss, who eventually went on to achieve notoriety as Yale’s resident metaphysician, were unable to penetrate the outer defenses of Heidegger’s student-confidants. American students were suspect from the beginning and had to be more-or-less screened before they could even glimpse the hallowed inner sanctum of the seminar room.

In fact, only a handful of Americans studied with Heidegger before World War II. By and large, unlike those who would follow in their footsteps after the war, they were not impressed. Weiss passed through Freiburg on a post-doctoral Sears Traveling Fellowship during the 1929–30 academic year, but he failed to pick up much from Heidegger’s lectures. Jacob Klein and Leo Strauss, whom Weiss had met in Berlin, urged him to attend Heidegger’s courses, but the experience was fruitless. “Heidegger raised suspicions in me of an undefined nature,” Weiss later confessed, “but not apparently in the members of his large audience.”41 He was unmoved by the young philosopher who was rapidly becoming not just the talk of the town, but of all Germany. “He did not seem to me to be searching for truth,” Weiss recalled, “but mainly for approval. I learned more from our visits to cathedrals, museums, by going on trips to the Black Forest with students, reading German novels, poetry, and philosophy, and from conversations with others our age.”42

Charles Hartshorne, who would later edit the collected papers of C. S. Peirce with Weiss, came across Heidegger a few years earlier. Traveling throughout Europe between 1923 and 1925 on a Sheldon Fellowship, he had the

41 Paul Weiss, “Lost in Thought: Alone with Others,” The Philosophy of Paul Weiss, Library of Living Philosophers Volume XXIII, ed. Lewis E. Hahn (Chicago and La Salle: Open Court, 1995), 13. In 1946, Weiss, who had studied with Morris R. Cohen at City College and then with Whitehead at Harvard, became the first Jewish professor to be employed by Yale, a fact that should put the rise of anti-Semitism in German universities during this time into troubling perspective. For more, see Bruce Kuklick, “Philosophy at Yale in the Century after Darwin,” History of Philosophy Quarterly 21: 3 (July 2004), 323; and David Hollinger, Science, Jews, and Secular Culture: Studies in Mid-Twentieth Century American Intellectual History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), especially 8, 10.

42 Ibid. It is worth noting that Heidegger is never referenced in Weiss’s enormous consideration of ontology, Modes of Being (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1958). I find this omission telling.

Heidegger in America by Martin W. Woessner