Lamont, Corliss (28 March 1902 – 26 April 1995)
A leading exponent of the philosophic school of naturalistic humanism, Lamont was the son of J. P. Morgan’s partner, Thomas William Lamont, who sometimes commuted to work by yacht.
Corliss Lamont was active on behalf of civil liberties. He left the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) over policy differences, becoming chairman of the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee (NECLC).
In the 1940s and 1950s, he taught a class, naturalistic humanism, at Columbia University, the notes for which became the basis of his book, The Philosophy of Humanism (1949; reprinted 1990). It is considered by many a standard text on the subject. Known as a rebel at Columbia, he organized aid for Harvard scrubwomen who had been dismissed in a dispute over a new minimum-wage law.
Conservatives in 2006, campaigning against Corliss's grandnephew - Ned Lamont, who ran unsuccessfully in Connecticut against Senator Joe Lieberman - described the Lamonts:
- Lamont has an antiwar pedigree that is blended with even older money. His great-grandfather was Thomas W. Lamont, an eccentric JP Morgan & Company chairman who commuted to work by yacht. He was part of the Wilson Administration and helped utopian Col. Edward Mandall House negotiate the Treaty of Versailles which contained the League of Nations. Where Lieberman is a nationalist patriot, Lamont, who - like most rich socialists - drapes himself in the American flag, is a fourth generation globalist. His grandfather, Corliss Lamont, was a socialist philosopher who died in 1995.
- He taught Humanism at Columbia University. He was an atheist who believed the United States and the Soviet Union needed to merge if world peace was going to be achieved. Like most of America's powerful socialists, the Lamont family was part of the one-world Wall Street dynasty. Prophetically, the emerging world government in the Hague is the consolidation of Soviet-style communism and the American free enterprise system came from the blueprint fashioned in the mind of people like Corliss Lamont and the liberal globalists who are attempting to erase the world's boundaries in order to create a global shopping center without walls - the Third Way..
- When America entered World War I, Tom Lamont became an unofficial adviser to Wilson, trying to convince the president that cooperating with the Soviets would help defeat Germany. The Soviets under Lenin, however, double-crossed JP Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Mellon and the industrialists and merchant prices in the American International Corporation that financed the Bolshevik Revolution in exchange for the right to develop the economy of the Soviet Union. A few months later, Wilson, pressured to do so by Lamont on behalf of Rockefeller, Mellon and JP Morgan sent troops into the new Soviet Union in an ill-fated attempt to topple Lenin's government and seize the Baku oil fields by the Caspian Sea. Those same men kept American and British troops in Russia until 1924, trying to hold the Baku oil fields in what is now the nation of Georgia. The late John Kenneth Galbraith was right - you can't trust Big Money even when its American money.
- After the war, both of Corliss Lamont's parents were active in the peace process the and creation of the League of Nations. It was not surprising that, while he was at Harvard during the early 1920s, he also supported the League of Nations. Lamont debated his classmate Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., on the merits of globalism. The liberals believed that Lodge, a staunch nationalist, was largely responsible for America's isolationism. That perennially pitted conservatives like Lodge against liberals like Lamont who saw the world as large economic smorgasbord.
- But unlike the rest of the Lamont family that kept their socialist leanings under wraps, Corliss Lamont was openly controversial. As student vice-chairman of the Harvard Union, he proposed that Socialist Party President Eugene V. Debs, communist labor organizer William Z. Foster, and radical economist Scott Nearing be invited to address the student body. Ned Lamont's grandfather spent his life as a socialist. Today, the apples don't fall far from the tree.
Lamont's website, however, was arranged by Beth Lamont, his third wife, and paints a different picture:
- Corliss Lamont (1902-1995) is a 20th century American hero whose independent thinking challenged prevailing ideas in philosophy, economics, religion, patriotism, world peace and the exercise of our cherished civil liberties.
- Corliss Lamont was born to Wall Street wealth, yet he championed the cause of the working class, and was derided as a "Socialist" and a "traitor to his class".
- Corliss Lamont's Humanist belief that earthlings have evolved without supernatural intervention and are responsible for their own survival on this planet caused traditionalists to label him a "godless atheist."
- Corliss Lamont's patriotic insistence that the United States maintain a productive relationship with the Soviet Union in the face of prevailing rabid anti-communist hysteria earned him the accusation by Senator Joseph McCarthy of being "un-American". [See Philip Wittenberg (ed.), The Lamont Case: History of a Congressional Investigation, Corliss Lamont and the McCarthy Hearings (New York: Horizon Press, 1957) for details.]
- Corliss Lamont was a philosopher, author and poet who carried several landmark cases to the courts successfully, including a suit [381 U.S. 301 (1965)] against the United States Postmaster General which was taken to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court's decision was in Dr. Lamont's favor.
- He taught a course in Humanism at Columbia University. Upon his death, the Columbia Record (5 May 1995) wrote about his life.
- A tribute to his life was held at Columbia on September 18, 1995. He endowed a chair in Civil Liberties at Columbia Law School, currently occupied by Prof. Vincent A. Blasi. He contributed to the construction of the Corliss Lamont Rare Book Reading Room at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University and helped to create, through donations of letters, papers, and works of art, the Julian Huxley, John Masefield, George Santayana, and Rockwell Kent collections held there. He also played a major role in the creation of the Spinoza Collection. The Corliss Lamont Papers reside in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University.
- Located in the Corliss Lamont Room in the Class of 1945 Library, one of the Library Collections at Phillips Exeter Academy, is the John Masefield Collection, part of the Lamont Poets Collection. The Lamont Poetry Fund supports visiting poets and the Lamont Younger Poets Prize at Phillips Exeter.
- Dr. Lamont provided a portion of the funding for The Santayana Edition, The Works of George Santayana, as published by The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England, and supported by The National Endowment for The Humanities, and others.
- During his lifetime he was honored with many awards, including the Gandhi Peace Award in 1981. He served on the Board of Directors of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Urban League.
- The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University stands on a 125-acre estate in Palisades, N.Y. which was donated by his mother, Florence Lamont, who also endowed the Florence Corliss Lamont Professor of Divinity and Professor of Old Testament, Harvard University Divinity School, currently held by Paul D. Hanson, Ph.D. His father, Thomas W. Lamont, who was Chairman of J.P. Morgan, was a major donor toward the creation of the Lamont Library (history / main page) at Harvard.
The Humanist Activist
A key advisor and financial backer of the American Humanist Association, Lamont wrote extensively about Humanism, opposed the Vietnam War, and championed the Bill of Rights in numerous forums. In 1952 he was the candidate for U.S. Senate of the American Labor Party, receiving 10,000 votes. Six years later, on the Independent Socialist ticket, he received 49,000 votes.
In 1977 Lamont was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association. He had said that his fusion of militancy and philosophy was based on humanist principles, “not Christian service to an improbable God, but service here and now to our fellow human beings.”
Included among his works are the following: Issues of Immortality (1932); The Illusion of Immortality (1965); You Might Like Socialism: A Way of Life for Modern Man (1939); Freedom Is As Freedom Does, Civil Liberties Today (1942, 1956); Freedom of Choice Affirmed (1967); A Humanist Funeral Service (1947, 1977); A Humanist Wedding Service (1970); and The Independent Mind. He edited Dialogue on John Dewey (1959); Dialogue on George Santayana (1959); Man Answers Death: An Anthology of Poetry (1936, 1952); Voices in the Wilderness: Collected Essays of Fifty Years (1974); and Yes To Life: Memoirs of Corliss Lamont (1981). In the latter book, he wrote,
- My final word is that in the battles that confront us today for America’s freedom and welfare, our chief aim as public-spirited citizens must be neither to avoid trouble, nor to stay out of jail, nor even to preserve our lives, but to keep on fighting for our fundamental principals and ideals.” Several legal victories were dear to his heart. In the late 1950s, he won a case against the State Department, which had refused for nearly a decade to issue him a passport on the ground that his travel abroad “would be contrary to the best interests of the United States.” And in 1965 he won a suit against the Postmaster General for violating his First Amendment rights by opening and withholding his mail, including propaganda from Peking. In 1961 the Supreme Court held a 1961 anti-propaganda mail law to be unconstitutional. In 1965, he won a lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency, which had opened letters mail or received by him, some from his wife. A Federal Court declared that “illegal prying into the shared intimacies of husband and wife is despicable.
Over the years, Lamont was criticized negatively from all quarters. He was cited for contempt of Congress at the behest of Senator Joseph Mc Carthy. In 1956, however, he was exonerated of all charges by the U.S. Appeals Court and was editorially praised by The New York Times for his courageous stands on behalf of civil liberties. In 1956 he was quoted in The Times,
- The truth is that I am an independent non-Communist radical closest in my thought to such British Socialists as Aneurin Bevan and the late Harold J. Laski. I have always done my own thinking and traveling; and am critical of Communist parties as well as the Soviet Union, without adopting the blinding anti-Communist and anti-Soviet obsession that is leading the West to destroy its own highest values.
Lamont, Hook, and Farrell
For decades Lamont and Sidney Hook carried on a running battle, more political than philosophic. When shown Hook’s letter, above, Lamont, then eighty-eight, responded:
- In the first place, let me say that I never praised or overpraised the Soviet Union without criticizing that country for its lack of democracy and civil liberties. In the second place, I never praised the tyrant Stalin when I was praising the Soviet Union. In the third place, Humanism as such does not support or criticize foreign political regimes. Our business is in the United States and the American Humanist Association does not expect its members to take correct positions on foreign affairs. Therefore, Hook had no right to denounce me as a Humanist because I admittedly made serious mistakes in judgment about the Soviet Union. Of course, in World War 2 it became necessary for Americans to cooperate with the Soviet Union, even though Stalin was still in power. And I in a patriotic way took part in the movement for the United States to aid the Soviet Union as an ally against Hitler and the Nazis.
James T. Farrell, like Hook, was critical of the political stands taken by Lamont. But Lamont insisted he had not been deceived or politically naive, that any nation transformed from feudalism to superpower in a few decades could not be expected immediately to develop democratic institutions like those in the West.
In 1981, Lamont received the Gandhi Peace Award. In 1982, he was elected an honorary associate of the British Rationalist Press Association. He was a signer of Humanist Manifesto II and was on the editorial board of The Humanist. In 1988 at the Tenth International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) World Congress, Lamont addressed the group. The American Humanist Chapter in New York City is named after him. [Although attacked for his politics by many within the humanist movement, Lamont was a major influence, one who helped considerably in publicizing the goals of naturalistic humanism.
Some Correspondence Regarding Humanism
The letters were donated by Smith to Harvard's Houghton Library.
- 23 January 1956, Lamont re: Smith's categories of Humanism [[Image:Lamont
His 1928 marriage to Margaret Hayes Irish, a writer, ended in divorce. His second wife, Helen Lamb, whom he married in 1962, died in 1975. During his final years, he was happily married to his third wife, Beth Keehner, whom he married in 1986 and who is a devoted humanist. He was survived by a son, Hayes; three daughters - Margot Heap, Florence Antonides, Anne Jafferis; six grandchildren; one great-grandchild; fourteen step-children of his last two marriages; and fifty step-grandchildren.
A memorial held at Columbia University featured talks by family members Beth Lamont, Jonathan Heap, Edward M. Lamont Jr., Edward M. Lamont Sr., and Lansing Lamont.
In 2006, one of Lamont's grandchildren, Ned Lamont, ran unsuccessfully against the Connecticut incumbent Senator Joseph Lieberman, unable to unseat the three-term congressman who had been a fixture in Connecticut politics for more than 35 years.
(See entry for Albert Ellis regarding the possibility of arranging a Humanist House in New York City.)