Lamont in 1934
|Died||April 26, 1995 (aged 93)|
|Alma mater||Harvard University, Columbia University|
|Occupation||professor, philanthropist, political activist|
|Known for||support for Socialism, Popular Front, and civil liberties|
|Spouse(s)||(1) Margaret Hayes Irish; (2) Helen Boyden Lamb; (3) Beth Keehner|
|Parent(s)||Thomas Lamont, Flora Lamont|
|Relatives||Ned Lamont, Jonathan Heap|
Corliss Lamont (March 28, 1902 – April 26, 1995) was an American socialist philosopher and advocate of various left-wing and civil liberties causes. As a part of his political activities he was the Chairman of National Council of American-Soviet Friendship starting from the early 1940s.
Lamont was born in Englewood, New Jersey, on March 28, 1902. He was the son of Florence Haskell (Corliss) and Thomas W. Lamont, a partner and later chairman at J.P. Morgan & Co. Lamont graduated as valedictorian of Phillips Exeter Academy in 1920, and magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1924. The principles that animated his life were first evidenced at Harvard, where he attacked university clubs as snobbery. In 1924, he did graduate work at New College University of Oxford, where he roomed with Julian Huxley. The next year Lamont began graduate studies at Columbia University, where he studied under John Dewey. In 1928, he became a philosophy instructor there. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy in 1932 from Columbia. Lamont taught at Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, and the New School for Social Research.
Lamont became a radical in the 1930s, moved by the Great Depression. He wrote a book about the Soviet Union and praised what he saw there: "The people are better dressed, food is good and plentiful, everyone seems confident, happy and full of spirit". He became critical of the Soviets over time, but always thought their achievement in transforming a feudal society remarkable, even as he attacked its treatment of political dissent and lack of civil liberties. Lamont's political views were Marxist and socialist for much of his life.
Lamont was a onetime chairman of the Friends of the Soviet Union.
Lamont began his 30 years as a director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1932. In 1934, he was arrested while on a picket line in Jersey City, New Jersey, part of a long battle between labor and civil rights activists and Frank Hague, the city's mayor. Lamont later wrote that he "learned more about the American legal system in one day ... than in one year at Harvard Law School".
In 1936, Lamont helped found and subsidized the magazine Marxist Quarterly. When the Dewey Commission reported in 1937 that the Moscow trials of Leon Trotsky and others were fraudulent, Lamont, along with other left-wing intellectuals, refused to accept the commission's findings. Under the influence of the Popular Front, Lamont and 150 other left-wing writers endorsed Josef Stalin's actions as necessary for "the preservation of progressive democracy". Their letter warned that Dewey's work was itself politically motivated and charged Dewey with supporting reactionary views and "Red-baiting". Lamont wrote an introduction to the anti-Polish pamphlet Behind the Polish-Soviet Break by Alter Brody.
Lamont was a key founder of the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship (NCASF) (originally National Council on Soviet Relations or NCSR). Other founders included Professor Ralph Barton Perry of Harvard University and Edwin Seymour Smith. He served as its first chairman from 1943 to 1947.
Lamont remained sympathetic to the Soviet Union well after World War II and the establishment of satellite Communist governments in Central and Eastern Europe. He authored a pamphlet entitled The Myth of Soviet Aggression in which he wrote:
The fact is, of course, that both the Truman and Eisenhower Administrations, in order to push their enormous armaments programs through Congress and to justify the continuation of the Cold War, have felt compelled to resort to the device of keeping the American people in a state of alarm over some alleged menace of Soviet or Communist origin.
Lamont ran for the U.S. Senate from New York, in 1952 on the American Labor ticket. He received 104,702 votes and lost to Republican Irving M. Ives.
When called to testify in front of Senator Joseph McCarthy's Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in 1953, he denied ever having been a Communist, but refused to discuss his beliefs or those of others, citing not the Fifth Amendment but the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. The committee cited Lamont for contempt of Congress by a vote of 71 to 3 in August 1954. Some senators questioned McCarthy's authority and wanted a federal court to rule on it. In November, Lamont donated $50,000 to create a $1,000,000 Bill of Rights Fund to support civil rights advocates, citing anti-Communist legislation, travel restrictions, and blacklisting in the entertainment industry. The same month, he challenged the subcommittee's authority in court.
The same year, he wrote Why I Am Not a Communist. Despite his allegiance to Marxism, he never joined the Communist Party USA, and supported the Korean War.
In April 1955, Lamont withdrew from his role as a philosophy lecturer at Columbia University pending the outcome of these legal proceedings, and the university said it was Lamont's decision, made "without prior suggestion by any officer of the university". Judge Edward Weinfeld of the U.S. District Court found the indictment against Lamont was faulty, but the government, rather than seek a new indictment, appealed that ruling. A unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals agreed in 1955 and in 1956 the government chose not to appeal to the Supreme Court.
As a director of the ACLU, Lamont had resisted attempts to purge the organization of Communists and, in 1954, he resigned his position because he felt the ACLU had not supported him in the face of McCarthy's charges. The complete record of the legal proceedings in Lamont's case against the McCarthy subcommittee was published in 1957.
In 1951 and 1957, Lamont was denied a passport by the State Department, which considered his application incomplete because he refused to answer a question about membership in the Communist Party. He sued the State Department in June 1957 seeking a hearing on its action. He obtained his passport in June 1958 following a Supreme Court decision in another case, Kent v. Dulles, and left the U.S. for a world tour in March 1959.
He ran again for the U.S. Senate from New York in 1958 on the Independent-Socialist ticket. He received more than 49,000 votes out of more than 5,500,000 cast, losing to Republican Kenneth B. Keating.
In 1959, Lamont became an enthusiastic supporter of Fidel Castro and his revolutionary government in Cuba.
In 1964, Lamont sued the Postmaster General for reading and, at times, refusing to deliver his mail under the anti-propaganda mail law of 1962, passed over the objections of the Department of Justice and the Post Office, that allowed the Postmaster General to destroy "communist political propaganda" sent from outside the United States unless the addressee says he wants to receive such mail. The statute did not apply to sealed correspondence, but was aimed at published materials. He lost a 2–1 decision in U.S. District Court, after the Post Office delivered one such item of mail, and appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the single delivery was a subterfuge designed to moot his lawsuit while continuing to interrupt his mail service. On May 24, 1965, the Supreme Court held unanimously in Lamont v. Postmaster General that the law was unconstitutional.
It was the first time the Supreme Court invalidated a statute as a violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. Lamont's attorney was Leonard B. Boudin, who worked on many civil liberties cases. He won a similar lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency in federal court the same year.
In the mid-1960s, Lamont became chairman of the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, a position he held until his death.
In 1971, after a congressman called him an "identified member of the Communist Party, U.S.A.", Lamont issued a statement that "although it is no disgrace to belong to the Communist party, I have never even dreamed of joining it." The same year, he financed Dorothy Day's visit to the Soviet Union and several other countries in Eastern Europe.
In 1979, Lamont founded Half-Moon Foundation, Inc. Half-Moon Foundation was a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and was incorporated in the state of New York. The Foundation was formed "to promote enduring international peace, support for the United Nations, the conservation of our country's natural environment, and to safeguard and extend civil liberties as guaranteed under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights."
Lamont was president emeritus of the American Humanist Association and in 1977 was named Humanist of the Year. In 1981, he received the Gandhi Peace Award.
In 1998, Lamont received a posthumous Distinguished Humanist Service Award from the International Humanist and Ethical Union and he was one of the signers of the Humanist Manifesto.
In 1928, Lamont married Margaret Hayes Irish. They divorced in the early 1960s. In 1962, he married Helen Boyden Lamb; she died of cancer in 1975. In 1986, Lamont married Beth Keehner; she survived his death. He died at home in Ossining, New York, on April 26, 1995.
Following the deaths of his parents, Lamont became a philanthropist. He funded the collection and preservation of manuscripts of American philosophers, particularly George Santayana, as well as Rockwell Kent and John Masefield.
He became a substantial donor to both Harvard and Columbia, endowing the latter's "Corliss Lamont Professor of Civil Liberties."
He was the great-uncle of Ned Lamont, the governor of Connecticut.
Lamont was a prolific author. He wrote, co-wrote, edited, or co-edited more than two dozen books and dozens of pamphlets, and wrote thousands of letters to newspapers, magazines, and journals on significant social issues during his lifelong campaign for peace and civil rights.
In 1935, he published The Illusion of Immortality (originally published in 1932 as Issues of Immortality: A Study in Implications), which was a revised version of his doctoral dissertation. According to James Leuba the book is considered to remain the standard work on the subject and shows conclusively that the arguments for immortality are totally insufficient. Lamont argued that people can live satisfactory lives without belief in life after death and that human life may be recognized to be more precious if it is realized that it only comes once to each man.
His most famous work is The Philosophy of Humanism (originally published in 1949 as Humanism as a Philosophy), now in its eighth edition. He also published intimate portraits of John Dewey, John Masefield, and George Santayana.
Aside from books, over the course of more than a half-century, Corliss Lamont authored, co-authored, or edited approximately three dozen pamphlets on a variety of subjects. Prominent among these was the Basic Pamphlets series, privately published by Dr. Lamont and sold directly by him through mail order via a local post office box in New York. There were 29 numbered titles in the Basic Pamphlets series, listed below by pamphlet number.
In addition to the Basic Pamphlets series, Corliss Lamont also wrote a number of other pamphlets, a partial list of which appears below.